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