Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology

Mapping Keats’s Progress
A Critical Chronology

The Eve of St. Agnes


  • St. Agnes’ Eve-Ah, bitter chill it was!
  • The owl, for all it his feathers, was a-cold;
  • The hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass,
  • And silent was the flock in woolly fold:
  • Numb were the Beadsman’s fingers, while he told
  • His rosary, and while his frosted breath,
  • Like pious incense from a censer old,
  • Seem’d taking flight for heaven, without a death,
  • Past the sweet Virgin’s picture, while his prayer he saith.


  • His prayer he saith, this patient, holy man;
  • Then takes his lamp, and riseth from his knees,
  • And back returnth, meagre, barefoot, wan,
  • Along the chapel aisle by slow degrees:
  • The sculptur’d dead, on each side, seem to freeze,
  • Emprison’d in black, purgatorial rails:
  • Knights, ladies, praying in dumb orat’ries,
  • He passeth by; and his weak spirit fails
  • To think how they may ache in icy hoods and mails.


  • Northward he turneth through a little door,
  • And scarce three steps, ere Music’s golden tongue
  • Flatter’d to the tears this aged man and poor;
  • But no-already had his deathbell rung;
  • The joys of all his life were said and sung:
  • His was harsh penance on St. Agnes’ Eve:
  • Another way he went,and soon among
  • Rough ashes sat he for his soul’s reprieve,
  • And all night kept awake, for sinners’ sake to grieve


  • The ancient Beadsman heard the prelude soft;
  • And so it chanc’d, for many a door was wide,
  • From a hurry to and fro. Soon, up aloft,
  • The silver, snarling trumpets’ gan to chide:
  • The level chambers,ready with their pride,
  • Were glowing to receive a thousand guests:
  • The carved angels, ever eager-eyed,
  • Star’d, where upon their heads the cornice rests,
  • With hair blown back, and wings put cross-wise on their breasts.


  • At length burst in the argent revelry,
  • With plume, tiara, and all rich array,
  • Numerous as the shadows haunting fairily
  • The brain, new stuff’d, in youth, with triumphs gay
  • Of old romance. These let us wish away,
  • And turn, sole-thoughted, to one Lady there,
  • Whose heart had brooded, all that wintry day,
  • On love, and wing’d St. Agnes’ saintly care,
  • As she had heard old dames full many times declare.


  • They told her how, upon St. Agnes’ Eve,
  • Young virgins might have visions of delight,
  • And soft adorings from their loves receive
  • Upon the honey’d middle of the night,
  • If the ceremonies due they did aright;
  • As, supperless to bed they must retire,
  • And couch supine their beauties, lily white;
  • Nor look behind, nor sideways, but require
  • Of Heaven with upward eyes for all that they desire.


  • Full of this whim was thoughtful Madeline:
  • The music, yearning like a God in pain,
  • She scarcely heard: her maiden eyes divine,
  • Fix’d on the floor, saw many a sweeping train
  • Pass by - she heeded not at all: in vain
  • Came many a tiptoe,amorous cavalier,
  • And back retir’d; not cool’d by high disdain,
  • But she saw not: her heart was otherwhere:
  • She sigh’d for Agnes’ dreams, the sweetest of the year.


  • She danc’d along with vague, regardless eyes,
  • Anxious lips, her breathing quick and short:
  • The hallow’d hour was near at hand: she sighs
  • Amid the timbrels, and the throng’d resort
  • Of whisperers in anger, or in sport;
  • ‘Mid looks of love, defiance, hate and scorn,
  • Hoodwink’d with faery fancy; all amort,
  • Save to St. Agnes and her lambs unshorn,
  • And all the bliss to be before to-morrow morn.


  • So, purposing each moment to retire,
  • She linger’d still. Meantime,across the moors,
  • Had come young Porphyro, with heart on fire
  • For Madeline. Beside the portal doors,
  • Buttress’d from moonlight, stands he, and implores
  • All saints to give him sight of Madeline,
  • But for one moment in the tedious hours,
  • That he might gaze and worship all unseen;
  • Perchance speak, kneel, touch, kiss - in sooth such thing have been.


  • He ventures in: let no buzz’d whisper tell:
  • All eyes be muffled, or a hundred swords
  • Will storm his heart, Love’s fev’rous citadel:
  • For him, those chambers held barbarian hordes,
  • Hyena foeman, and hot-blooded lords,
  • Whose very dogs would execrations howl
  • Against his lineage: not one breast affords
  • Him any mercy, in that mansion foul,
  • Save one old beldame, weak in body and soul.


  • Ah, happy chance! the aged creature came,
  • Shuffling along with ivory-headed wand,
  • To where he stood, hid from the torch’s flame,
  • Behind a broad half-pillar, far beyond
  • The sound of merriment and chorus bland:
  • He startled her; but soon she knew his face,
  • And grasp’s his fingers in her palsied hand,
  • Saying, ″Mercy, Porphyro! hie thee from this place;
  • They are all here to-night, the whole bloody thirsty race!


  • ″Get hence! get hence! there’s dwarfish Hildebrand;
  • He had a fever late, and in the fit
  • He cursed three and thine, both the house and land:
  • Then there’s that old Lord Maurice, not a whit
  • More tame for his gray hairs- Alas me! flit!
  • Flit like a ghost away. Ah,″-‶ Gossip dear,
  • We’re safe enough; here in this arm-chair sit,
  • And tell me how″-‶Good Saints! not here, not here;
  • Follow me,child, or else these stones will be thy bier.‶


  • He follow’d through a lowly arched way,
  • Brushing the cobwebs with his lofty plume,
  • And as she mutter’d ″Well-a-well-a-day!″
  • He found him in a little moonlight room,
  • Pale, lattic’d, chill, and silent as a tomb.
  • ″Now tell me, where is Madeline,″ said he,
  • ″O tell me, Angela, by the holy loom
  • Which non but secret sisterhood may see,
  • When they St. Agnes’ wool are we having piously.″


  • ″St. Agnes! Ah! it is St. Agnes’ Eve-
  • Yet men will murder upon holy days:
  • Thou must hold water in a witch’ s sieve,
  • And be liege-lord of all the Elves and Fays,
  • To venture so: it fills me with amaze
  • To see thee, Porphyro! - St. Agnes’ Eve!
  • God’s help! my lady fair the conjuror plays
  • This very night: good angels her deceive!
  • But let me laugh awhile, I’ve mickle time to grieve.″


  • Feebly she laugheth in the languid moon,
  • While Porphyro upon her face doth look,
  • Like puzzled urchin on an aged crone
  • Who keepeth clos’d a wond’rous riddle-book,
  • As spectacled she sits in chimney nook.
  • But soon his eyes grew brilliant, when she told
  • His lady’s purpose; and he scarce could brook
  • Tears, at the thought of those enchantments cold,
  • And Madeline asleep in lap of legends old.


  • Sudden a thought came like a full-blown rose,
  • Flushing his brow, and in his painted heart
  • Made purple riot: then doth he purpose
  • A stratagem, that makes the beldame start:
  • “A cruel man and impious thou art:
  • Sweet lady, let her pray, and sleep and dream
  • Alone with her good angles, far apart
  • From wicked men like thee. Go, go!-I deem
  • Thou canst not surely be the same that thou didst seem.”


  • “I will not harm her, by all the saints I swear,‶
  • Quoth Porphyro: ″O may I ne′er find grace
  • When my weak voice shall whisper its last prayer,
  • If one of her soft ringlets I displace,
  • Or look with ruffian passion in her face:
  • Good Angela, believe me by these tears;
  • Or will, even in a moment′s space,
  • Awake, with horrid shout, my foemen′s ears,
  • And beard them, though they be more fang′d than wolves and bears.”


  • “Ah! why wilt thou affright a feeble soul?
  • A poor, weak, palsy-stricken, churchyard thing,
  • Whose passing-bell may ere the midnight toll;
  • Whose prayers for thee, each morn and evening,
  • Were never miss’d” - Thus plaining, doth she bring
  • A gentler speech from burning Porphyro;
  • So woful, and of such deep sorrowing,
  • That Angela gives promise she will do
  • Whatever he shall wish, betide her weal or woe.


  • Which was, to lead him, in close secrecy,
  • Even to Madeline’s chamber, and there hide
  • Him in closet, of such privacy
  • That he might see her beauty unespy’d,
  • And win perhaps that night a peerless bride,
  • While legion’d faeries pac’d the coverlet,
  • And pale enchantment held her sleepy-eyed.
  • Never on such a night have lovers met,
  • Since Merlin paid his Demon all the monstrous debt.


  • “It shall be as thou wishest,” said the Dame:
  • “All cates and dainties shall be stored there
  • Quickly on this feast-night: by the tambour frame
  • Her own lute thou wilt see: no time to spare,
  • For I am slow and feeble, and scarce dare
  • On such a catering trust my dizzy head.
  • Wait here, my child, with patience; kneel in prayer
  • The while: Ah! thou must needs the lady wed,
  • Or may I never leave my grave among the dead.”


  • So saying, she hobbled off with busy fear.
  • The lover’s endless minutes slowly pass’d;
  • The dame return’d, and whisper’d in his ear
  • To follow her; with aged eyes aghast
  • From fright of dim espial. Safe at last,
  • Through many a dusky gallery, they gain
  • The maiden’s chamber, silken, hush’d, and chaste;
  • Where Porphyro took covert, pleas’d amain.
  • His poor guide hurried back with agues in her brain.


  • Her falt’ring hand upon the balustrade,
  • Old Angela was feeling for the stair,
  • When Madeline, St. Agnes’ charmed maid,
  • Rose, like a mission’d spirit, unaware:
  • With silver taper’s light, and pious care,
  • She turn’d, and down the aged gossip led
  • To a safe level matting. Now prepare,
  • Young Porphyro, for gazing on that bed;
  • She comes, she comes again, like ring-dove fray’d and fled.


  • Out went the taper as she hurried in;
  • Its little smoke, in pallid moonshine, died:
  • She clos’d the door, she panted, all akin
  • To spirits of the air, and visions wide:
  • No uttered syllable, or, woe betide!
  • But to her heart, her heart was voluble,
  • Paining with eloquence her balmy side;
  • As though a tongueless nightingale should swell
  • Her throat in vain, and die, heart-stifled, in her dell.


  • A casement high and triple-arch’d there was,
  • All garlanded with carven imag’ries
  • Of fruits, and flowers, and bunches of knot-grass,
  • And diamonded with panes of quaint device,
  • Innumerable of stains and splendid dyes,
  • As are the tiger-moth’s deep-damask’d wings;
  • And in the midst, ‘mong thousand heraldries,
  • And twilight saints, and dim emblazonings,
  • A shielded scutcheon blush’d with blood of queens and kings.


  • Full on this casement shone the wintry moon,
  • And threw warm gules on Madeline’s fair breast,
  • As down she knelt for heaven’s grace and boon;
  • Rose-bloom fell on her hands, together prest,
  • And on her silver cross soft amethyst,
  • And on her hair a glory, like a saint:
  • She seem’d a splendid angel, newly drest,
  • Save wings, for heaven:—Porphyro grew faint:
  • She knelt, so pure a thing, so free from mortal taint.


  • Anon his heart revives: her vespers done,
  • Of all its wreathed pearls her hair she frees;
  • Unclasps her warmed jewels one by one;
  • Loosens her fragrant boddice; by degrees
  • Her rich attire creeps rustling to her knees:
  • Half-hidden, like a mermaid in sea-weed,
  • Pensive awhile she dreams awake, and sees,
  • In fancy, fair St. Agnes in her bed,
  • But dares not look behind, or all the charm is fled.


  • Soon, trembling in her soft and chilly nest,
  • In sort of wakeful swoon, perplex’d she lay,
  • Until the poppied warmth of sleep oppress’d
  • Her soothed limbs, and soul fatigued away;
  • Flown, like a thought, until the morrow-day;
  • Blissfully haven’d both from joy and pain;
  • Clasp’d like a missal where swart Paynims pray;
  • Blinded alike from sunshine and from rain,
  • As though a rose should shut, and be a bud again.


  • Stol’n to this paradise, and so entranced,
  • Porphyro gaz’d upon her empty dress,
  • And listen’d to her breathing, if it chanced
  • To wake into a slumberous tenderness;
  • Which when he heard, that minute did he bless,
  • And breath’d himself: then from the closet crept,
  • Noiseless as fear in a wide wilderness,
  • And over the hush’d carpet, silent, stept,
  • And ‘tween the curtains peep’d, where, lo!—how fast she slept.


  • Then by the bed-side, where the faded moon
  • Made a dim, silver twilight, soft he set
  • A table, and, half anguish’d, threw thereon
  • A cloth of woven crimson, gold, and jet:—
  • O for some drowsy Morphean amulet!
  • The boisterous, midnight, festive clarion,
  • The kettle-drum, and far-heard clarinet,
  • Affray his ears, though but in dying tone:—
  • The hall door shuts again, and all the noise is gone.


  • And still she slept an azure-lidded sleep,
  • In blanched linen, smooth, and lavender’d,
  • While he forth from the closet brought a heap
  • Of candied apple, quince, and plum, and gourd;
  • With jellies soother than the creamy curd,
  • And lucent syrops, tinct with cinnamon;
  • Manna and dates, in argosy transferr’d
  • From Fez; and spiced dainties, every one,
  • From silken Samarcand to cedar’d Lebanon.


  • These delicates he heap’d with glowing hand
  • On golden dishes and in baskets bright
  • Of wreathed silver: sumptuous they stand
  • In the retired quiet of the night,
  • Filling the chilly room with perfume light.—
  • “And now, my love, my seraph fair, awake!
  • Thou art my heaven, and I thine eremite:
  • Open thine eyes, for meek St. Agnes’ sake,
  • Or I shall drowse beside thee, so my soul doth ache.”


  • Thus whispering, his warm, unnerved arm
  • Sank in her pillow. Shaded was her dream
  • By the dusk curtains:—’twas a midnight charm
  • Impossible to melt as iced stream:
  • The lustrous salvers in the moonlight gleam;
  • Broad golden fringe upon the carpet lies:
  • It seem’d he never, never could redeem
  • From such a stedfast spell his lady’s eyes;
  • So mus’d awhile, entoil’d in woofed phantasies.


  • Awakening up, he took her hollow lute,—
  • Tumultuous,—and, in chords that tenderest be,
  • He play’d an ancient ditty, long since mute,
  • In Provence call’d, “La belle dame sans mercy”:
  • Close to her ear touching the melody;—
  • Wherewith disturb’d, she utter’d a soft moan:
  • He ceas’d—she panted quick—and suddenly
  • Her blue affrayed eyes wide open shone:
  • Upon his knees he sank, pale as smooth-sculptured stone.


  • Her eyes were open, but she still beheld,
  • Now wide awake, the vision of her sleep:
  • There was a painful change, that nigh expell’d
  • The blisses of her dream so pure and deep
  • At which fair Madeline began to weep,
  • And moan forth witless words with many a sigh;
  • While still her gaze on Porphyro would keep;
  • Who knelt, with joined hands and piteous eye,
  • Fearing to move or speak, she look’d so dreamingly.


  • “Ah, Porphyro!” said she, “but even now
  • Thy voice was at sweet tremble in mine ear,
  • Made tuneable with every sweetest vow;
  • And those sad eyes were spiritual and clear:
  • How chang’d thou art! how pallid, chill, and drear!
  • Give me that voice again, my Porphyro,
  • Those looks immortal, those complainings dear!
  • Oh leave me not in this eternal woe,
  • For if thy diest, my Love, I know not where to go.”


  • Beyond a mortal man impassion’d far
  • At these voluptuous accents, he arose
  • Ethereal, flush’d, and like a throbbing star
  • Seen mid the sapphire heaven’s deep repose;
  • Into her dream he melted, as the rose
  • Blendeth its odour with the violet,—
  • Solution sweet: meantime the frost-wind blows
  • Like Love’s alarum pattering the sharp sleet
  • Against the window-panes; St. Agnes’ moon hath set.


  • ‘Tis dark: quick pattereth the flaw-blown sleet:
  • “This is no dream, my bride, my Madeline!”
  • ‘Tis dark: the iced gusts still rave and beat:
  • “No dream, alas! alas! and woe is mine!
  • Porphyro will leave me here to fade and pine.—
  • Cruel! what traitor could thee hither bring?
  • I curse not, for my heart is lost in thine,
  • Though thou forsakest a deceived thing;—
  • A dove forlorn and lost with sick unpruned wing.”


  • “My Madeline! sweet dreamer! lovely bride!
  • Say, may I be for aye thy vassal blest?
  • Thy beauty’s shield, heart-shap’d and vermeil dyed?
  • Ah, silver shrine, here will I take my rest
  • After so many hours of toil and quest,
  • A famish’d pilgrim,—sav’d by miracle.
  • Though I have found, I will not rob thy nest
  • Saving of thy sweet self; if thou think’st well
  • To trust, fair Madeline, to no rude infidel.


  • “Hark! ‘tis an elfin-storm from faery land,
  • Of haggard seeming, but a boon indeed:
  • Arise—arise! the morning is at hand;—
  • The bloated wassaillers will never heed:—
  • Let us away, my love, with happy speed;
  • There are no ears to hear, or eyes to see,—
  • Drown’d all in Rhenish and the sleepy mead:
  • Awake! arise! my love, and fearless be,
  • For o’er the southern moors I have a home for thee.”


  • She hurried at his words, beset with fears,
  • For there were sleeping dragons all around,
  • At glaring watch, perhaps, with ready spears—
  • Down the wide stairs a darkling way they found.—
  • In all the house was heard no human sound.
  • A chain-droop’d lamp was flickering by each door;
  • The arras, rich with horseman, hawk, and hound,
  • Flutter’d in the besieging wind’s uproar;
  • And the long carpets rose along the gusty floor.


  • They glide, like phantoms, into the wide hall;
  • Like phantoms, to the iron porch, they glide;
  • Where lay the Porter, in uneasy sprawl,
  • With a huge empty flaggon by his side:
  • The wakeful bloodhound rose, and shook his hide,
  • But his sagacious eye an inmate owns:
  • By one, and one, the bolts full easy slide:—
  • The chains lie silent on the footworn stones;—
  • The key turns, and the door upon its hinges groans.


  • And they are gone: ay, ages long ago
  • These lovers fled away into the storm.
  • That night the Baron dreamt of many a woe,
  • And all his warrior-guests, with shade and form
  • Of witch, and demon, and large coffin-worm,
  • Were long be-nightmar’d. Angela the old
  • Died palsy-twitch’d, with meagre face deform;
  • The Beadsman, after thousand aves told,
  • For aye unsought for slept among his ashes cold.

× Cite this page:

MLA Style: Works Cited

Keats, John. The Eve of St. Agnes. Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology, by G. Kim Blank. Edition 3.26 , University of Victoria, 12 July 2023.

Chicago Style: Note

John Keats, The Eve of St. Agnes. Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology, Edition 3.26 , last modified 12th July 2023.

Chicago Style: Bibliography

Keats, John. The Eve of St. Agnes. Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology, Edition 3.26 , last modified 12th July 2023.