O thou whose face hath felt the Winter’s wind- John Keats – Analysis

O thou whose face hath felt the Winter’s wind

O thou whose face hath felt the Winter’s wind,
Whose eye has seen the snow-clouds hung in mist
And the black elm tops ‘mong the freezing stars,
To thee the spring will be a harvest-time.
O thou, whose only book has been the light
Of supreme darkness which thou feddest on
Night after night when Phoebus was away,
To thee the Spring shall be a triple morn.

O fret not after knowledge- I have none,
And yet my song comes native with the warmth.
O fret not after knowledge- I have none,
And yet the Evening listens. He who saddens
At thought of idleness cannot be idle,
And he’s awake who thinks himself asleep.

John Keats (1795 – 1821)

A draft copy of this sonnet was sent to his friend John Reynolds on today’s date the 19 February. His friend was suffering from pneumatic fever. He wanted to ‘lift a little time from his shoulders’. Apparently the song of a thrush heard while Keats was out walking was the inspiration for this poem.

It is the only unrhymned sonnet that Keats wrote. It forms the traditional break after the first eight lines – after the full stop, and I have inserted a blank line at this point.

Feddest – feed perhaps
Phoebus – Greek God of light; God of prophecy and poetry and music and healing.

John Reynolds was obviously going through a very dark time. It is appropriate that he mentions the absence of Phoebus, the inability of his friend to write. His illness is conceited to darkness in nature and that Spring will be a great happening – and two lines stress this – a harvest-time and a triple morn.

The last six lines stress the lack of knowledge on the illness and its progression. Again two lines are involved – O fret not after knowledge – I have none, but independent of this his song comes native with warmth.

The last lines give hope that although he, John Reynolds, may think of death in terms of idleness and sleep he is actually awake – and will live, hopefully.

John Keats on Wikipedia

Bright Star – John Keats – Analysis

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 priest like 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.

John Keats (1795 – 1821)

Eremite – a hermit one who lives alonen
Ablution – ritual washing

A sonnet with rhyming scheme ‘abac dede  fghg ii’ and the usual break in thought after eight lines.

This is probably close to his final poetic work and this sonnet is clearly in relation to his beloved Fanny Brawne. He cannot meet the requirements for marriage for he is not of that financial status necessary and in any case he is quite ill and about to travel to Italy for health reasons where he will die at the age of 25.

He wishes to be like the Bright Star in that the star will always be there looking down steadfast and permanent whereas his view of the world in the company of the much loved Fanny Brawne is going to be very brief.

The bright star only sees the priest-like waters in their continual ritual cleansing of the world and the snow tops of mountains. He doesn’t want to be remote and a hermit and devoid of personal association with the world. The soft-fallen mask of snow gives a poetic link seen later in the poem in relation to the breast of the sleeping Fanny.

The Bright Star will ‘see’ the full gamut of Fanny’s life. He would love to experience a life-long presence of Fanny emphasised in the close personal relationship of being their while she is sleeping and watching her breath. The fall and swell and not swell and fall gives a positive ending to each breath. And because he cannot do this and his life is short the only choice is to swoon to death.

From … Wikipedia …
It is unclear when Keats first drafted “Bright Star”; his biographers suggest different dates. Andrew Motion suggests it was begun in October 1819. Robert Gittings states that Keats began the poem in April 1818 – before he met his beloved Fanny Brawne – and he later revised it for her. Colvin believed it to have been in the last week of February 1819, immediately after their informal engagement.

The final version of the sonnet was copied into a volume of The Poetical Works of William Shakespeare, opposite Shakespeare’s poem, A Lover’s Complaint. The book had been given to Keats in 1819 by John Hamilton Reynolds. Joseph Severn maintained that the last draft was transcribed into the book in late September 1820 while they were aboard the ship Maria Crowther, travelling to Rome, from where the very sick Keats would never return.

Some text from Shakespeare’s A Lover’s Complaint
O, that infected moisture of his eye,
O, that false fire which in his cheek so glowed,
O, that forc’d thunder from his heart did fly,
O, that sad breath his spungy lungs bestowed,
O, all that borrowed motion seeming owed,
Would yet again betray the fore-betray’d,
And new pervert a reconciled maid!

This is a different complaint all together. A complaint by a lady who has lost her love through betrayal. But interestingly she would accept him again if he returned to woo her in similar fashion. Keats of course did woo Fanny with his poetic voice. And she was impressed with his poetry after reading a book of his work.

A reference to the 2009 movie ‘Bright Star’ 

John Keats on Wikipedia

Poetical Aspirations – John Keats (Sleep and Beauty)

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’

John Keats on Wikipedia

The Human Seasons – John Keats – Comments

The Human Seasons

Four Seasons fill the measure of the year;
There are four seasons in the mind of man:
He has his lusty Spring, when fancy clear
Takes in all beauty with an easy span:
He has his Summer, when luxuriously
Spring’s honied cud of youthful thought he loves
To ruminate, and by such dreaming high
Is nearest unto heaven: quiet coves
His soul has in its Autumn, when his wings
He furleth close; contented so to look
On mists in idleness—to let fair things
Pass by unheeded as a threshold brook.
He has his Winter too of pale misfeature,
Or else he would forego his mortal nature.

John Keats

Spring = lusty
Summer = dream-time
Autumn = age
Winter = death

Are these the four seasons of human life?

The seasons have always been a subject for poetic expression and I’m sure there are many words that can be linked to each! It is an interesting exercise to associate one word with each of the seasons. Looking at this poem winter = misfeature – what does that conjure up in the mind of the reader and I guess winter = mortality is a common association.

In similar fashion one day can be associated with a lifetime – remember a certain Shakespeare sonnet.

More commentary on this poem 

A link to John Keats on Wikipedia


Ode on the Poets – John Keats

Ode on the Poets

BARDS of Passion and of Mirth
Ye have left your souls on earth!
Have ye souls in heaven too,
Double-lived in regions new?

—Yes, and those of heaven commune
With the spheres of sun and moon;
With the noise of fountains wonderous
And the parle of voices thunderous;
With the whisper of heaven’s trees
And one another, in soft ease
Seated on Elysian lawns
Browsed by none but Dian’s fawns;
Underneath large blue-bells tented,
Where the daisies are rose-scented,
And the rose herself has got
Perfume which on earth is not;
Where the nightingale doth sing
Not a senseless, trance´d thing,
But divine melodious truth;
Philosophic numbers smooth;
Tales and golden histories
Of heaven and its mysteries.

Thus ye live on high, and then
On the earth ye live again;
And the souls ye left behind you
Teach us, here, the way to find you,
Where your other souls are joying,
Never slumber’d, never cloying.
Here, your earth-born souls still speak
To mortals, of their little week;
Of their sorrows and delights;
Of their passions and their spites;
Of their glory and their shame;
What doth strengthen and what maim:—
Thus ye teach us, every day,
Wisdom, though fled far away.

Bards of Passion and of Mirth
Ye have left your souls on earth!
Ye have souls in heaven too,
Double-lived in regions new!

John Keats

Ode – lyrical poetic form … meant to be sung … 50 to 200 lines

Of their sorrows and delights
^ ^ ^^ ^ ^^
Strong seven syllable iambic rhythm

Keats is famous for his odes this is not one of his well-known like ‘Ode to a Nightingale’.

S1 and S2 … the first four lines question whether poets have a soul in any after-life … then from line five we have a view of heaven in terms of the nature of earth – daisies are rose-scented … always an impossible task to come to terms with the undefinable nature of heaven … but of course very fitting to use a garden image. It is nice and poetic to think of heaven in such positive terms. A gift in the mind of the living for those poets who have departed this life.

Elysian lawns = the final resting places of the souls of the heroic Dian’s fawns = the goddess of hunt, moon and childbirth who could talk to and control animals (Greek Mythology)

S3 …If the departed have an after-life soul then this stanza states there is communication with their earth-born soul – Here, your earth-born souls still speak … and the communication is very positive – Thus ye teach us, every day / Wisdom, though fled far away. This is apart from any words left behind which are brought to life by the living ( I immediately think of the ‘The Dead Poets Society’).

The first and last four lines of the poem give emphasis on the duality of the soul – for those that belief in some kind of after-life. The nature of any on-going connectivity between the living and the departed poet is up to the reader to discover.

Keats wrote his poetry in seven years from a teenager up to his untimely death at the age of twenty five. He died of ‘consumption’ (TB) in Rome – he went to Italy seeking a better climate because of illness. He had trained in medicine and it is ironic that the medical assistance at that time promoted his early demise. Unfortunately he was not given opium to alleviate his painful end. His soul lives on below the clouds.

A link to Keats on Wikipedia