Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology

Mapping Keats’s Progress
A Critical Chronology

Sleep and Poetry

“As I lay in my bed slepe full unmete
Was unto me, but why that I ne might
Rest I ne wist, for there n’as erthly wight
[As I suppose] had more of hertis ese
Than I, for I n’ad sickness nor disese.”

Chaucer

  • What is more gentle than a wind in summer?
  • What is more soothing than the pretty hummer
  • That stays one moment in an open flower,
  • And buzzes cheerily from bower to bower?
  • What is more tranquil than a musk-rose blowing
  • In a green island, far from all men’s knowing?
  • More healthful than the leafiness of dales?
  • More secret than a nest of nightingales?
  • More serene than Cordelia’s countenance?
  • More full of visions than a high romance?
  • What, but thee Sleep? Soft closer of our eyes!
  • Low murmurer of tender lullabies!
  • Light hoverer around our happy pillows!
  • Wreather of poppy buds, and weeping willows!
  • Silent entangler of a beauty’s tresses!
  • Most happy listener! when the morning blesses
  • Thee for enlivening all the cheerful eyes
  • That glance so brightly at the new sun-rise.
  • But what is higher beyond thought than thee?
  • Fresher than berries of a mountain tree?
  • More strange, more beautiful, more smooth, more regal,
  • Than wings of swans, than doves, than dim-seen eagle?
  • What is it? And to what shall I compare it?
  • It has a glory, and nought else can share it:
  • The thought thereof is awful, sweet, and holy,
  • Chacing away all worldliness and folly;
  • Coming sometimes like fearful claps of thunder,
  • Or the low rumblings earth’s regions under;
  • And sometimes like a gentle whispering
  • Of all the secrets of some wond’rous thing
  • That breathes about us in the vacant air;
  • So that we look around with prying stare,
  • Perhaps to see shapes of light, aerial lymning,
  • And catch soft floatings from a faint-heard hymning;
  • To see the laurel wreath, on high suspended,
  • That is to crown our name when life is ended.
  • Sometimes it gives a glory to the voice,
  • And from the heart up-springs, rejoice! rejoice!
  • Sounds which will reach the Framer of all things,
  • And die away in ardent mutterings.
  • No one who once the glorious sun has seen,
  • And all the clouds, and felt his bosom clean
  • For his great Maker’s presence, but must know
  • What ’tis I mean, and feel his being glow:
  • Therefore no insult will I give his spirit,
  • By telling what he sees from native merit.
  • O Poesy! for thee I hold my pen
  • That am not yet a glorious denizen
  • Of thy wide heaven—Should I rather kneel
  • Upon some mountain-top until I feel
  • A glowing splendour round about me hung,
  • And echo back the voice of thine own tongue?
  • O Poesy! for thee I grasp my pen
  • That am not yet a glorious denizen
  • Of thy wide heaven; yet, to my ardent prayer,
  • Yield from thy sanctuary some clear air,
  • Smoothed for intoxication by the breath
  • Of flowering bays, that I may die a death
  • Of luxury, and my young spirit follow
  • The morning sun-beams to the great Apollo
  • Like a fresh sacrifice; or, if I can bear
  • The o’erwhelming sweets, ’twill bring to me the fair
  • Visions of all places: a bowery nook
  • Will be elysium—an eternal book
  • Whence I may copy many a lovely saying
  • About the leaves, and flowers—about the playing
  • Of nymphs in woods, and fountains; and the shade
  • Keeping a silence round a sleeping maid;
  • And many a verse from so strange influence
  • That we must ever wonder how, and whence
  • It came. Also imaginings will hover
  • Round my fire-side, and haply there discover
  • Vistas of solemn beauty, where I’d wander
  • In happy silence, like the clear meander
  • Through its lone vales; and where I found a spot
  • Of awfuller shade, or an enchanted grot,
  • Or a green hill o’erspread with chequered dress
  • Of flowers, and fearful from its loveliness,
  • Write on my tablets all that was permitted,
  • All that was for our human senses fitted.
  • Then the events of this wide world I’d seize
  • Like a strong giant, and my spirit teaze
  • Till at its shoulders it should proudly see
  • Wings to find out an immortality.
  • Stop and consider! life is but a day;
  • A fragile dew-drop on its perilous way
  • From a tree’s summit; a poor Indian’s sleep
  • While his boat hastens to the monstrous steep
  • Of Montmorenci. Why so sad a moan?
  • Life is the rose’s hope while yet unblown;
  • The reading of an ever-changing tale;
  • The light uplifting of a maiden’s veil;
  • A pigeon tumbling in clear summer air;
  • A laughing school-boy, without grief or care,
  • Riding the springy branches of an elm.
  • O for ten years, that I may overwhelm
  • Myself in poesy; so I may do the deed
  • That my own soul has to itself decreed.
  • Then will I pass the countries that I see
  • In long perspective, and continually
  • Taste their pure fountains. First the realm I’ll pass
  • Of Flora, and old Pan: sleep in the grass,
  • Feed upon apples red, and strawberries,
  • And choose each pleasure that my fancy sees;
  • Catch the white-handed nymphs in shady places,
  • To woo sweet kisses from averted faces,—
  • Play with their fingers, touch their shoulders white
  • Into a pretty shrinking with a bite
  • As hard as lips can make it: till agreed,
  • A lovely tale of human life we’ll read.
  • And one will teach a tame dove how it best
  • May fan the cool air gently o’er my rest;
  • Another, bending o’er her nimble tread,
  • Will set a green robe floating round her head,
  • And still will dance with ever varied ease,
  • Smiling upon the flowers and the trees:
  • Another will entice me on, and on
  • Through almond blossoms and rich cinnamon;
  • Till in the bosom of a leafy world
  • We rest in silence, like two gems upcurl’d
  • In the recesses of a pearly shell.
  • And can I ever bid these joys farewell?
  • Yes, I must pass them for a nobler life,
  • Where I may find the agonies, the strife
  • Of human hearts: for lo! I see afar,
  • O’er sailing the blue cragginess, a car
  • And steeds with streamy manes — the charioteer
  • Looks out upon the winds with glorious fear:
  • And now the numerous tramplings quiver lightly
  • Along a huge cloud’s ridge; and now with sprightly
  • Wheel downward come they into fresher skies,
  • Tipt round with silver from the sun’s bright eyes.
  • Still downward with capacious whirl they glide;
  • And now I see them on a green-hill’s side
  • In breezy rest among the nodding stalks.
  • The charioteer with wond’rous gesture talks
  • To the trees and mountains; and there soon appear
  • Shapes of delight, of mystery, and fear,
  • Passing along before a dusky space
  • Made by some mighty oaks: as they would chase
  • Some ever-fleeting music on they sweep.
  • Lo! how they murmur, laugh, and smile, and weep:
  • Some with upholden hand and mouth severe;
  • Some with their faces muffled to the ear
  • Between their arms; some, clear in youthful bloom,
  • Go glad and smilingly athwart the gloom;
  • Some looking back, and some with upward gaze;
  • Yes, thousands in a thousand different ways
  • Flit onward—now a lovely wreath of girls
  • Dancing their sleek hair into tangled curls;
  • And now broad wings. Most awfully intent
  • The driver of those steeds is forward bent,
  • And seems to listen: O that I might know
  • All that he writes with such a hurrying glow.
  • The visions all are fled—the car is fled
  • Into the light of heaven, and in their stead
  • A sense of real things comes doubly strong,
  • And, like a muddy stream, would bear along
  • My soul to nothingness: but I will strive
  • Against all doubtings, and will keep alive
  • The thought of that same chariot, and the strange
  • Journey it went.
  • Is there so small a range
  • In the present strength of manhood, that the high
  • Imagination cannot freely fly
  • As she was wont of old? prepare her steeds,
  • Paw up against the light, and do strange deeds
  • Upon the clouds? Has she not shewn us all?
  • From the clear space of ether, to the small
  • Breath of new buds unfolding? From the meaning
  • Of Jove’s large eye-brow, to the tender greening
  • Of April meadows? Here her altar shone,
  • E’en in this isle; and who could paragon
  • The fervid choir that lifted up a noise
  • Of harmony, to where it aye will poise
  • Its mighty self of convoluting sound,
  • Huge as a planet, and like that roll round,
  • Eternally around a dizzy void?
  • Ay, in those days the Muses were nigh cloy’d
  • With honors; nor had any other care
  • Than to sing out and sooth their wavy hair.
  • Could all this be forgotten? Yes, a schism
  • Nurtured by foppery and barbarism,
  • Made great Apollo blush for this his land.
  • Men were thought wise who could not understand
  • His glories: with a puling infant’s force
  • They sway’d about upon a rocking horse,
  • And thought it Pegasus. Ah dismal soul’d!
  • The winds of heaven blew, the ocean roll’d
  • Its gathering waves—ye felt it not. The blue
  • Bared its eternal bosom, and the dew
  • Of summer nights collected still to make
  • The morning precious: beauty was awake!
  • Why were ye not awake? But ye were dead
  • To things ye knew not of,—were closely wed
  • To musty laws lined out with wretched rule
  • And compass vile: so that ye taught a school
  • Of dolts to smooth, inlay, and clip, and fit,
  • Till, like the certain wands of Jacob’s wit,
  • Their verses tallied. Easy was the task:
  • A thousand handicraftsmen wore the mask
  • Of Poesy. Ill-fated, impious race!
  • That blasphemed the bright Lyrist to his face,
  • And did not know it,—no, they went about,
  • Holding a poor, decrepid standard out
  • Mark’d with most flimsy mottos, and in large
  • The name of one Boileau!
  • O ye whose charge
  • It is to hover round our pleasant hills!
  • Whose congregated majesty so fills
  • My boundly reverence, that I cannot trace
  • Your hallowed names, in this unholy place,
  • So near those common folk; did not their shames
  • Affright you? Did our old lamenting Thames
  • Delight you? Did ye never cluster round
  • Delicious Avon, with a mournful sound,
  • And weep? Or did ye wholly bid adieu
  • To regions where no more the laurel grew?
  • Or did ye stay to give a welcoming
  • To some lone spirits who could proudly sing
  • Their youth away, and die? ‘Twas even so:
  • But let me think away those times of woe:
  • Now ’tis a fairer season; ye have breathed
  • Rich benedictions o’er us; ye have wreathed
  • Fresh garlands: for sweet music has been heard
  • In many places;—some has been upstirr’d
  • From out its crystal dwelling in a lake,
  • By a swan’s ebon bill; from a thick brake,
  • Nested and quiet in a valley mild,
  • Bubbles a pipe; fine sounds are floating wild
  • About the earth: happy are ye and glad.
  • These things are doubtless: yet in truth we’ve had
  • Strange thunders from the potency of song;
  • Mingled indeed with what is sweet and strong,
  • From majesty: but in clear truth the themes
  • Are ugly clubs, the Poets Polyphemes
  • Disturbing the grand sea. A drainless shower
  • Of light is poesy; ’tis the supreme of power;
  • ’Tis might half slumb’ring on its own right arm.
  • The very archings of her eye-lids charm
  • A thousand willing agents to obey,
  • And still she governs with the mildest sway:
  • But strength alone though of the Muses born
  • Is like a fallen angel: trees uptorn,
  • Darkness, and worms, and shrouds, and sepulchres
  • Delight it; for it feeds upon the burrs,
  • And thorns of life; forgetting the great end
  • Of poesy, that it should be a friend
  • To sooth the cares, and lift the thoughts of man.
  • Yet I rejoice: a myrtle fairer than
  • E’er grew in Paphos, from the bitter weeds
  • Lifts its sweet head into the air, and feeds
  • A silent space with ever sprouting green.
  • All tenderest birds there find a pleasant screen,
  • Creep through the shade with jaunty fluttering,
  • Nibble the little cupped flowers and sing.
  • Then let us clear away the choaking thorns
  • From round its gentle stem; let the young fawns,
  • Yeaned in after times, when we are flown,
  • Find a fresh sward beneath it, overgrown
  • With simple flowers: let there nothing be
  • More boisterous than a lover’s bended knee;
  • Nought more ungentle than the placid look
  • Of one who leans upon a closed book;
  • Nought more untranquil than the grassy slopes
  • Between two hills. All hail delightful hopes!
  • As she was wont, th’ imagination
  • Into most lovely labyrinths will be gone,
  • And they shall be accounted poet kings
  • Who simply tell the most heart-easing things.
  • O may these joys be ripe before I die.
  • Will not some say that I presumptuously
  • Have spoken? that from hastening disgrace
  • ’Twere better far to hide my foolish face?
  • That whining boyhood should with reverence bow
  • Ere the dread thunderbolt could reach? How!
  • If I do hide myself, it sure shall be
  • In the very fane, the light of Poesy:
  • If I do fall, at least I will be laid
  • Beneath the silence of a poplar shade;
  • And over me the grass shall be smooth shaven;
  • And there shall be a kind memorial graven.
  • But off Despondence! miserable bane!
  • They should not know thee, who athirst to gain
  • A noble end, are thirsty every hour.
  • What though I am not wealthy in the dower
  • Of spanning wisdom; though I do not know
  • The shiftings of the mighty winds that blow
  • Hither and thither all the changing thoughts
  • Of man: though no great minist’ring reason sorts
  • Out the dark mysteries of human souls
  • To clear conceiving: yet there ever rolls
  • A vast idea before me, and I glean
  • Therefrom my liberty; thence too I’ve seen
  • The end and aim of Poesy. ’Tis clear
  • As any thing most true; as that the year
  • Is made of the four seasons—manifest
  • As a large cross, some old cathedral’s crest,
  • Lifted to the white clouds. Therefore should I
  • Be but the essence of deformity,
  • A coward, did my very eye-lids wink
  • At speaking out what I have dared to think.
  • Ah! rather let me like a madman run
  • Over some precipice; let the hot sun
  • Melt my Dedalian wings, and drive me down
  • Convuls’d and headlong! Stay! an inward frown
  • Of conscience bids me be more calm awhile.
  • An ocean dim, sprinkled with many an isle,
  • Spreads awfully before me. How much toil!
  • How many days! what desperate turmoil!
  • Ere I can have explored its widenesses.
  • Ah, what a task! upon my bended knees,
  • I could unsay those—no, impossible!
  • Impossible!
  • For sweet relief I’ll dwell
  • On humbler thoughts, and let this strange assay
  • Begun in gentleness die so away.
  • E’en now all tumult from my bosom fades:
  • I turn full hearted to the friendly aids
  • That smooth the path of honour; brotherhood,
  • And friendliness the nurse of mutual good.
  • The hearty grasp that sends a pleasant sonnet
  • Into the brain ere one can think upon it;
  • The silence when some rhymes are coming out;
  • And when they’re come, the very pleasant rout:
  • The message certain to be done to-morrow.
  • ’Tis perhaps as well that it should be to borrow
  • Some precious book from out its snug retreat,
  • To cluster round it when we next shall meet.
  • Scarce can I scribble on; for lovely airs
  • Are fluttering round the room like doves in pairs;
  • Many delights of that glad day recalling,
  • When first my senses caught their tender falling.
  • And with these airs come forms of elegance
  • Stooping their shoulders o’er a horse’s prance,
  • Careless, and grand — fingers soft and round
  • Parting luxuriant curls; — and the swift bound
  • Of Bacchus from his chariot, when his eye
  • Made Ariadne’s cheek look blushingly.
  • Thus I remember all the pleasant flow
  • Of words at opening a portfolio.
  • Things such as these are ever harbingers
  • To trains of peaceful images: the stirs
  • Of a swan’s neck unseen among the rushes:
  • A linnet starting all about the bushes:
  • A butterfly, with golden wings broad parted,
  • Nestling a rose, convuls’d as though it smarted
  • With over pleasure — many, many more,
  • Might I indulge at large in all my store
  • Of luxuries: yet I must not forget
  • Sleep, quiet with his poppy coronet:
  • For what there may be worthy in these rhymes
  • I partly owe to him: and thus, the chimes
  • Of friendly voices had just given place
  • To as sweet a silence, when I ’gan retrace
  • The pleasant day, upon a couch at ease.
  • It was a poet’s house who keeps the keys
  • Of pleasure’s temple. Round about were hung
  • The glorious features of the bards who sung
  • In other ages—cold and sacred busts
  • Smiled at each other. Happy he who trusts
  • To clear Futurity his darling fame!
  • Then there were fauns and satyrs taking aim
  • At swelling apples with a frisky leap
  • And reaching fingers, ’mid a luscious heap
  • Of vine leaves. Then there rose to view a fane
  • Of liny marble, and thereto a train
  • Of nymphs approaching fairly o’er the sward:
  • One, loveliest, holding her white hand toward
  • The dazzling sun-rise: two sisters sweet
  • Bending their graceful figures till they meet
  • Over the trippings of a little child:
  • And some are hearing, eagerly, the wild
  • Thrilling liquidity of dewy piping.
  • See, in another picture, nymphs are wiping
  • Cherishingly Diana’s timorous limbs;—
  • A fold of lawny mantle dabbling swims
  • At the bath’s edge, and keeps a gentle motion
  • With the subsiding crystal: as when ocean
  • Heaves calmly its broad swelling smoothness o’er
  • Its rocky marge, and balances once more
  • The patient weeds; that now unshent by foam
  • Feel all about their undulating home.
  • Sappho’s meek head was there half smiling down
  • At nothing; just as though the earnest frown
  • Of over thinking had that moment gone
  • From off her brow, and left her all alone.
  • Great Alfred’s too, with anxious, pitying eyes,
  • As if he always listened to the sighs
  • Of the goaded world; and Kosciusko’s worn
  • By horrid suffrance—mightily forlorn.
  • Petrarch, outstepping from the shady green,
  • Starts at the sight of Laura; nor can wean
  • His eyes from her sweet face. Most happy they!
  • For over them was seen a free display
  • Of out-spread wings, and from between them shone
  • The face of Poesy: from off her throne
  • She overlook’d things that I scarce could tell.
  • The very sense of where I was might well
  • Keep Sleep aloof: but more than that there came
  • Thought after thought to nourish up the flame
  • Within my breast; so that the morning light
  • Surprised me even from a sleepless night;
  • And up I rose refresh’d, and glad, and gay,
  • Resolving to begin that very day
  • These lines; and howsoever they be done,
  • I leave them as a father does his son.

🗙 Cite this page:

MLA Style: Works Cited

Keats, John. “Sleep and Poetry.” Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology, by G. Kim Blank. Edition 3.3 , University of Victoria, 5 September 2020. https://johnkeats.uvic.ca/poem_sleep_and_poetry.html.

Chicago Style: Note

John Keats, “Sleep and Poetry,” Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology, Edition 3.3 , last modified 5th September 2020. https://johnkeats.uvic.ca/poem_sleep_and_poetry.html.

Chicago Style: Bibliography

Keats, John. “Sleep and Poetry.” Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology, Edition 3.3 , last modified 5th September 2020. https://johnkeats.uvic.ca/poem_sleep_and_poetry.html.