Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology

Mapping Keats’s Progress
A Critical Chronology

To Charles Cowden Clarke

  • Oft have you seen a swan superbly frowning,
  • And with proud breast his own white shadow crowning;
  • He slants his neck beneath the waters bright
  • So silently, it seems a beam of light
  • Come from the Galaxy anon he sports,—
  • With outspread wings the Naiad Zephyr courts,
  • Or ruffles all the surface of the lake
  • In striving from its crystal face to take
  • Some diamond water drops, and them to treasure
  • In milky nest, and sip them off at leisure.
  • But not a moment can he there insure them,
  • Nor to such downy rest can he allure them;
  • For down they rush as though they would be free,
  • And drop like hours into eternity.
  • Just like that bird am I in loss of time,
  • Whene’er I venture on the stream of rhyme;
  • With shatter’d boat, oar snapt, and canvass rent,
  • I slowly sail, scarce knowing my intent;
  • Still scooping up the water with my fingers,
  • In which a trembling diamond never lingers.
  • By this, friend Charles, you may full plainly see
  • Why I have never penn’d a line to thee
  • Because my thoughts were never free, and clear,
  • And little fit to please a classic ear;
  • Because my wine was of too poor a savour
  • For one whose palate gladdens in the flavour
  • Of sparkling Helicon — small good it were
  • To take him to a desert rude, and bare,
  • Who had on Baiae’s shore reclin’d at ease,
  • While Tasso’s page was floating in a breeze
  • That gave soft music from Armida’s bowers,
  • Mingled with fragrance from her rarest flowers
  • Small good to one who had by Mulla’s stream
  • Fondled the maidens with the breasts of cream;
  • Who had beheld Belphoebe in a brook,
  • And lovely Una in a leafy nook,
  • And Archimago leaning o’er his book
  • Who had of all that’s sweet tasted, and seen,
  • From silv’ry ripple, up to beauty’s queen;
  • From the sequester’d haunts of gay Titania,
  • To the blue dwelling of divine Urania
  • One, who, of late, had ta’en sweet forest walks
  • With him who elegantly chats, and talks —
  • The wrong’d Libertas, — who has told you stories
  • Of laurel chaplets, and Apollo’s glories;
  • Of troops chivalrous prancing through a city,
  • And tearful ladies made for love, and pity
  • With many else which I have never known.
  • Thus have I thought; and days on days have flown
  • Slowly, or rapidly — unwilling still
  • For you to try my dull, unlearned quill.
  • Nor should I now, but that I’ve known you long;
  • That you first taught me all the sweets of song
  • The grand, the sweet, the terse, the free, the fine;
  • What swell’d with pathos, and what right divine
  • Spenserian vowels that elope with ease,
  • And float along like birds o’er summer seas;
  • Miltonian storms, and more, Miltonian tenderness;
  • Michael in arms, and more, meek Eve’s fair slenderness.
  • Who read for me the sonnet swelling loudly
  • Up to its climax and then dying proudly?
  • Who found for me the grandeur of the ode,
  • Growing, like Atlas, stronger from its load?
  • Who let me taste that more than cordial dram,
  • The sharp, the rapier-pointed epigram?
  • Shew’d me that epic was of all the king,
  • Round, vast, and spanning all like Saturn’s ring?
  • You too upheld the veil from Clio’s beauty,
  • And pointed out the patriot’s stern duty;
  • The might of Alfred, and the shaft of Tell;
  • The hand of Brutus, that so grandly fell
  • Upon a tyrant’s head. Ah! had I never seen,
  • Or known your kindness, what might I have been?
  • What my enjoyments in my youthful years,
  • Bereft of all that now my life endears?
  • And can I e’er these benefits forget?
  • And can I e’er repay the friendly debt?
  • No, doubly no; — yet should these rhymings please,
  • I shall roll on the grass with two-fold ease
  • For I have long time been my fancy feeding
  • With hopes that you would one day think the reading
  • Of my rough verses not an hour misspent;
  • Should it e’er be so, what a rich content!
  • Some weeks have pass’d since last I saw the spires
  • In lucent Thames reflected — warm desires
  • To see the sun o’er peep the eastern dimness,
  • And morning shadows streaking into slimness
  • Across the lawny fields, and pebbly water;
  • To mark the time as they grow broad, and shorter;
  • To feel the air that plays about the hills,
  • And sips its freshness from the little rills;
  • To see high, golden corn wave in the light
  • When Cynthia smiles upon a summer’s night,
  • And peers among the cloudlet’s jet and white,
  • As though she were reclining in a bed
  • Of bean blossoms, in heaven freshly shed —
  • No sooner had I stepp’d into these pleasures
  • Than I began to think of rhymes and measures
  • The air that floated by me seem’d to say
  • Write! thou wilt never have a better day.
  • And so I did. When many lines I’d written,
  • Though with their grace I was not oversmitten,
  • Yet, as my hand was warm, I thought I’d better
  • Trust to my feelings, and write you a letter.
  • Such an attempt required an inspiration
  • Of peculiar sort, — a consummation; —
  • Which, had I felt, these scribblings might have been
  • Verses from which the soul would never wean
  • But many days have past since last my heart
  • Was warm’d luxuriously by divine Mozart;
  • By Arne delighted, or by Handel madden’d;
  • Or by the song of Erin pierc’d and sadden’d
  • What time you were before the music sitting,
  • And the rich notes to each sensation fitting;
  • Since I have walk’d with you through shady lanes
  • That freshly terminate in open plains,
  • And revel’d in a chat that ceased not
  • When at night-fall among your books we got
  • No, nor when supper came, nor after that, —
  • Nor when reluctantly I took my hat;
  • No, nor till cordially you shook my hand
  • Mid-way between our homes: — your accents bland
  • Still sounded in my ears, when I no more
  • Could hear your footsteps touch the grav’ly floor.
  • Sometimes I lost them, and then found again;
  • You chang’d the footpath for the grassy plain.
  • In those still moments I have wish’ed you joys
  • That well you know to honour: — “Life’s very toys
  • With him,” said I, “will take a pleasant charm;
  • It cannot be that ought will work him harm.
  • These thoughts now come o’er me with all their might —
  • Again I shake your hand, — friend Charles, good night.
  • September, 1816

🗙 Cite this page:

MLA Style: Works Cited

Keats, John. “To Charles Cowden Clarke.” Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology, by G. Kim Blank. Edition 3.5 , University of Victoria, 18 October 2020. https://johnkeats.uvic.ca/poem_to_charles_cowden_clarke.html.

Chicago Style: Note

John Keats, “To Charles Cowden Clarke,” Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology, Edition 3.5 , last modified 18th October 2020. https://johnkeats.uvic.ca/poem_to_charles_cowden_clarke.html.

Chicago Style: Bibliography

Keats, John. “To Charles Cowden Clarke.” Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology, Edition 3.5 , last modified 18th October 2020. https://johnkeats.uvic.ca/poem_to_charles_cowden_clarke.html.