John Keats 200 marks the poet's annus mirabilis
of 1819 and mensis mirabilis
of May in that year, the
month of the great Odes
|We think we know the 24-year-old who made the nightingale as much a watchword of our eternal earthly wonders as that bird’s own song has always been. But do we?|
We may yet have the pleasure of knowing what it must have been like to open an envelope from probably the greatest letter-writer in the English language.
And what a life-story !
Yet in the face of never-ending family and physical challenges, Keats was fearlessly, tirelessly, hungrily creative on the page.
So here on Keats Night we will meet again a young man dead at 25 whose sonnets can stand alongside Shakespeare’s, whose great Odes are superlative and unspeakably exciting, and the sheer beauty of whose lyrical gift has seldom been surpassed by anyone in any language before or since.
“There was”, said Joseph Severn, who was with him when he died in Rome, “a strong bias of the beautiful side of humanity in everything he did.”
Ode on Melancholy
No, no, go not to Lethe, neither twist
Wolf's-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kiss'd
By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;
Make not your rosary of yew-berries,
Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be
Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl
A partner in your sorrow's mysteries;
For shade to shade will come too drowsily,
And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul.
But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.
She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;
His soul shalt taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.