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Monday, 2 March 2009

John Keats

Dear John Keats, whom Yeats described as "a small boy with his nose pressed up against the pastry shop window," seemed to go through life with such a fatalistic view that his untimely death was almost inevitable.

In my youth, I adored Keats' poetry - his sense of things fading and the tragedy of being unable to hang on to what was beautiful captures all that we feel when we are young. Things appear so beautiful that it seems they cannot last...and yet, and yet....

What if Keats had gone into the pastry shop and bought the cakes? He could have done, had he so desired. His tragedy seems to be that sense of imminent doom; his decision that beauty is unattainable on earth. His poetry is filled with tragedy - the tragedy of 'feeling' youth that cannot see beyond its own immediate emotion. "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" - a euphemism for his consumption, and "Ode to a Nightingale" are utterly beautiful but speak to that sense of gloom that is within us all, rather than to the sense of hope, of faith of our not being at the mercy of the elements or fate or whatever life seems to throw at us.

Having been such an admirer of this brilliant poet (and doctor, whose attempts to publish his work were met by such ridiculous responses as: "Stick to doctoring, Mr. Keats, you'll never make it as a poet!") I can't help but think his own self-absorption culminated in the self-fulfilling prophecy of his early demise. All the same, his words are very of my favourites (after "Ode to a Nightingale") being "Bright Star":

Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art-
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors--
No- yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever- or else swoon to death.

1 comment:

MissDaisyAnne said...

I love the Romantic Period, and Keats is one of my favorite poets.