John Keats

Please note that I only include poems that I personally have transcribed from my personal library. 
Many copies of most poems that circulate on the internet are riddled with textual errors. 
I therefore choose not to copy them.

To find Keats poems accompanied by an MP3 file, use your browser's search command and enter "MP3." 
Then look for an icon identical to the one displayed below.

You are free to save the file to your desktop.


MANY the wonders I this day have seen:
    The sun, when first he kist away the tears
    That fill'd the eyes of morn;—the laurell'd peers
Who from the feathery gold of evening lean;—
The ocean with its vastness, its blue green,
    Its ships, its rocks, its caves, its hopes, its fears,—
    Its voice mysterious, which whoso hears
Must think on what will be, and what has been.
E'en now, dear George, while this for you I write,
    Cynthia is from her silken curtains peeping
So scantly, that it seems her bridal night,
    And she her half-discover'd revels keeping.
But what, without the social thought of thee,
Would be the wonders of the sky and sea?

¤ George. [jôrj.] (pr. n.) John Keats addressed the above poem to his brother, George Keats (1797-1841). George ended up living the longest out of the Keats brothers, all of whom died from tuberculosis. George married Georgiana Wylie in 1818 and emigrated to America during June of that year. After certain financial disasters, George returned to England and acquired his brother Tom's portion of his father's inheritance in addition to most of John Keats' portion. George afterward attempted life in America one more time. He and Georgiana prospered in Louisville, Kentucky, until their deaths.

¤ Cynthia. [sĭn'thē-ə.] (pr. n.) The earlier Greek name of Diana, the virginal Roman goddess of the moon and hunting. She is noted for having loved the shepherd Endymion.


HOW many bards gild the lapses of time!
    A few of them have ever been the food
    Of my delighted fancy,—I could brood
Over their beauties, earthly, or sublime:
And often, when I sit me down to rhyme,
    These will in throngs before my mind intrude:
    But no confusion, no disturbance rude
Do they occasion; 'tis a pleasing chime.
So the unnumber'd sounds that evening store;
The songs of birds—the whisp'ring of the leaves—
    The voice of waters—the great bell that heaves
With solemn sound,—and thousand others more,
    That distance of recognizance bereaves,
Make pleasing music, and not wild uproar.


AS late I rambled in the happy fields,
    What time the sky-lark shakes the tremulous dew
    From his lush clover covert;—when anew
Adventurous knights take up their dinted shields:
I saw the sweetest flower wild nature yields,
    A fresh-blown musk-rose; 'twas the first that threw
    Its sweets upon the summer: graceful it grew
As is the wand that queen Titania wields.
And, as I feasted on its fragrancy,
    I thought the garden-rose it far excell'd:
But when, O Wells! thy roses came to me
    My sense with their deliciousness was spell'd:
Soft voices had they, with that tender plea
    Whisper'd of peace, and truth, and friendliness unquell'd.
      June 29, I8I6.

¤ sky-lark. [skī'lärk.] (n.) An Old World lark (Alauda arvensis) having brownish plumage and noted for its singing while in flight.

¤ musk-rose. [mŭsk rōz.] (n.) A prickly Mediterranean shrub (Rosa moschata) cultivated for its clustered, musk-scented white flowers.

¤ Titania. [tī-tā'nē-ə, -tān'yə, tī-.] (pr. n.) The queen of the fairies and the wide of Oberon in medieval folklore. Etymologically descended from Diana, goddess of the moon.

¤ Wells. [wĕlz.] (pr. n.) Charles Wells. From Sidney Colvin's 1917 biography of Keats: "To turn to other close associates of Keats during the same period, known to him not through Hunt but through his brothers,--a word may suffice for Charles Wells, to whom we find him addressing in the summer of 1816 a sonnet of thanks for a gift of roses. Wells had been a schoolmate of Tom Keats and R. H. Home, and is described as in those days a small, red-headed, snubnosed, blue-eyed youth of irrepressible animal spirits. Now or somewhat later he formed an intimacy, never afterwards broken, with Hazlitt. Keats's own regard for Wells was short-lived, being changed a year or so later into fierce indignation when Wells played off a heartless practical joke upon the consumptive Tom in the shape of a batch of pretended loveletters from an imaginary 'Amena.' It was after Keats's death that Wells earned a place of his own in literature with the poetic drama Joseph and his Brethren, dead-born in its first anonymous form and re-animated after many years, but still during the life-time of its author, through the enthusiasm which its qualities of intellect and passion inspired in Rossetti and Swinburne" (Source).


O SOLITUDE! if I must with thee dwell,
    Let it not be among the jumbled heap
    Or murky buildings; climb with me the steep,—
Nature's observatory—whence the dell,
Its flowery slopes, its river's crystal swell,
May seem a span; let me thy vigils keep
    'Mongst boughs pavillion'd, where the deer's swift leap
Startles the wild bee from the fox-glove bell.
But though I'll gladly trace these scenes with thee,
    Yet the sweet converse of an innocent mind,
    Whose words are images of thoughts refin'd,
Is my soul's pleasure; and it sure must be
    Almost the highest bliss of human-kind,
When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee.

Douglas Hodge Reading "O Solitude!" MP3
1.00 MB

¤ dell. [dĕl.] (n.) A small, secluded, wooded valley.

¤ pavilion. [pə-vĭl'yən.] 1: (v. tr.) To cover or furnish as if with a pavilion. 2: (n.) A light, sometimes ornamental roofed structure, used for amusement or shelter, as at parks or fairs.

¤ fox-glove. [fŏks'glŭv.] (n.) Any of several herbs of the genus Digitalis, especially D. purpurea of Europe, having a long cluster of large, tubular, pinkish-purple flowers and leaves that are the source of the drug digitalis.


SMALL, busy flames play through the fresh laid coals,
    And their faint cracklings o'er our silence creep
    Like whispers of the household gods that keep
A gentle empire o'er fraternal souls.
And while, for rhymes, I search around the poles,
    Your eyes are fix'd, as in poetic sleep,
    Upon the lore so voluble and deep,
That aye at fall of night our care condoles.
This is your birth-day Tom, and I rejoice
    That thus it passes smoothly, quietly.
Many such eves of gently whisp'ring noise
    May we together pass, and calmly try
What are this world's true joys,—ere the great voice,
    From its fair face, shall bid our spirits fly.
      November I8, I8I6. 

¤ voluble. [vŏl'yə-bəl.] (adj.) Marked by a ready flow of speech; fluent.

¤ condole. [kən-dōl'.] (v. intr.) To express sympathy or sorrow.


KEEN, fitful gusts are whisp'ring here and there
    Among the bushes half leafless, and dry;
    The stars look very cold about the sky,
And I have many miles on foot to fare.
Yet feel I little of the cool bleak air,
    Or of the dead leaves rustling drearily,
    Or of those silver lamps that burn on high,
Or of the distance from home's pleasant lair:
For I am brimfull of the friendliness
    That in a little cottage I have found;
Of fair-hair'd Milton's eloquent distress,
    And all his love for gentle Lycid drown'd;
Of lovely Laura in her light green dress,
    And faithful Petrarch gloriously crown'd.

¤ Milton. [mĭl'tən.] (pr. n.) Poet John Milton (1608-1674), best known for his epic poem Paradise Lost (1667). Milton heavily influenced Keats, who admittedly attempted to imitate Milton with his own unfinished epic, Hyperion. The "eloquent distress" mentioned here refers to Milton's grief captured in verse when his old collegemate Edward King drowned at sea.

¤ Lycid. [lĭs'ĭd.] (pr. n.) "Lycid" is Keats' truncation of "Lycidas," Milton's poetic pseudonym for King. From Dartmouth College's notes on Milton: "The name Lycidas is common in ancient Greek pastorals, establishing the style Milton imitates for this poem. William Collins Watterson notes that in Theocritus' pastoral, Lycidas loses a singing competition. Watterson asserts that Milton is aligning King with Lycidas in an attempt to portray himself as victorious over King. Virgil's ninth Eclogue is spoken in part by the shepherd Lycidas, a scene that includes, as Balachandra Rajan points out, a reference to social injustice. Lucan's Civil Wars 3.657-58 also tells the story of a Lycidas pulled to pieces during a sea battle by a grappling hook" (Source).

¤ Laura. [lô'rä.] (pr. n.) Keats refers to the woman idealized in Petrarch's love sonnets. He wrote the Canzoniere for her. While some scholarly debate exists regarding her actual existence (some believe her name to be a pun off "laurel," the leaves with which Petrarch was crowned as poet laureate), she is generally believed to be Laura de Noves. Petrarch fell in love with her at first sight, and she consistently refused his advances on account of her extant marriage.

Keats' mention of Laura's green dress refers to Petrarch's poem Verdi panni, sanguini, oscuri o persi, translated thus: "Green dresses, crimson, black or purple, / were never worn by ladies, / nor golden hair tied in a fair braid, / as beautifully as she who robs me / of my will, and takes away the path / of my liberty, so I cannot even / tolerate a lighter yoke" (Source).

¤ Petrarch. [pē'trärk, pĕt'rärk.] (pr. n.) Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374). An Italian scholar, poet, and early humanist. He and Dante Alghieri are considered fathers of the Renaissance.


MUCH have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
    And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
    Round many western island have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
    That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his desmesne;
    Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
    When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
    He star'd at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—
    Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Douglas Hodge Reading "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" MP3
1.00 MB

¤ realms of gold. As argued in an academic essay by Joseph Warren Beach, the "realms of gold" likely refer to the gold mines sought after by Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors during the age of western exploration. However, that is merely a concrete referent. The metaphoric "realms of gold" for Keats are the expanses of poetry and the joy found there.

¤ Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold. Again aligning the symbolic motif of sea voyaging with poetic epiphany, Keats compares the relationship between political vassals and kings with the relationship between poets and Apollo, the god of poetry. Inasmuch as poets are those oceanic voyagers who claim land for their kings, so Keats and other poets are conquerors who explore territories of joy to claim for their lord, the god of poetry. The image is even more appropriate for its classical allusion, given the impetus for Keats' elation in Chapman's edition of Homer's Odyssey and Iliad.

¤ demesne. [dĭ-mān', -mēn.] (n.) 1: Law. Possession and use of one's own land. 2: Manorial land retained for the private use of a feudal lord. 3: The grounds belonging to a mansion or country house. 4: An extensive piece of landed property; an estate. 5: A district; a territory. 6: A realm; a domain.

¤ That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his desmesne. Again according to the oceanic metaphor, Keats reports of having heard about Homer's distant country in the same way that voyagers attempted to find lands that they had heard about as rumours.

¤ Cortez. [côr-tĕz.] (pr. n.) Spanish conquistador Hernándo Cortés (1485-1547). According to the action ascribed to Cortés, however, Keats confused him with Vasco Núñez de Balboa. Balboa discovered the Pacific ocean near the Spanish colony Darién.

¤ surmise. [sər-mīz'.] (n.) An idea or opinion based on sufficiently inconclusive evidence; a conjecture. Keats uses surmise as a noun, which is less common in current English. He means to refer to the incredulity of Balboa's platoon.

¤ Darién [dâr-ē-ĕn', där-yĕn'.] (pr. n.) A region of eastern Panama on the Gulf of Darién, a wide bay of the Caribbean Sea between eastern Panama and northwest Colombia. In 1513, Vasco Núñez de Balboa led an expedition across the Isthmus of Darién (now the Isthmus of Panama) and became the first European to view the Pacific Ocean from the New World.


HIGHMINDEDNESS, a jealousy for good,
    A loving-kindness for the great man's fame,
    Dwells here and there with people of no name,
In noisome alley, and in pathless wood:
And where we think the truth least understood,
   Oft may be found a "singleness of aim,"
    That ought to frighten into hooded shame
A money-mong'ring, pitiable brood.
How glorious this affection for the cause
    Of stedfast genius, toiling gallantly!
What when a stout champion awes
    Envy, and Malice to their native sty?
Unnumber'd souls breathe out a still applause,
    Proud to behold him in his country's eye. 


GREAT spirits now on earth are sojourning;
    He of the cloud, the cataract, the lake,
    Who on Helvellyn's summit, wide awake,
Catches the freshness from Archangel's wing:
He of the rose, the violet, the spring,
    The social smile, the chain for Freedom's sake:
    And lo!—whose stedfastness would never take
A meaner sound than Raphael's whispering.
And other spirits there are standing apart
    Upon the forehead of the age to come;
These, these will give the world another heart,
    And other pulses. Hear ye not the hum
Of mighty workings?—
    Listen awhile, ye nations, and be dumb.


HAPPY is England! I could be content
    To see no other verdure than its own;
    To feel no other breezes than are blown
Through its tall woods with high romances blent:
Yet do I sometimes feel a languishment
    For skies Italian, and an inward groan
    To sit upon an Alp as on a throne,
And half forget what world or worldling meant.
Happy is England, sweet her artless daughters;
    Enough their simple loveliness for me,
        Enough their whitest arms in silence clinging:
    Yet do I often warmly burn to see
        Beauties of deeper glance, and hear their singing,
And float with them about the summer waters.

Douglas Hodge Reading "Happy Is England!" MP3
1.08 MB


                "As I lay in my bed slepe full unmete
                "Was unto me, but why that I ne might
                "Rest I ne wist, for there n'as erthly wight
                "(As I suppose) had more of hertis ese
                "Than I, for I n'ad sicknesse nor disese."

WHAT is more gentle than a wind in summer?
What is more soothing than the pretty hummer
That stays one moment in an open flower,
And buzzes cheerily from bower to bower?
What is more tranquil than a musk-rose blowing
In a green island, far from all men's knowing?
More healthful than the leafiness of dales?
More secret than a nest of nightingales?
More serene than Cordelia's countenance?
More full of visions than a high romance?
What, but thee Sleep? Soft closer of our eyes!
Low murmurer of tender lullabies!
Light hoverer around our happy pillows!
Wreather of poppy buds, and weeping willows!
Silent entangler of a beauty's tresses!
Most happy listener! when the morning blesses
Thee for enlivening all the cheerful eyes
That glance so brightly at the new sun-rise.

But what is higher beyond thought than thee?
Fresher than berries of a mountain tree?
More strange, more beautiful, more smooth, more regal,
Than wings of swans, than doves, than dim-seen eagle?
What is it? And to what shall I compare it?
It has a glory, and naught else can share it:
The thought thereof is awful, sweet, and holy,
Chasing away all worldliness and folly;
Coming sometimes like fearful claps of thunder,
Or the low rumblings earth's regions under;
And sometimes like a gentle whispering
Of all the secrets of some wond'rous thing
That breathes about us in the vacant air;
So that we look around with prying stare,
Perhaps to see shapes of light, aerial limning,
And catch soft floatings from a faint-heard hymning;
To see the laurel wreath, on high suspended,
That is to crown our name when life is ended.
Sometimes it gives a glory to the voice,
And from the heart up-springs, rejoice! rejoice!
Sounds which will reach the Framer of all things,
And die away in ardent mutterings.

No one who once the glorious sun has seen,
And all the clouds, and felt his bosom clean
For his great Maker's presence, but must know
What 'tis I mean, and feel his being glow:
Therefore no insult will I give his spirit,
By telling what he sees from native merit.

O Poesy! for thee I hold my pen
That I 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,
Smooth'd 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 to me 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 chequer'd 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.

Stop and consider! life is but a day;
A fragile dew-drop on its perilous way
From a tree's summit; a poor Indian's sleep
While his boat hastens to the monstrous steep
Of Montmorenci. Why so sad a moan?
Life is the rose's hope while yet unblown;
The reading of an ever-changing tale;
The light uplifting of a maiden's veil;
A pigeon tumbling in clear summer air;
A laughing school-boy, without grief or care,
Riding the springy branches of an elm.

O for ten years, that I may overwhelm
Myself in poesy; so I may do the deed
That my own soul has to itself decreed.
Then will I pass the countries that I see
In long perspective, and continually
Taste their pure fountains. First the realm I'll pass
Of Flora, and old Pan: sleep in the grass,
Feed upon apples red, and strawberries,
And choose each pleasure that my fancy sees;
Catch the white-handed nymphs in shady places,
To woo sweet kisses from averted faces,—
Play with their fingers, touch their shoulders white
Into a pretty shrinking with a bite
As hard as lips can make it: till agreed,
A lovely tale of human life we'll read.
And one will teach a tame dove how it best
May fan the cool air gently o'er my rest;
Another, bending o'er her nimble tread,
Will set a green robe floating round her head,
And still will dance with ever varied ease,
Smiling upon the flowers and the trees:
Another will entice me on, and on
Through almond blossoms and rich cinnamon;
Till in the bosom of a leafy world
We rest in silence, like two gems upcurl'd
In the recesses of a pearly shell.

And can I ever bid these joys farewell?
Yes, I must pass them for a nobler life,
Where I may find the agonies, the strife
Of human hearts: for lo! I see afar,
O'ersailing the blue cragginess, a car
And steeds with streamy manes—the charioteer
Looks out upon the winds with glorious fear:
And now the numerous tramplings quiver lightly
Along a huge cloud's ridge; and now with sprightly
Wheel downward come they into fresher skies,
Tipt round with silver from the sun's bright eyes.
Still downward with capacious whirl they glide;
And now I see them on the green-hill's side
In breezy rest among the nodding stalks.
The charioteer with wond'rous gesture talks
To the trees and mountains; and there soon appear
Shapes of delight, of mystery, and fear,
Passing along before a dusky space
Made by some mighty oaks: as they would chace
Some ever-fleeting music on they sweep.
Lo! how they murmur, laugh, and smile, and weep:
Some with upholden hand and mouth severe;
Some with their faces muffled to the ear
Between their arms; some, clear in youthful bloom,
Go glad and smilingly athwart the gloom;
Some looking back, and some with upward gaze;
Yes, thousands in a thousand different ways
Flit onward—now a lovely wreath of girls
Dancing their sleek hair into tangled curls;
And now broad wings. Most awfully intent
The driver of those steeds is forward bent,
And seems to listen: O that I might know
All that he writes with such a hurrying glow.

The visions all are fled—the car is fled
Into the light of heaven, and in their stead
A sense of real things comes doubly strong,
And, like a muddy stream, would bear along
My soul to nothingness: but I will strive
Against all doubtings, and will keep alive
The thought of that same chariot, and the strange
Journey it went.

                          Is there so small a range
In the present strength of mankind, that the high
Imagination cannot freely fly
As she was wont of old? prepare her steeds,
Paw up against the light, and do strange deeds
Upon the clouds? Has she not shown us all?
From the clear space of ether, to the small
Breath of new buds unfolding? From the meaning
Of Jove's large eye-brow, to the tender greening
Of April's meadows? Here her altar shone,
E'en in this isle; and who could paragon
The fervid choir that lifted up a noise
Of harmony, to where it aye will poise
Its mighty self of convoluting sound,
Huge as a planet, and like that roll round,
Eternally around a dizzy void?
Ay, in those days the Muses were night cloy'd
With honours; nor had any other care
Than to sing out and soothe their wavy hair.

Could all this be forgotten? Yes, a schism
Nurtured by foppery and barbarism,
Made great Apollo blush for this his land.
Men were thought wise who could not understand
His glories: with a puling infant's force
They sway'd about upon a rocking horse,
And thought it Pegasus. Ah dismal soul'd!
The winds of heaven blew, the ocean roll'd
Its gathered waves—ye felt it not. The blue
Bared its eternal bosom, and the dew
Of summer nights collected still to make
The morning precious: beauty was awake!
Why were ye not awake? But ye were dead
To things ye knew not of,—were closely wed
To musty laws lined out with wretched rule
And compass vile: so that ye taught a school
Of dolts to smooth, inlay, and clip, and fit,
Till, like the certain wands of Jacob's wit,
Their verses tallied. Easy was the task:
A thousand handicraftsmen wore the mask
Of Poesy. Ill-fated, impious race!
That blasphemed the bright Lyrist to his face,
And did not know it,—no, they went about,
Holding a poor, decrepit standard out
Mark'd with most flimsy mottos, and in large 
the name of one Boileau!

                                      O ye whose charge
Is to hover round our pleasant hills!
Whose congregated majesty so fills
My boundly reverence, that I cannot trace
Your hallowed names, in this unholy place,
So near those common folk; did not their shames
Affright you? Did our old lamenting Thames
Delight you? Did ye never cluster round
Delicious Avon, with a mournful sound,
And weep? Or did ye wholly bid adieu
To regions where no more the laurel grew?
Or did ye stay to give a welcoming
To some long spirits who could proudly sing
Their youth away, and die? 'Twas even so:
But let me think away those times of woe:
Now 'tis a fairer season; ye have breathed
Rich benedictions o'er us; ye have wreathed
Fresh garlands: for sweet music has been heard
In many places;—some has been upstirr'd
From out its crystal dwelling in a lake,
By a swan's ebon bill; from a thick brake,
Nested and quiet in a valley mild,
Bubbles a pipe; fine sounds are floating wild
About the earth: happy are ye and glad.

These things are doubtless: yet in truth we've had
Strange thunders from the potency of song;
Mingled indeed with what is sweet and strong,
From majesty: but in clear truth the themes
Are ugly clubs, and Poets' Polyphemes
Disturbing the grand sea. A drainless shower
Of light is poesy; 'tis the supreme of power;
'Tis might half slumb'ring on its own right arm.
The very archings of her eye-lids charm
A thousand willing agents to obey,
And still she governs with the mildest sway:
But strength alone though of the Muses born
Is like a fallen angel: trees uptorn,
Darkness, and worms, and shrouds, and sepulchres
Delight it; for it feeds upon the burrs,
And thorns of life; forgetting the great end
Of poesy, that it should be a friend
To soothe the cares, and lift the thoughts of man.

        Yet I rejoice: a myrtle fairer than
E'er grew in Paphos, from the bitter weeds
Lifts its sweet head into the air, and feeds
A silent space with ever sprouting green.
All tenderest birds there find a pleasant screen,
Creep through the shade with jaunty fluttering,
Nibble the little cupped flowers and sing.
Then let us clear away the choking thorns
From round its gentle stem; let the young fawns,
Yeaned in after times, when we are flown,
Find a fresh sward beneath it, overgrown
With simple flowers: let there nothing be
More boisterous than a lover's bended knee;
Nought more ungentle than the placid look
Of one who leans upon a closed book;
Nought more untranquil than the grassy slopes
Between two hills. All hail delightful hopes!
As she was wont, th' imagination
Into most lovely labyrinths will be gone,
And they shall be accounted poet kings
Who simply tell the most heart-easing things.
O may these joys be ripe before I die.

Will not some say that I presumptuously
Have spoken? that from hastening disgrace
'Twere better far to hide my foolish face?
That whining boyhood should with reverence bow
Ere the dread thunderbolt could reach? How!
If I do hide myself, it sure shall be
In the very fane, the light of Poesy:
If I do fall, at least I will be laid
Beneath the silence of a poplar shade;
And over me the grass shall be smooth shaven;
And these shall be a kind memorial graven.
But off Despondence! miserable bane!
They should now know thee, who athirst to gain
A noble end, are thirsty every hour.
What though I am not wealthy in the dower
Of spanning wisdom; though I do not know
The shiftings of the mighty winds that blow
Hither and thither all the changing thoughts
Of man: though no great minist'ring reason sorts
Out the dark mysteries of human souls
To clear conceiving: yet there ever rolls
A vast idea before me, and I glean
Therefrom my liberty; thence too I've seen
The end and aim of Poesy. 'Tis clear
As anything most true; as that the year
Is made of the four seasons—manifest
As a large cross, some old cathedral's crest,
Lifted to the white clouds. Therefore should I
Be but the essence of deformity,
A coward, did my very eye-lids wink
At speaking out what I have dared to think.
Ah! rather let me like a madman run
Over some precipice; let the hot sun
Melt my Dedalian wings, and drive me down
Convuls'd and headlong! Stay! an inward frown
Of conscience bids me be more calm awhile.
An ocean dim, sprinkled with many an isle,
Spreads awfully before me. How much toil!
How many days! what desperate turmoil!
Ere I can have explored its widenesses.
Ah, what a task! upon my bended knees,
I could unsay those—no, impossible!

                  For sweet relief I'll dwell
On humbler thoughts, and let this strange assay
Begun in gentleness die so away.
E'en now all tumult from my bosom fades:
I turn full hearted to the friendly aids
That smooth the path of honour; brotherhood,
And friendliness the nurse of mutual good.
The hearty grasp that sends a pleasant sonnet
Into the brain ere one can think upon it;
The silence when some rhymes are coming out;
And when they're come, the very pleasant rout:
The message certain to be done to-morrow.
'Tis perhaps as well that it should be to borrow
Some precious book from out its snug retreat,
To cluster round it when we next shall meet.
Scarce can I scribble on; for lovely airs
Are fluttering round the room like doves in pairs;
Many delights of that glad day recalling,
When first my senses caught their tender falling.
And with these airs come forms of elegance
Stooping their shoulders o'er a horse's prance,
Careless, and grand—fingers soft and round
Parting luxuriant curls;—and the swift bound
Of Bacchus from his chariot, when his eye
Made Ariadne's cheek look blushingly.
This I remember all the pleasant flow
Of words at opening a portfolio.

Things such as these are ever harbingers
To trains of peaceful images: the stirs
Of a swan's neck unseen among the rushes:
A linnet starting all about the bushes:
A butterfly, with golden wings broad parted,
Nestling a rose, convuls'd as though it smarted
With over pleasure—many, many more,
Might I indulge at large in all my store
Of luxuries: yet I must not forget
Sleep, quiet with his poppy coronet:
For what there may be worthy in these rhymes
I partly owe to him: and thus, the chimes
Of friendly voices had just given place
To as sweet a silence, when I 'gan retrace
The pleasant day, upon a couch at east.
It was a poet's house who keeps the keys
Of pleasure's temple. Round about were hung
The glorious features of the bards who sung
In other ages—cold and sacred busts
Smiled at each other. Happy he who trusts
To clear Futurity his darling fame!
Then there were fauns and satyrs taking aim
At swelling apples with a frisky leap
And reaching fingers, 'mid a luscious heap
Of vine-leaves. Then there rose to view a fane
Of liny marble, and thereto a train
Of nymphs approaching fairly o'er the sward:
One, loveliest, holding her white hand toward
The dazzling sun-rise: two sisters sweet
Bending their graceful figures till they meet
Over the trippings of a little child:
And some are hearing, eagerly, the wild
Thrilling liquidity of dewy piping.
See, in another picture, nymphs are wiping
Cherishingly Diana's timorous limbs;—
A fold of lawny mantle dabbling swims
At the bath's edge, and keeps a gentle motion
With the subsiding crystal: as when ocean
Heaves calmly its broad swelling smoothness o'er
Its rocky marge, and balances once more
The patient weeds; that now unshent by foam
Feel all about their undulating home.

Sappho's meek head was there half smiling down
At nothing; just as though the earnest frown
Of over thinking had that moment gone
From off her brow, and left her all alone.
Great Alfred's too, with anxious, pitying eyes,
As if he always listened to the sighs
Of the goaded world; and Kisciusko's worn
By horrid suffrance—mightily forlorn.
Petrarch, outstepping from the shady green,
Starts at the sight of Laura; nor can wean
His eyes from her sweet face. Most happy they!
For over them was seen a free display
Of out-spread wings, and from between them shone
The face of Poesy: from off her throne
She overlook'd things that I scarce could tell.
The very sense of where I was might well
Keep Sleep aloof: but more than that there came
Thought after thought to nourish up the flame
Within my breast; so that the morning light
Surprised me even from a sleepless night;
And up I rose refresh'd, and glad, and gay,
Resolving to begin that very day
These lines; and howsoever they be done,
I leave them as a father does his son.


CAN death be sleep, when life is but a dream,
        And scenes of bliss pass as a phantom by?
The transient pleasures as a vision seem,
        And yet we think the greatest pain's to die.


How strange it is that man on earth should roam,
        And lead a life of woe, but not forsake
His rugged path; nor dare he view alone
        His future doom which is but to awake.

Douglas Hodge Reading "On Death" MP3
588 KB

Back to Adilegian Index.

Audio Recording Information

1: Recorded with ARCHOS VIDEO AV 120 Jukebox from Vesta FIRE PERSONAL MULTI TRACK RECORDER MR-10. Poems performed by Douglas Hodge on the cassette recording John Keats: Poems. Cassette tape procured from the Aiken County Public Library.

Web design for Adilegian copyrighted 2006 James Clinton Howell.