From Sleep and Poetry
lines 47 to 84
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 me to 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.
John Keats (1795–1821).
Denizen – resident
Apollo – in Greek and Roman mythology, the god of prophecy, sunlight, music, and healing. He was the son of Zeus and Leto, and Artemis was his twin sister.
Elysium – in Greek mythology, the home of the blessed after death.
Meander – river with twists and turns
Grot – cave
The above are lines taken from his long poem Sleep and Poetry. The poem consists of a series of rhyming couplets. Note that the text breaks are my own splitting of these lines. He wrote this in 1816 at the age of 20.
JK regards poetry as a God to worship and hopefully there will be an answer to his prayer for recognition and service. To kneel upon some mountain-top until there is an answer a glowing splendour round about me hung. It is the duty then of the poet to echo back the voice of thine own tongue. The mystery of poetry is to respond to some voice heard from within the depths of the universe.
JK asks nature to smooth the Godly yield for his intoxication and so the young poet can follow the morning sun-beams to the great Apollo. It is as though he wants to provide a fresh sacrifice to the heaven that is poetry; and then be within the pages of the eternal book. That is if he does not succumb to the sweetness of the task at hand – can bear the o’erwhelming sweets.
He sees himself as a translator of the beauty of the natural world oblivious to how his message emanates from its source in the creation process – many a verse from so strange influence.
Imagination is everything as Einstein would equally agree. And JK delights at the thought of sitting by the fireside discovering a world of total enchantment but quite fearful from its loveliness. Then to write down all that could flow in appropriate words from such experience on to his tablets. Tablets to me implies a permanency for future generations to cherish and in the last line wings to find out an immortality.
And proud he will be to achieve his goal in life.
Here is a link to a companion piece ‘Ode on the Poets’