LIFE OF KEATS
Of all the great poets of the early nineteenth century—Wordsworth, Coleridge, Scott, Byron, Shelley, Keats—John Keats was the last born and the first to die. The length of his life was not one-third that of Wordsworth, who was born twenty-five years before him and outlived him by twenty-nine. Yet before his tragic death at twenty-six Keats had produced a body of poetry of such extraordinary power and promise that the world has sometimes been tempted, in its regret for what he might have done had he lived, to lose sight of the superlative merit of what he actually accomplished.
The three years of his poetic career, during which he published three small volumes of poetry, show a development at the same time rapid and steady, and a gradual but complete abandonment of almost every fault and weakness. It would probably be impossible, in the history of literature, to find such another instance of the ‘growth of a poet’s mind’.
The last of these three volumes, which is here [vi]reprinted, was published in 1820, when it ‘had good success among the literary people and . . . a moderate sale’. It contains the flower of his poetic production and is perhaps, altogether, one of the most marvellous volumes ever issued from the press.
But in spite of the maturity of Keats’s work when he was twenty-five, he had been in no sense a precocious child. Born in 1795 in the city of London, the son of a livery-stable keeper, he was brought up amid surroundings and influences by no means calculated to awaken poetic genius.
He was the eldest of five—four boys, one of whom died in infancy, and a girl younger than all; and he and his brothers George and Tom were educated at a private school at Enfield. Here John was at first distinguished more for fighting than for study, whilst his bright, brave, generous nature made him popular with masters and boys.
Soon after he had begun to go to school his father died, and when he was fifteen the children lost their mother too. Keats was passionately devoted to his mother; during her last illness he would sit up all night with her, give her her medicine, and even cook her food himself. At her death he was brokenhearted.[vii]The children were now put under the care of two guardians, one of whom, Mr. Abbey, taking the sole responsibility, immediately removed John from school and apprenticed him for five years to a surgeon at Edmonton.
Whilst thus employed Keats spent all his leisure time in reading, for which he had developed a great enthusiasm during his last two years at school. There he had devoured every book that came in his way, especially rejoicing in stories of the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece. At Edmonton he was able to continue his studies by borrowing books from his friend Charles Cowden Clarke, the son of his schoolmaster, and he often went over to Enfield to change his books and to discuss those which he had been reading. On one of these occasions Cowden Clarke introduced him to Spenser, to whom so many poets have owed their first inspiration that he has been called ‘the poets’ poet’; and it was then, apparently, that Keats was first prompted to write.
When he was nineteen, a year before his apprenticeship came to an end, he quarrelled with his master, left him, and continued his training in London as a student at St. Thomas’s Hospital and Guy’s. [viii]Gradually, however, during the months that followed, though he was an industrious and able medical student, Keats came to realize that poetry was his true vocation; and as soon as he was of age, in spite of the opposition of his guardian, he decided to abandon the medical profession and devote his life to literature.
If Mr. Abbey was unsympathetic Keats was not without encouragement from others. His brothers always believed in him whole-heartedly, and his exceptionally lovable nature had won him many friends. Amongst these friends two men older than himself, each famous in his own sphere, had special influence upon him.
One of them, Leigh Hunt, was something of a poet himself and a pleasant prose-writer. His encouragement did much to stimulate Keats’s genius, but his direct influence on his poetry was wholly bad. Leigh Hunt’s was not a deep nature; his poetry is often trivial and sentimental, and his easy conversational style is intolerable when applied to a great theme. To this man’s influence, as well as to the surroundings of his youth, are doubtless due the occasional flaws of taste in Keats’s early work.
The other, Haydon, was an artist of mediocre [ix]creative talent but great aims and amazing belief in himself. He had a fine critical faculty which was shown in his appreciation of the Elgin marbles, in opposition to the most respected authorities of his day. Mainly through his insistence they were secured for the nation which thus owes him a boundless debt of gratitude. He helped to guide and direct Keats’s taste by his enthusiastic exposition of these masterpieces of Greek sculpture.
In 1817 Keats published his first volume of poems, including ‘Sleep and Poetry’ and the well-known lines ‘I stood tiptoe upon a little hill’. With much that is of the highest poetic value, many memorable lines and touches of his unique insight into nature, the volume yet showed considerable immaturity. It contained indeed, if we except one perfect sonnet, rather a series of experiments than any complete and finished work. There were abundant faults for those who liked to look for them, though there were abundant beauties too; and the critics and the public chose rather to concentrate their attention on the former. The volume was therefore anything but a success; but Keats was not discouraged, for he saw many of his own faults more clearly than did his critics, and felt his power to outgrow them.[x]Immediately after this Keats went to the Isle of Wight and thence to Margate that he might study and write undisturbed. On May 10th he wrote to Haydon—’I never quite despair, and I read Shakespeare—indeed I shall, I think, never read any other book much’. We have seen Keats influenced by Spenser and by Leigh Hunt: now, though his love for Spenser continued, Shakespeare’s had become the dominant influence. Gradually he came too under the influence of Wordsworth’s philosophy of poetry and life, and later his reading of Milton affected his style to some extent, but Shakespeare’s influence was the widest, deepest and most lasting, though it is the hardest to define. His study of other poets left traces upon his work in turns of phrase or turns of thought: Shakespeare permeated his whole being, and his influence is to be detected not in a resemblance of style, for Shakespeare can have no imitators, but in a broadening view of life, and increased humanity.
No poet could have owed his education more completely to the English poets than did John Keats. His knowledge of Latin was slight—he knew no Greek, and even the classical stories which he loved and constantly used, came to him almost entirely [xi]through the medium of Elizabethan translations and allusions. In this connexion it is interesting to read his first fine sonnet, in which he celebrates his introduction to the greatest of Greek poets in the translation of the rugged and forcible Elizabethan, George Chapman:—
On first looking into Chapman’s Homer.
Much have I travelled in the realms of gold,And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;Round many western islands have I beenWhich bards in fealty to Apollo hold.Oft of one wide expanse had I been toldThat deep-brow’d Homer ruled as his demesne;Yet did I never breathe its pure sereneTill I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:Then felt I like some watcher of the skiesWhen a new planet swims into his ken;Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyesHe stared at the Pacific—and all his menLook’d at each other with a wild surmise—Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
Of the work upon which he was now engaged, the narrative-poem of Endymion, we may give his own [xii]account to his little sister Fanny in a letter dated September 10th, 1817:—
‘Perhaps you might like to know what I am writing about. I will tell you. Many years ago there was a young handsome Shepherd who fed his flocks on a Mountain’s Side called Latmus—he was a very contemplative sort of a Person and lived solitary among the trees and Plains little thinking that such a beautiful Creature as the Moon was growing mad in Love with him.—However so it was; and when he was asleep she used to come down from heaven and admire him excessively for a long time; and at last could not refrain from carrying him away in her arms to the top of that high Mountain Latmus while he was a dreaming—but I dare say you have read this and all the other beautiful tales which have come down from the ancient times of that beautiful Greece.’
On his return to London he and his brother Tom, always delicate and now quite an invalid, took lodgings at Hampstead. Here Keats remained for some time, harassed by the illness of his brother and of several of his friends; and in June he was still further depressed by the departure of his brother George to try his luck in America.[xiii]In April, 1818, Endymion was finished. Keats was by no means satisfied with it but preferred to publish it as it was, feeling it to be ‘as good as I had power to make it by myself’.—’I will write independently’ he says to his publisher—’I have written independently without judgment. I may write independently and with judgment hereafter. In Endymion I leaped headlong into the sea, and thereby have become better acquainted with the soundings, the quicksands, and the rocks, than if I had stayed upon the green shore, and piped a silly pipe, and took tea and comfortable advice.’ He published it with a preface modestly explaining to the public his own sense of its imperfection. Nevertheless a storm of abuse broke upon him from the critics who fastened upon all the faults of the poem—the diffuseness of the story, its occasional sentimentality and the sometimes fantastic coinage of words,[xiii:1]and ignored the extraordinary beauties of which it is full.
Directly after the publication of Endymion, and before the appearance of these reviews, Keats started with a friend, Charles Brown, for a walking tour in [xiv]Scotland. They first visited the English lakes and thence walked to Dumfries, where they saw the house of Burns and his grave. They entered next the country of Meg Merrilies, and from Kirkcudbrightshire crossed over to Ireland for a few days. On their return they went north as far as Argyleshire, whence they sailed to Staffa and saw Fingal’s cave, which, Keats wrote, ‘for solemnity and grandeur far surpasses the finest Cathedral.’ They then crossed Scotland through Inverness, and Keats returned home by boat from Cromarty.
His letters home are at first full of interest and enjoyment, but a ‘slight sore throat’, contracted in ‘a most wretched walk of thirty-seven miles across the Isle of Mull’, proved very troublesome and finally cut short his holiday. This was the beginning of the end. There was consumption in the family: Tom was dying of it; and the cold, wet, and over-exertion of his Scotch tour seems to have developed the fatal tendency in Keats himself.
From this time forward he was never well, and no good was done to either his health or spirits by the task which now awaited him of tending on his dying brother. For the last two or three months of 1818, [xv]until Tom’s death in December, he scarcely left the bedside, and it was well for him that his friend, Charles Armitage Brown, was at hand to help and comfort him after the long strain. Brown persuaded Keats at once to leave the house, with its sad associations, and to come and live with him.
Before long poetry absorbed Keats again; and the first few months of 1819 were the most fruitful of his life. Besides working at Hyperion, which he had begun during Tom’s illness, he wrote The Eve of St. Agnes, The Eve of St. Mark, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, and nearly all his famous odes.
Troubles however beset him. His friend Haydon was in difficulties and tormenting him, poor as he was, to lend him money; the state of his throat gave serious cause for alarm; and, above all, he was consumed by an unsatisfying passion for the daughter of a neighbour, Mrs. Brawne. She had rented Brown’s house whilst they were in Scotland, and had now moved to a street near by. Miss Fanny Brawne returned his love, but she seems never to have understood his nature or his needs. High-spirited and fond of pleasure she did not apparently allow the thought of her invalid lover to interfere much with her enjoyment of life. She would not, however, [xvi]abandon her engagement, and she probably gave him all which it was in her nature to give. Ill-health made him, on the other hand, morbidly dissatisfied and suspicious; and, as a result of his illness and her limitations, his love throughout brought him restlessness and torment rather than peace and comfort.
Towards the end of July he went to Shanklin and there, in collaboration with Brown, wrote a play, Otho the Great. Brown tells us how they used to sit, one on either side of a table, he sketching out the scenes and handing each one, as the outline was finished, to Keats to write. As Keats never knew what was coming it was quite impossible that the characters should be adequately conceived, or that the drama should be a united whole. Nevertheless there is much that is beautiful and promising in it. It should not be forgotten that Keats’s ‘greatest ambition’ was, in his own words, ‘the writing of a few fine plays’; and, with the increasing humanity and grasp which his poetry shows, there is no reason to suppose that, had he lived, he would not have fulfilled it.
At Shanklin, moreover, he had begun to write Lamia, and he continued it at Winchester. Here he [xvii]stayed until the middle of October, excepting a few days which he spent in London to arrange about the sending of some money to his brother in America. George had been unsuccessful in his commercial enterprises, and Keats, in view of his family’s ill-success, determined temporarily to abandon poetry, and by reviewing or journalism to support himself and earn money to help his brother. Then, when he could afford it, he would return to poetry.
Accordingly he came back to London, but his health was breaking down, and with it his resolution. He tried to re-write Hyperion, which he felt had been written too much under the influence of Milton and in ‘the artist’s humour’. The same independence of spirit which he had shown in the publication of Endymion urged him now to abandon a work the style of which he did not feel to be absolutely his own. The re-cast he wrote in the form of a vision, calling it The Fall of Hyperion, and in so doing he added much to his conception of the meaning of the story. In no poem does he show more of the profoundly philosophic spirit which characterizes many of his letters. But it was too late; his power was failing and, in spite of the beauty and interest of [xviii]some of his additions, the alterations are mostly for the worse.
Whilst The Fall of Hyperion occupied his evenings his mornings were spent over a satirical fairy-poem, The Cap and Bells, in the metre of the Faerie Queene. This metre, however, was ill-suited to the subject; satire was not natural to him, and the poem has little intrinsic merit.
Neither this nor the re-cast of Hyperion was finished when, in February, 1820, he had an attack of illness in which the first definite symptom of consumption appeared. Brown tells how he came home on the evening of Thursday, February 3rd, in a state of high fever, chilled from having ridden outside the coach on a bitterly cold day. ‘He mildly and instantly yielded to my request that he should go to bed . . . On entering the cold sheets, before his head was on the pillow, he slightly coughed, and I heard him say—”that is blood from my mouth”. I went towards him: he was examining a single drop of blood upon the sheet. “Bring me the candle, Brown, and let me see this blood.” After regarding it steadfastly he looked up in my face with a calmness of expression that I can never forget, and said, “I know the colour of that blood;—it is arterial [xix]blood; I cannot be deceived in that colour; that drop of blood is my death warrant;—I must die.”‘
He lived for another year, but it was one long dying: he himself called it his ‘posthumous life’.
Keats was one of the most charming of letter-writers. He had that rare quality of entering sympathetically into the mind of the friend to whom he was writing, so that his letters reveal to us much of the character of the recipient as well as of the writer. In the long journal-letters which he wrote to his brother and sister-in-law in America he is probably most fully himself, for there he is with the people who knew him best and on whose understanding and sympathy he could rely. But in none is the beauty of his character more fully revealed than in those to his little sister Fanny, now seventeen years old, and living with their guardian, Mr. Abbey. He had always been very anxious that they should ‘become intimately acquainted, in order’, as he says, ‘that I may not only, as you grow up, love you as my only Sister, but confide in you as my dearest friend.’ In his most harassing times he continued to write to her, directing her reading, sympathizing [xx]in her childish troubles, and constantly thinking of little presents to please her. Her health was to him a matter of paramount concern, and in his last letters to her we find him reiterating warnings to take care of herself—’You must be careful always to wear warm clothing not only in Frost but in a Thaw.’—’Be careful to let no fretting injure your health as I have suffered it—health is the greatest of blessings—with health and hope we should be content to live, and so you will find as you grow older.’ The constant recurrence of this thought becomes, in the light of his own sufferings, almost unbearably pathetic.
During the first months of his illness Keats saw through the press his last volume of poetry, of which this is a reprint. The praise which it received from reviewers and public was in marked contrast to the scornful reception of his earlier works, and would have augured well for the future. But Keats was past caring much for poetic fame. He dragged on through the summer, with rallies and relapses, tormented above all by the thought that death would separate him from the woman he loved. Only Brown, of all his friends, knew what he was suffering, and it seems that he only knew fully after they were parted.[xxi]The doctors warned Keats that a winter in England would kill him, so in September, 1820, he left London for Naples, accompanied by a young artist, Joseph Severn, one of his many devoted friends. Shelley, who knew him slightly, invited him to stay at Pisa, but Keats refused. He had never cared for Shelley, though Shelley seems to have liked him, and, in his invalid state, he naturally shrank from being a burden to a mere acquaintance.
It was as they left England, off the coast of Dorsetshire, that Keats wrote his last beautiful sonnet on a blank leaf of his folio copy of Shakespeare, facing A Lover’s Complaint:—
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 taskOf pure ablution round earth’s human shores,Or gazing on the new soft-fallen maskOf 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,[xxii]Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,Still, still to hear her tender taken breath,And so live ever—or else swoon to death.
The friends reached Rome, and there Keats, after a brief rally, rapidly became worse. Severn nursed him with desperate devotion, and of Keats’s sweet considerateness and patience he could never say enough. Indeed such was the force and lovableness of Keats’s personality that though Severn lived fifty-eight years longer it was for the rest of his life a chief occupation to write and draw his memories of his friend.
On February 23rd, 1821, came the end for which Keats had begun to long. He died peacefully in Severn’s arms. On the 26th he was buried in the beautiful little Protestant cemetery of which Shelley said that it ‘made one in love with death to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place’.
Great indignation was felt at the time by those who attributed his death, in part at least, to the cruel treatment which he had received from the critics. Shelley, in Adonais, withered them with his scorn, and Byron, in Don Juan, had his gibe both at [xxiii]the poet and at his enemies. But we know now how mistaken they were. Keats, in a normal state of mind and body, was never unduly depressed by harsh or unfair criticism. ‘Praise or blame,’ he wrote, ‘has but a momentary effect on the man whose love of beauty in the abstract makes him a severe critic on his own works,’ and this attitude he consistently maintained throughout his poetic career. No doubt the sense that his genius was unappreciated added something to the torment of mind which he suffered in Rome, and on his death-bed he asked that on his tombstone should be inscribed the words ‘Here lies one whose name was writ in water’. But it was apparently not said in bitterness, and the rest of the inscription[xxiii:1] expresses rather the natural anger of his friends at the treatment he had received than the mental attitude of the poet himself.
Fully to understand him we must read his poetry with the commentary of his letters which reveal in his character elements of humour, clear-sighted [xxiv]wisdom, frankness, strength, sympathy and tolerance. So doing we shall enter into the mind and heart of the friend who, speaking for many, described Keats as one ‘whose genius I did not, and do not, more fully admire than I entirely loved the man’.
[xiii:1]Many of the words which the reviewers thought to be coined were good Elizabethan.
[xxiii:1]This Grave contains all that was Mortal of a Young English Poet, who on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his Heart at the Malicious Power of his Enemies, desired these Words to be engraven on his Tomb Stone ‘Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water’ Feb. 24th 1821.
THE EVE OF ST. AGNES,
BY JOHN KEATS,
AUTHOR OF ENDYMION.
PRINTED FOR TAYLOR AND HESSEY,
If any apology be thought necessary for the appearance of the unfinished poem of Hyperion, the publishers beg to state that they alone are responsible, as it was printed at their particular request, and contrary to the wish of the author. The poem was intended to have been of equal length with Endymion, but the reception given to that work discouraged the author from proceeding.
Fleet-Street, June 26, 1820.
Upon a time, before the faery broodsDrove Nymph and Satyr from the prosperous woods,Before King Oberon’s bright diadem,Sceptre, and mantle, clasp’d with dewy gem,Frighted away the Dryads and the FaunsFrom rushes green, and brakes, and cowslip’d lawns,The ever-smitten Hermes empty leftHis golden throne, bent warm on amorous theft:From high Olympus had he stolen light,On this side of Jove’s clouds, to escape the sight10Of his great summoner, and made retreatInto a forest on the shores of Crete.For somewhere in that sacred island dweltA nymph, to whom all hoofed Satyrs knelt;At whose white feet the languid Tritons pouredPearls, while on land they wither’d and adored.Fast by the springs where she to bathe was wont,And in those meads where sometime she might haunt,Were strewn rich gifts, unknown to any Muse,Though Fancy’s casket were unlock’d to choose.20Ah, what a world of love was at her feet!So Hermes thought, and a celestial heatBurnt from his winged heels to either ear,That from a whiteness, as the lily clear,Blush’d into roses ‘mid his golden hair,Fallen in jealous curls about his shoulders bare.From vale to vale, from wood to wood, he flew,Breathing upon the flowers his passion new,And wound with many a river to its head,To find where this sweet nymph prepar’d her secret bed:30In vain; the sweet nymph might nowhere be found,And so he rested, on the lonely ground,Pensive, and full of painful jealousiesOf the Wood-Gods, and even the very trees.There as he stood, he heard a mournful voice,Such as once heard, in gentle heart, destroysAll pain but pity: thus the lone voice spake:”When from this wreathed tomb shall I awake!When move in a sweet body fit for life,And love, and pleasure, and the ruddy strife40Of hearts and lips! Ah, miserable me!”The God, dove-footed, glided silentlyRound bush and tree, soft-brushing, in his speed,The taller grasses and full-flowering weed,Until he found a palpitating snake,Bright, and cirque-couchant in a dusky brake.
She was a gordian shape of dazzling hue,Vermilion-spotted, golden, green, and blue;Striped like a zebra, freckled like a pard,Eyed like a peacock, and all crimson barr’d;50And full of silver moons, that, as she breathed,Dissolv’d, or brighter shone, or interwreathedTheir lustres with the gloomier tapestries—So rainbow-sided, touch’d with miseries,She seem’d, at once, some penanced lady elf,Some demon’s mistress, or the demon’s self.Upon her crest she wore a wannish fireSprinkled with stars, like Ariadne’s tiar:Her head was serpent, but ah, bitter-sweet!She had a woman’s mouth with all its pearls complete:60And for her eyes: what could such eyes do thereBut weep, and weep, that they were born so fair?As Proserpine still weeps for her Sicilian air.Her throat was serpent, but the words she spakeCame, as through bubbling honey, for Love’s sake,And thus; while Hermes on his pinions lay,Like a stoop’d falcon ere he takes his prey.
“Fair Hermes, crown’d with feathers, fluttering light,I had a splendid dream of thee last night:I saw thee sitting, on a throne of gold,70Among the Gods, upon Olympus old,The only sad one; for thou didst not hearThe soft, lute-finger’d Muses chaunting clear,Nor even Apollo when he sang alone,Deaf to his throbbing throat’s long, long melodious moan.I dreamt I saw thee, robed in purple flakes,Break amorous through the clouds, as morning breaks,And, swiftly as a bright Phœbean dart,Strike for the Cretan isle; and here thou art!Too gentle Hermes, hast thou found the maid?”80Whereat the star of Lethe not delay’dHis rosy eloquence, and thus inquired:”Thou smooth-lipp’d serpent, surely high inspired!Thou beauteous wreath, with melancholy eyes,Possess whatever bliss thou canst devise,Telling me only where my nymph is fled,—Where she doth breathe!” “Bright planet, thou hast said,”Return’d the snake, “but seal with oaths, fair God!””I swear,” said Hermes, “by my serpent rod,And by thine eyes, and by thy starry crown!”90Light flew his earnest words, among the blossoms blown.Then thus again the brilliance feminine:”Too frail of heart! for this lost nymph of thine,Free as the air, invisibly, she straysAbout these thornless wilds; her pleasant daysShe tastes unseen; unseen her nimble feetLeave traces in the grass and flowers sweet;From weary tendrils, and bow’d branches green,She plucks the fruit unseen, she bathes unseen:And by my power is her beauty veil’d100To keep it unaffronted, unassail’dBy the love-glances of unlovely eyes,Of Satyrs, Fauns, and blear’d Silenus’ sighs.Pale grew her immortality, for woeOf all these lovers, and she grieved soI took compassion on her, bade her steepHer hair in weird syrops, that would keepHer loveliness invisible, yet freeTo wander as she loves, in liberty.Thou shalt behold her, Hermes, thou alone,110If thou wilt, as thou swearest, grant my boon!”Then, once again, the charmed God beganAn oath, and through the serpent’s ears it ranWarm, tremulous, devout, psalterian.Ravish’d, she lifted her Circean head,Blush’d a live damask, and swift-lisping said,”I was a woman, let me have once moreA woman’s shape, and charming as before.I love a youth of Corinth—O the bliss!Give me my woman’s form, and place me where he is.120Stoop, Hermes, let me breathe upon thy brow,And thou shalt see thy sweet nymph even now.”The God on half-shut feathers sank serene,She breath’d upon his eyes, and swift was seenOf both the guarded nymph near-smiling on the green.It was no dream; or say a dream it was,Real are the dreams of Gods, and smoothly passTheir pleasures in a long immortal dream.One warm, flush’d moment, hovering, it might seemDash’d by the wood-nymph’s beauty, so he burn’d;130Then, lighting on the printless verdure, turn’dTo the swoon’d serpent, and with languid arm,Delicate, put to proof the lythe Caducean charm.So done, upon the nymph his eyes he bentFull of adoring tears and blandishment,And towards her stept: she, like a moon in wane,Faded before him, cower’d, nor could restrainHer fearful sobs, self-folding like a flowerThat faints into itself at evening hour:But the God fostering her chilled hand,140She felt the warmth, her eyelids open’d bland,And, like new flowers at morning song of bees,Bloom’d, and gave up her honey to the lees.Into the green-recessed woods they flew;Nor grew they pale, as mortal lovers do.
Left to herself, the serpent now beganTo change; her elfin blood in madness ran,Her mouth foam’d, and the grass, therewith besprent,Wither’d at dew so sweet and virulent;Her eyes in torture fix’d, and anguish drear,150Hot, glaz’d, and wide, with lid-lashes all sear,Flash’d phosphor and sharp sparks, without one cooling tear.The colours all inflam’d throughout her train,She writh’d about, convuls’d with scarlet pain:A deep volcanian yellow took the placeOf all her milder-mooned body’s grace;And, as the lava ravishes the mead,Spoilt all her silver mail, and golden brede;Made gloom of all her frecklings, streaks and bars,Eclips’d her crescents, and lick’d up her stars:160So that, in moments few, she was undrestOf all her sapphires, greens, and amethyst,And rubious-argent: of all these bereft,Nothing but pain and ugliness were left.Still shone her crown; that vanish’d, also sheMelted and disappear’d as suddenly;And in the air, her new voice luting soft,Cried, “Lycius! gentle Lycius!”—Borne aloftWith the bright mists about the mountains hoarThese words dissolv’d: Crete’s forests heard no more.170
Whither fled Lamia, now a lady bright,A full-born beauty new and exquisite?She fled into that valley they pass o’erWho go to Corinth from Cenchreas’ shore;And rested at the foot of those wild hills,The rugged founts of the Peræan rills,And of that other ridge whose barren backStretches, with all its mist and cloudy rack,South-westward to Cleone. There she stoodAbout a young bird’s flutter from a wood,180Fair, on a sloping green of mossy tread,By a clear pool, wherein she passionedTo see herself escap’d from so sore ills,While her robes flaunted with the daffodils.
Ah, happy Lycius!—for she was a maidMore beautiful than ever twisted braid,Or sigh’d, or blush’d, or on spring-flowered leaSpread a green kirtle to the minstrelsy:A virgin purest lipp’d, yet in the loreOf love deep learned to the red heart’s core:190Not one hour old, yet of sciential brainTo unperplex bliss from its neighbour pain;Define their pettish limits, and estrangeTheir points of contact, and swift counterchange;Intrigue with the specious chaos, and dispartIts most ambiguous atoms with sure art;As though in Cupid’s college she had spentSweet days a lovely graduate, still unshent,And kept his rosy terms in idle languishment.Why this fair creature chose so fairily200By the wayside to linger, we shall see;But first ’tis fit to tell how she could museAnd dream, when in the serpent prison-house,Of all she list, strange or magnificent:How, ever, where she will’d, her spirit went;Whether to faint Elysium, or whereDown through tress-lifting waves the Nereids fairWind into Thetis’ bower by many a pearly stair;Or where God Bacchus drains his cups divine,Stretch’d out, at ease, beneath a glutinous pine;210Or where in Pluto’s gardens palatineMulciber’s columns gleam in far piazzian line.And sometimes into cities she would sendHer dream, with feast and rioting to blend;And once, while among mortals dreaming thus,She saw the young Corinthian LyciusCharioting foremost in the envious race,Like a young Jove with calm uneager face,And fell into a swooning love of him.Now on the moth-time of that evening dim220He would return that way, as well she knew,To Corinth from the shore; for freshly blewThe eastern soft wind, and his galley nowGrated the quaystones with her brazen prowIn port Cenchreas, from Egina isleFresh anchor’d; whither he had been awhileTo sacrifice to Jove, whose temple thereWaits with high marble doors for blood and incense rare.Jove heard his vows, and better’d his desire;For by some freakful chance he made retire230From his companions, and set forth to walk,Perhaps grown wearied of their Corinth talk:Over the solitary hills he fared,Thoughtless at first, but ere eve’s star appearedHis phantasy was lost, where reason fades,In the calm’d twilight of Platonic shades.Lamia beheld him coming, near, more near—Close to her passing, in indifference drear,His silent sandals swept the mossy green;So neighbour’d to him, and yet so unseen240She stood: he pass’d, shut up in mysteries,His mind wrapp’d like his mantle, while her eyesFollow’d his steps, and her neck regal whiteTurn’d—syllabling thus, “Ah, Lycius bright,And will you leave me on the hills alone?Lycius, look back! and be some pity shown.”He did; not with cold wonder fearingly,But Orpheus-like at an Eurydice;For so delicious were the words she sung,It seem’d he had lov’d them a whole summer long:250And soon his eyes had drunk her beauty up,Leaving no drop in the bewildering cup,And still the cup was full,—while he, afraidLest she should vanish ere his lip had paidDue adoration, thus began to adore;Her soft look growing coy, she saw his chain so sure:”Leave thee alone! Look back! Ah, Goddess, seeWhether my eyes can ever turn from thee!For pity do not this sad heart belie—Even as thou vanishest so I shall die.260Stay! though a Naiad of the rivers, stay!To thy far wishes will thy streams obey:Stay! though the greenest woods be thy domain,Alone they can drink up the morning rain:Though a descended Pleiad, will not oneOf thine harmonious sisters keep in tuneThy spheres, and as thy silver proxy shine?So sweetly to these ravish’d ears of mineCame thy sweet greeting, that if thou shouldst fadeThy memory will waste me to a shade:—270For pity do not melt!”—”If I should stay,”Said Lamia, “here, upon this floor of clay,And pain my steps upon these flowers too rough,What canst thou say or do of charm enoughTo dull the nice remembrance of my home?Thou canst not ask me with thee here to roamOver these hills and vales, where no joy is,—Empty of immortality and bliss!Thou art a scholar, Lycius, and must knowThat finer spirits cannot breathe below280In human climes, and live: Alas! poor youth,What taste of purer air hast thou to sootheMy essence? What serener palaces,Where I may all my many senses please,And by mysterious sleights a hundred thirsts appease?It cannot be—Adieu!” So said, she roseTiptoe with white arms spread. He, sick to loseThe amorous promise of her lone complain,Swoon’d, murmuring of love, and pale with pain.The cruel lady, without any show290Of sorrow for her tender favourite’s woe,But rather, if her eyes could brighter be,With brighter eyes and slow amenity,Put her new lips to his, and gave afreshThe life she had so tangled in her mesh:And as he from one trance was wakeningInto another, she began to sing,Happy in beauty, life, and love, and every thing,A song of love, too sweet for earthly lyres,While, like held breath, the stars drew in their panting fires.300And then she whisper’d in such trembling tone,As those who, safe together met aloneFor the first time through many anguish’d days,Use other speech than looks; bidding him raiseHis drooping head, and clear his soul of doubt,For that she was a woman, and withoutAny more subtle fluid in her veinsThan throbbing blood, and that the self-same painsInhabited her frail-strung heart as his.And next she wonder’d how his eyes could miss310Her face so long in Corinth, where, she said,She dwelt but half retir’d, and there had ledDays happy as the gold coin could inventWithout the aid of love; yet in contentTill she saw him, as once she pass’d him by,Where ‘gainst a column he leant thoughtfullyAt Venus’ temple porch, ‘mid baskets heap’dOf amorous herbs and flowers, newly reap’dLate on that eve, as ’twas the night beforeThe Adonian feast; whereof she saw no more,320But wept alone those days, for why should she adore?Lycius from death awoke into amaze,To see her still, and singing so sweet lays;Then from amaze into delight he fellTo hear her whisper woman’s lore so well;And every word she spake entic’d him onTo unperplex’d delight and pleasure known.Let the mad poets say whate’er they pleaseOf the sweets of Fairies, Peris, Goddesses,There is not such a treat among them all,330Haunters of cavern, lake, and waterfall,As a real woman, lineal indeedFrom Pyrrha’s pebbles or old Adam’s seed.Thus gentle Lamia judg’d, and judg’d aright,That Lycius could not love in half a fright,So threw the goddess off, and won his heartMore pleasantly by playing woman’s part,With no more awe than what her beauty gave,That, while it smote, still guaranteed to save.Lycius to all made eloquent reply,340Marrying to every word a twinborn sigh;And last, pointing to Corinth, ask’d her sweet,If ’twas too far that night for her soft feet.The way was short, for Lamia’s eagernessMade, by a spell, the triple league decreaseTo a few paces; not at all surmisedBy blinded Lycius, so in her comprized.They pass’d the city gates, he knew not how,So noiseless, and he never thought to know.
As men talk in a dream, so Corinth all,350Throughout her palaces imperial,And all her populous streets and temples lewd,Mutter’d, like tempest in the distance brew’d,To the wide-spreaded night above her towers.Men, women, rich and poor, in the cool hours,Shuffled their sandals o’er the pavement white,Companion’d or alone; while many a lightFlared, here and there, from wealthy festivals,And threw their moving shadows on the walls,Or found them cluster’d in the corniced shade360Of some arch’d temple door, or dusky colonnade.
Muffling his face, of greeting friends in fear,Her fingers he press’d hard, as one came nearWith curl’d gray beard, sharp eyes, and smooth bald crown,Slow-stepp’d, and robed in philosophic gown:Lycius shrank closer, as they met and past,Into his mantle, adding wings to haste,While hurried Lamia trembled: “Ah,” said he,”Why do you shudder, love, so ruefully?Why does your tender palm dissolve in dew?”—370“I’m wearied,” said fair Lamia: “tell me whoIs that old man? I cannot bring to mindHis features:—Lycius! wherefore did you blindYourself from his quick eyes?” Lycius replied,”‘Tis Apollonius sage, my trusty guideAnd good instructor; but to-night he seemsThe ghost of folly haunting my sweet dreams.”
While yet he spake they had arrived beforeA pillar’d porch, with lofty portal door,Where hung a silver lamp, whose phosphor glow380Reflected in the slabbed steps below,Mild as a star in water; for so new,And so unsullied was the marble hue,So through the crystal polish, liquid fine,Ran the dark veins, that none but feet divineCould e’er have touch’d there. Sounds ÆolianBreath’d from the hinges, as the ample spanOf the wide doors disclos’d a place unknownSome time to any, but those two alone,And a few Persian mutes, who that same year390Were seen about the markets: none knew whereThey could inhabit; the most curiousWere foil’d, who watch’d to trace them to their house:And but the flitter-winged verse must tell,For truth’s sake, what woe afterwards befel,’Twould humour many a heart to leave them thus,Shut from the busy world of more incredulous.
Love in a hut, with water and a crust,Is—Love, forgive us!—cinders, ashes, dust;Love in a palace is perhaps at lastMore grievous torment than a hermit’s fast:—That is a doubtful tale from faery land,Hard for the non-elect to understand.Had Lycius liv’d to hand his story down,He might have given the moral a fresh frown,Or clench’d it quite: but too short was their blissTo breed distrust and hate, that make the soft voice hiss.10Besides, there, nightly, with terrific glareLove, jealous grown of so complete a pair,Hover’d and buzz’d his wings, with fearful roar,Above the lintel of their chamber door,And down the passage cast a glow upon the floor.
For all this came a ruin: side by sideThey were enthroned, in the even tide,Upon a couch, near to a curtainingWhose airy texture, from a golden string,Floated into the room, and let appear20Unveil’d the summer heaven, blue and clear,Betwixt two marble shafts:—there they reposed,Where use had made it sweet, with eyelids closed,Saving a tythe which love still open kept,That they might see each other while they almost slept;When from the slope side of a suburb hill,Deafening the swallow’s twitter, came a thrillOf trumpets—Lycius started—the sounds fled,But left a thought, a buzzing in his head.For the first time, since first he harbour’d in30That purple-lined palace of sweet sin,His spirit pass’d beyond its golden bournInto the noisy world almost forsworn.The lady, ever watchful, penetrant,Saw this with pain, so arguing a wantOf something more, more than her emperyOf joys; and she began to moan and sighBecause he mused beyond her, knowing wellThat but a moment’s thought is passion’s passing bell.”Why do you sigh, fair creature?” whisper’d he:40″Why do you think?” return’d she tenderly:”You have deserted me;—where am I now?Not in your heart while care weighs on your brow:No, no, you have dismiss’d me; and I goFrom your breast houseless: ay, it must be so.”He answer’d, bending to her open eyes,Where he was mirror’d small in paradise,”My silver planet, both of eve and morn!Why will you plead yourself so sad forlorn,While I am striving how to fill my heart50With deeper crimson, and a double smart?How to entangle, trammel up and snareYour soul in mine, and labyrinth you thereLike the hid scent in an unbudded rose?Ay, a sweet kiss—you see your mighty woes.My thoughts! shall I unveil them? Listen then!What mortal hath a prize, that other menMay be confounded and abash’d withal,But lets it sometimes pace abroad majestical,And triumph, as in thee I should rejoice60Amid the hoarse alarm of Corinth’s voice.Let my foes choke, and my friends shout afar,While through the thronged streets your bridal carWheels round its dazzling spokes.”—The lady’s cheekTrembled; she nothing said, but, pale and meek,Arose and knelt before him, wept a rainOf sorrows at his words; at last with painBeseeching him, the while his hand she wrung,To change his purpose. He thereat was stung,Perverse, with stronger fancy to reclaim70Her wild and timid nature to his aim:Besides, for all his love, in self despite,Against his better self, he took delightLuxurious in her sorrows, soft and new.His passion, cruel grown, took on a hueFierce and sanguineous as ’twas possibleIn one whose brow had no dark veins to swell.Fine was the mitigated fury, likeApollo’s presence when in act to strikeThe serpent—Ha, the serpent! certes, she80Was none. She burnt, she lov’d the tyranny,And, all subdued, consented to the hourWhen to the bridal he should lead his paramour.Whispering in midnight silence, said the youth,”Sure some sweet name thou hast, though, by my truth,I have not ask’d it, ever thinking theeNot mortal, but of heavenly progeny,As still I do. Hast any mortal name,Fit appellation for this dazzling frame?Or friends or kinsfolk on the citied earth,90To share our marriage feast and nuptial mirth?””I have no friends,” said Lamia, “no, not one;My presence in wide Corinth hardly known:My parents’ bones are in their dusty urnsSepulchred, where no kindled incense burns,Seeing all their luckless race are dead, save me,And I neglect the holy rite for thee.Even as you list invite your many guests;But if, as now it seems, your vision restsWith any pleasure on me, do not bid100Old Apollonius—from him keep me hid.”Lycius, perplex’d at words so blind and blank,Made close inquiry; from whose touch she shrank,Feigning a sleep; and he to the dull shadeOf deep sleep in a moment was betray’d.
It was the custom then to bring awayThe bride from home at blushing shut of day,Veil’d, in a chariot, heralded alongBy strewn flowers, torches, and a marriage song,With other pageants: but this fair unknown110Had not a friend. So being left alone,(Lycius was gone to summon all his kin)And knowing surely she could never winHis foolish heart from its mad pompousness,She set herself, high-thoughted, how to dressThe misery in fit magnificence.She did so, but ’tis doubtful how and whenceCame, and who were her subtle servitors.About the halls, and to and from the doors,There was a noise of wings, till in short space120The glowing banquet-room shone with wide-arched grace.A haunting music, sole perhaps and loneSupportress of the faery-roof, made moanThroughout, as fearful the whole charm might fade.Fresh carved cedar, mimicking a gladeOf palm and plantain, met from either side,High in the midst, in honour of the bride:Two palms and then two plantains, and so on,From either side their stems branch’d one to oneAll down the aisled place; and beneath all130There ran a stream of lamps straight on from wall to wall.So canopied, lay an untasted feastTeeming with odours. Lamia, regal drest,Silently paced about, and as she went,In pale contented sort of discontent,Mission’d her viewless servants to enrichThe fretted splendour of each nook and niche.Between the tree-stems, marbled plain at first,Came jasper pannels; then, anon, there burstForth creeping imagery of slighter trees,140And with the larger wove in small intricacies.Approving all, she faded at self-will,And shut the chamber up, close, hush’d and still,Complete and ready for the revels rude,When dreadful guests would come to spoil her solitude.
The day appear’d, and all the gossip rout.O senseless Lycius! Madman! wherefore floutThe silent-blessing fate, warm cloister’d hours,And show to common eyes these secret bowers?The herd approach’d; each guest, with busy brain,150Arriving at the portal, gaz’d amain,And enter’d marveling: for they knew the street,Remember’d it from childhood all completeWithout a gap, yet ne’er before had seenThat royal porch, that high-built fair demesne;So in they hurried all, maz’d, curious and keen:Save one, who look’d thereon with eye severe,And with calm-planted steps walk’d in austere;’Twas Apollonius: something too he laugh’d,As though some knotty problem, that had daft160His patient thought, had now begun to thaw,And solve and melt:—’twas just as he foresaw.
He met within the murmurous vestibuleHis young disciple. “‘Tis no common rule,Lycius,” said he, “for uninvited guestTo force himself upon you, and infestWith an unbidden presence the bright throngOf younger friends; yet must I do this wrong,And you forgive me.” Lycius blush’d, and ledThe old man through the inner doors broad-spread;170With reconciling words and courteous mienTurning into sweet milk the sophist’s spleen.
Of wealthy lustre was the banquet-room,Fill’d with pervading brilliance and perfume:Before each lucid pannel fuming stoodA censer fed with myrrh and spiced wood,Each by a sacred tripod held aloft,Whose slender feet wide-swerv’d upon the softWool-woofed carpets: fifty wreaths of smokeFrom fifty censers their light voyage took180To the high roof, still mimick’d as they roseAlong the mirror’d walls by twin-clouds odorous.Twelve sphered tables, by silk seats insphered,High as the level of a man’s breast rear’dOn libbard’s paws, upheld the heavy goldOf cups and goblets, and the store thrice toldOf Ceres’ horn, and, in huge vessels, wineCome from the gloomy tun with merry shine.Thus loaded with a feast the tables stood,Each shrining in the midst the image of a God.190
When in an antichamber every guestHad felt the cold full sponge to pleasure press’d,By minist’ring slaves, upon his hands and feet,And fragrant oils with ceremony meetPour’d on his hair, they all mov’d to the feastIn white robes, and themselves in order placedAround the silken couches, wonderingWhence all this mighty cost and blaze of wealth could spring.
Soft went the music the soft air along,While fluent Greek a vowel’d undersong200Kept up among the guests, discoursing lowAt first, for scarcely was the wine at flow;But when the happy vintage touch’d their brains,Louder they talk, and louder come the strainsOf powerful instruments:—the gorgeous dyes,The space, the splendour of the draperies,The roof of awful richness, nectarous cheer,Beautiful slaves, and Lamia’s self, appear,Now, when the wine has done its rosy deed,And every soul from human trammels freed,210No more so strange; for merry wine, sweet wine,Will make Elysian shades not too fair, too divine.Soon was God Bacchus at meridian height;Flush’d were their cheeks, and bright eyes double bright:Garlands of every green, and every scentFrom vales deflower’d, or forest-trees branch-rent,In baskets of bright osier’d gold were broughtHigh as the handles heap’d, to suit the thoughtOf every guest; that each, as he did please,Might fancy-fit his brows, silk-pillow’d at his ease.220
What wreath for Lamia? What for Lycius?What for the sage, old Apollonius?Upon her aching forehead be there hungThe leaves of willow and of adder’s tongue;And for the youth, quick, let us strip for himThe thyrsus, that his watching eyes may swimInto forgetfulness; and, for the sage,Let spear-grass and the spiteful thistle wageWar on his temples. Do not all charms flyAt the mere touch of cold philosophy?230There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:We know her woof, her texture; she is givenIn the dull catalogue of common things.Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings,Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine—Unweave a rainbow, as it erewhile madeThe tender-person’d Lamia melt into a shade.
By her glad Lycius sitting, in chief place,Scarce saw in all the room another face,240Till, checking his love trance, a cup he tookFull brimm’d, and opposite sent forth a look’Cross the broad table, to beseech a glanceFrom his old teacher’s wrinkled countenance,And pledge him. The bald-head philosopherHad fix’d his eye, without a twinkle or stirFull on the alarmed beauty of the bride,Brow-beating her fair form, and troubling her sweet pride.Lycius then press’d her hand, with devout touch,As pale it lay upon the rosy couch:250’Twas icy, and the cold ran through his veins;Then sudden it grew hot, and all the painsOf an unnatural heat shot to his heart.”Lamia, what means this? Wherefore dost thou start?Know’st thou that man?” Poor Lamia answer’d not.He gaz’d into her eyes, and not a jotOwn’d they the lovelorn piteous appeal:More, more he gaz’d: his human senses reel:Some hungry spell that loveliness absorbs;There was no recognition in those orbs.260”Lamia!” he cried—and no soft-toned reply.The many heard, and the loud revelryGrew hush; the stately music no more breathes;The myrtle sicken’d in a thousand wreaths.By faint degrees, voice, lute, and pleasure ceased;A deadly silence step by step increased,Until it seem’d a horrid presence there,And not a man but felt the terror in his hair.”Lamia!” he shriek’d; and nothing but the shriekWith its sad echo did the silence break.270“Begone, foul dream!” he cried, gazing againIn the bride’s face, where now no azure veinWander’d on fair-spaced temples; no soft bloomMisted the cheek; no passion to illumeThe deep-recessed vision:—all was blight;Lamia, no longer fair, there sat a deadly white.”Shut, shut those juggling eyes, thou ruthless man!Turn them aside, wretch! or the righteous banOf all the Gods, whose dreadful imagesHere represent their shadowy presences,280May pierce them on the sudden with the thornOf painful blindness; leaving thee forlorn,In trembling dotage to the feeblest frightOf conscience, for their long offended might,For all thine impious proud-heart sophistries,Unlawful magic, and enticing lies.Corinthians! look upon that gray-beard wretch!Mark how, possess’d, his lashless eyelids stretchAround his demon eyes! Corinthians, see!My sweet bride withers at their potency.”290″Fool!” said the sophist, in an under-toneGruff with contempt; which a death-nighing moanFrom Lycius answer’d, as heart-struck and lost,He sank supine beside the aching ghost.”Fool! Fool!” repeated he, while his eyes stillRelented not, nor mov’d; “from every illOf life have I preserv’d thee to this day,And shall I see thee made a serpent’s prey?”Then Lamia breath’d death breath; the sophist’s eye,Like a sharp spear, went through her utterly,300Keen, cruel, perceant, stinging: she, as wellAs her weak hand could any meaning tell,Motion’d him to be silent; vainly so,He look’d and look’d again a level—No!”A Serpent!” echoed he; no sooner said,Than with a frightful scream she vanished:And Lycius’ arms were empty of delight,As were his limbs of life, from that same night.On the high couch he lay!—his friends came round—Supported him—no pulse, or breath they found,310And, in its marriage robe, the heavy body wound.[45:A]
[45:A]“Philostratus, in his fourth book de Vita Apollonii, hath a memorable instance in this kind, which I may not omit, of one Menippus Lycius, a young man twenty-five years of age, that going betwixt Cenchreas and Corinth, met such a phantasm in the habit of a fair gentlewoman, which taking him by the hand, carried him home to her house, in the suburbs of Corinth, and told him she was a Phœnician by birth, and if he would tarry with her, he should hear her sing and play, and drink such wine as never any drank, and no man should molest him; but she, being fair and lovely, would live and die with him, that was fair and lovely to behold. The young man, a philosopher, otherwise staid and discreet, able to moderate his passions, though not this of love, tarried with her a while to his great content, and at last married her, to whose wedding, amongst other guests, came Apollonius; who, by some probable conjectures, found her out to be a serpent, a lamia; and that all her furniture was, like Tantalus’ gold, described by Homer, no substance but mere illusions. When she saw herself descried, she wept, and desired Apollonius to be silent, but he would not be moved, and thereupon she, plate, house, and all that was in it, vanished in an instant: many thousands took notice of this fact, for it was done in the midst of Greece.”
Burton’s ‘Anatomy of Melancholy.’ Part 3. Sect. 2
Memb. 1. Subs. 1.
THE POT OF BASIL.
A STORY FROM BOCCACCIO.
Fair Isabel, poor simple Isabel!Lorenzo, a young palmer in Love’s eye!They could not in the self-same mansion dwellWithout some stir of heart, some malady;They could not sit at meals but feel how wellIt soothed each to be the other by;They could not, sure, beneath the same roof sleepBut to each other dream, and nightly weep.II.
With every morn their love grew tenderer,With every eve deeper and tenderer still;10He might not in house, field, or garden stir,But her full shape would all his seeing fill;And his continual voice was pleasanterTo her, than noise of trees or hidden rill;Her lute-string gave an echo of his name,She spoilt her half-done broidery with the same.
He knew whose gentle hand was at the latch,Before the door had given her to his eyes;And from her chamber-window he would catchHer beauty farther than the falcon spies;20And constant as her vespers would he watch,Because her face was turn’d to the same skies;And with sick longing all the night outwear,To hear her morning-step upon the stair.IV.
A whole long month of May in this sad plightMade their cheeks paler by the break of June:”To-morrow will I bow to my delight,To-morrow will I ask my lady’s boon.”—”O may I never see another night,Lorenzo, if thy lips breathe not love’s tune.”—30So spake they to their pillows; but, alas,Honeyless days and days did he let pass;
Until sweet Isabella’s untouch’d cheekFell sick within the rose’s just domain,Fell thin as a young mother’s, who doth seekBy every lull to cool her infant’s pain:”How ill she is,” said he, “I may not speak,And yet I will, and tell my love all plain:If looks speak love-laws, I will drink her tears,And at the least ’twill startle off her cares.”40VI.
So said he one fair morning, and all dayHis heart beat awfully against his side;And to his heart he inwardly did prayFor power to speak; but still the ruddy tideStifled his voice, and puls’d resolve away—Fever’d his high conceit of such a bride,Yet brought him to the meekness of a child:Alas! when passion is both meek and wild!
So once more he had wak’d and anguishedA dreary night of love and misery,50If Isabel’s quick eye had not been wedTo every symbol on his forehead high;She saw it waxing very pale and dead,And straight all flush’d; so, lisped tenderly,”Lorenzo!”—here she ceas’d her timid quest,But in her tone and look he read the rest.VIII.
“O Isabella, I can half perceiveThat I may speak my grief into thine ear;If thou didst ever any thing believe,Believe how I love thee, believe how near60My soul is to its doom: I would not grieveThy hand by unwelcome pressing, would not fearThine eyes by gazing; but I cannot liveAnother night, and not my passion shrive.
“Love! thou art leading me from wintry cold,Lady! thou leadest me to summer clime,And I must taste the blossoms that unfoldIn its ripe warmth this gracious morning time.”So said, his erewhile timid lips grew bold,And poesied with hers in dewy rhyme:70Great bliss was with them, and great happinessGrew, like a lusty flower in June’s caress.X.
Parting they seem’d to tread upon the air,Twin roses by the zephyr blown apartOnly to meet again more close, and shareThe inward fragrance of each other’s heart.She, to her chamber gone, a ditty fairSang, of delicious love and honey’d dart;He with light steps went up a western hill,And bade the sun farewell, and joy’d his fill.80
All close they met again, before the duskHad taken from the stars its pleasant veil,All close they met, all eyes, before the duskHad taken from the stars its pleasant veil,Close in a bower of hyacinth and musk,Unknown of any, free from whispering tale.Ah! better had it been for ever so,Than idle ears should pleasure in their woe.XII.
Were they unhappy then?—It cannot be—Too many tears for lovers have been shed,90Too many sighs give we to them in fee,Too much of pity after they are dead,Too many doleful stories do we see,Whose matter in bright gold were best be read;Except in such a page where Theseus’ spouseOver the pathless waves towards him bows.
But, for the general award of love,The little sweet doth kill much bitterness;Though Dido silent is in under-grove,And Isabella’s was a great distress,100Though young Lorenzo in warm Indian cloveWas not embalm’d, this truth is not the less—Even bees, the little almsmen of spring-bowers,Know there is richest juice in poison-flowers.XIV.
With her two brothers this fair lady dwelt,Enriched from ancestral merchandize,And for them many a weary hand did sweltIn torched mines and noisy factories,And many once proud-quiver’d loins did meltIn blood from stinging whip;—with hollow eyes110Many all day in dazzling river stood,To take the rich-ored driftings of the flood.
For them the Ceylon diver held his breath,And went all naked to the hungry shark;For them his ears gush’d blood; for them in deathThe seal on the cold ice with piteous barkLay full of darts; for them alone did seetheA thousand men in troubles wide and dark:Half-ignorant, they turn’d an easy wheel,That set sharp racks at work, to pinch and peel.120XVI.
Why were they proud? Because their marble fountsGush’d with more pride than do a wretch’s tears?—Why were they proud? Because fair orange-mountsWere of more soft ascent than lazar stairs?—Why were they proud? Because red-lin’d accountsWere richer than the songs of Grecian years?—Why were they proud? again we ask aloud,Why in the name of Glory were they proud?
Yet were these Florentines as self-retiredIn hungry pride and gainful cowardice,130As two close Hebrews in that land inspired,Paled in and vineyarded from beggar-spies;The hawks of ship-mast forests—the untiredAnd pannier’d mules for ducats and old lies—Quick cat’s-paws on the generous stray-away,—Great wits in Spanish, Tuscan, and Malay.XVIII.
How was it these same ledger-men could spyFair Isabella in her downy nest?How could they find out in Lorenzo’s eyeA straying from his toil? Hot Egypt’s pest140Into their vision covetous and sly!How could these money-bags see east and west?—Yet so they did—and every dealer fairMust see behind, as doth the hunted hare.
O eloquent and famed Boccaccio!Of thee we now should ask forgiving boon;And of thy spicy myrtles as they blow,And of thy roses amorous of the moon,And of thy lilies, that do paler growNow they can no more hear thy ghittern’s tune,150For venturing syllables that ill beseemThe quiet glooms of such a piteous theme.XX.
Grant thou a pardon here, and then the taleShall move on soberly, as it is meet;There is no other crime, no mad assailTo make old prose in modern rhyme more sweet:But it is done—succeed the verse or fail—To honour thee, and thy gone spirit greet;To stead thee as a verse in English tongue,An echo of thee in the north-wind sung.160
These brethren having found by many signsWhat love Lorenzo for their sister had,And how she lov’d him too, each unconfinesHis bitter thoughts to other, well nigh madThat he, the servant of their trade designs,Should in their sister’s love be blithe and glad,When ’twas their plan to coax her by degreesTo some high noble and his olive-trees.XXII.
And many a jealous conference had they,And many times they bit their lips alone,170Before they fix’d upon a surest wayTo make the youngster for his crime atone;And at the last, these men of cruel clayCut Mercy with a sharp knife to the bone;For they resolved in some forest dimTo kill Lorenzo, and there bury him.
So on a pleasant morning, as he leantInto the sun-rise, o’er the balustradeOf the garden-terrace, towards him they bentTheir footing through the dews; and to him said,180“You seem there in the quiet of content,Lorenzo, and we are most loth to invadeCalm speculation; but if you are wise,Bestride your steed while cold is in the skies.XXIV.
“To-day we purpose, ay, this hour we mountTo spur three leagues towards the Apennine;Come down, we pray thee, ere the hot sun countHis dewy rosary on the eglantine.”Lorenzo, courteously as he was wont,Bow’d a fair greeting to these serpents’ whine;190And went in haste, to get in readiness,With belt, and spur, and bracing huntsman’s dress.
And as he to the court-yard pass’d along,Each third step did he pause, and listen’d oftIf he could hear his lady’s matin-song,Or the light whisper of her footstep soft;And as he thus over his passion hung,He heard a laugh full musical aloft;When, looking up, he saw her features brightSmile through an in-door lattice, all delight.200XXVI.
“Love, Isabel!” said he, “I was in painLest I should miss to bid thee a good morrowAh! what if I should lose thee, when so fainI am to stifle all the heavy sorrowOf a poor three hours’ absence? but we’ll gainOut of the amorous dark what day doth borrow.Goodbye! I’ll soon be back.”—”Goodbye!” said she:—And as he went she chanted merrily.
So the two brothers and their murder’d manRode past fair Florence, to where Arno’s stream210Gurgles through straiten’d banks, and still doth fanItself with dancing bulrush, and the breamKeeps head against the freshets. Sick and wanThe brothers’ faces in the ford did seem,Lorenzo’s flush with love.—They pass’d the waterInto a forest quiet for the slaughter.XXVIII.
There was Lorenzo slain and buried in,There in that forest did his great love cease;Ah! when a soul doth thus its freedom win,It aches in loneliness—is ill at peace220As the break-covert blood-hounds of such sin:They dipp’d their swords in the water, and did teaseTheir horses homeward, with convulsed spur,Each richer by his being a murderer.
They told their sister how, with sudden speed,Lorenzo had ta’en ship for foreign lands,Because of some great urgency and needIn their affairs, requiring trusty hands.Poor Girl! put on thy stifling widow’s weed,And ‘scape at once from Hope’s accursed bands;230To-day thou wilt not see him, nor to-morrow,And the next day will be a day of sorrow.XXX.
She weeps alone for pleasures not to be;Sorely she wept until the night came on,And then, instead of love, O misery!She brooded o’er the luxury alone:His image in the dusk she seem’d to see,And to the silence made a gentle moan,Spreading her perfect arms upon the air,And on her couch low murmuring “Where? O where?”240
But Selfishness, Love’s cousin, held not longIts fiery vigil in her single breast;She fretted for the golden hour, and hungUpon the time with feverish unrest—Not long—for soon into her heart a throngOf higher occupants, a richer zest,Came tragic; passion not to be subdued,And sorrow for her love in travels rude.XXXII.
In the mid days of autumn, on their evesThe breath of Winter comes from far away,250And the sick west continually bereavesOf some gold tinge, and plays a roundelayOf death among the bushes and the leaves,To make all bare before he dares to strayFrom his north cavern. So sweet IsabelBy gradual decay from beauty fell,
Because Lorenzo came not. OftentimesShe ask’d her brothers, with an eye all pale,Striving to be itself, what dungeon climesCould keep him off so long? They spake a tale260Time after time, to quiet her. Their crimesCame on them, like a smoke from Hinnom’s vale;And every night in dreams they groan’d aloud,To see their sister in her snowy shroud.XXXIV.
And she had died in drowsy ignorance,But for a thing more deadly dark than all;It came like a fierce potion, drunk by chance,Which saves a sick man from the feather’d pallFor some few gasping moments; like a lance,Waking an Indian from his cloudy hall270With cruel pierce, and bringing him againSense of the gnawing fire at heart and brain.
It was a vision.—In the drowsy gloom,The dull of midnight, at her couch’s footLorenzo stood, and wept: the forest tombHad marr’d his glossy hair which once could shootLustre into the sun, and put cold doomUpon his lips, and taken the soft luteFrom his lorn voice, and past his loamed earsHad made a miry channel for his tears.280XXXVI.
Strange sound it was, when the pale shadow spake;For there was striving, in its piteous tongue,To speak as when on earth it was awake,And Isabella on its music hung:Languor there was in it, and tremulous shake,As in a palsied Druid’s harp unstrung;And through it moan’d a ghostly under-song,Like hoarse night-gusts sepulchral briars among.
Its eyes, though wild, were still all dewy brightWith love, and kept all phantom fear aloof290From the poor girl by magic of their light,The while it did unthread the horrid woofOf the late darken’d time,—the murderous spiteOf pride and avarice,—the dark pine roofIn the forest,—and the sodden turfed dell,Where, without any word, from stabs he fell.XXXVIII.
Saying moreover, “Isabel, my sweet!Red whortle-berries droop above my head,And a large flint-stone weighs upon my feet;Around me beeches and high chestnuts shed300Their leaves and prickly nuts; a sheep-fold bleatComes from beyond the river to my bed:Go, shed one tear upon my heather-bloom,And it shall comfort me within the tomb.
“I am a shadow now, alas! alas!Upon the skirts of human-nature dwellingAlone: I chant alone the holy mass,While little sounds of life are round me knelling,And glossy bees at noon do fieldward pass,And many a chapel bell the hour is telling,310Paining me through: those sounds grow strange to me,And thou art distant in Humanity.XL.
“I know what was, I feel full well what is,And I should rage, if spirits could go mad;Though I forget the taste of earthly bliss,That paleness warms my grave, as though I hadA Seraph chosen from the bright abyssTo be my spouse: thy paleness makes me glad;Thy beauty grows upon me, and I feelA greater love through all my essence steal.”320
The Spirit mourn’d “Adieu!”—dissolv’d, and leftThe atom darkness in a slow turmoil;As when of healthful midnight sleep bereft,Thinking on rugged hours and fruitless toil,We put our eyes into a pillowy cleft,And see the spangly gloom froth up and boil:It made sad Isabella’s eyelids ache,And in the dawn she started up awake;XLII.
“Ha! ha!” said she, “I knew not this hard life,I thought the worst was simple misery;330I thought some Fate with pleasure or with strifePortion’d us—happy days, or else to die;But there is crime—a brother’s bloody knife!Sweet Spirit, thou hast school’d my infancy:I’ll visit thee for this, and kiss thine eyes,And greet thee morn and even in the skies.”
When the full morning came, she had devisedHow she might secret to the forest hie;How she might find the clay, so dearly prized,And sing to it one latest lullaby;340How her short absence might be unsurmised,While she the inmost of the dream would try.Resolv’d, she took with her an aged nurse,And went into that dismal forest-hearse.XLIV.
See, as they creep along the river side,How she doth whisper to that aged Dame,And, after looking round the champaign wide,Shows her a knife.—”What feverous hectic flameBurns in thee, child?—What good can thee betide,That thou should’st smile again?”—The evening came,350And they had found Lorenzo’s earthy bed;The flint was there, the berries at his head.
Who hath not loiter’d in a green church-yard,And let his spirit, like a demon-mole,Work through the clayey soil and gravel hard,To see scull, coffin’d bones, and funeral stole;Pitying each form that hungry Death hath marr’d,And filling it once more with human soul?Ah! this is holiday to what was feltWhen Isabella by Lorenzo knelt.360XLVI.
She gaz’d into the fresh-thrown mould, as thoughOne glance did fully all its secrets tell;Clearly she saw, as other eyes would knowPale limbs at bottom of a crystal well;Upon the murderous spot she seem’d to grow,Like to a native lily of the dell:Then with her knife, all sudden, she beganTo dig more fervently than misers can.
Soon she turn’d up a soiled glove, whereonHer silk had play’d in purple phantasies,370She kiss’d it with a lip more chill than stone,And put it in her bosom, where it driesAnd freezes utterly unto the boneThose dainties made to still an infant’s cries:Then ‘gan she work again; nor stay’d her care,But to throw back at times her veiling hair.XLVIII.
That old nurse stood beside her wondering,Until her heart felt pity to the coreAt sight of such a dismal labouring,And so she kneeled, with her locks all hoar,380And put her lean hands to the horrid thing:Three hours they labour’d at this travail sore;At last they felt the kernel of the grave,And Isabella did not stamp and rave.
Ah! wherefore all this wormy circumstance?Why linger at the yawning tomb so long?O for the gentleness of old Romance,The simple plaining of a minstrel’s song!Fair reader, at the old tale take a glance,For here, in truth, it doth not well belong390To speak:—O turn thee to the very tale,And taste the music of that vision pale.L.
With duller steel than the Perséan swordThey cut away no formless monster’s head,But one, whose gentleness did well accordWith death, as life. The ancient harps have said,Love never dies, but lives, immortal Lord:If Love impersonate was ever dead,Pale Isabella kiss’d it, and low moan’d.’Twas love; cold,—dead indeed, but not dethroned.400
In anxious secrecy they took it home,And then the prize was all for Isabel:She calm’d its wild hair with a golden comb,And all around each eye’s sepulchral cellPointed each fringed lash; the smeared loamWith tears, as chilly as a dripping well,She drench’d away:—and still she comb’d, and keptSighing all day—and still she kiss’d, and wept.LII.
Then in a silken scarf,—sweet with the dewsOf precious flowers pluck’d in Araby,410And divine liquids come with odorous oozeThrough the cold serpent-pipe refreshfully,—She wrapp’d it up; and for its tomb did chooseA garden-pot, wherein she laid it by,And cover’d it with mould, and o’er it setSweet Basil, which her tears kept ever wet.
And she forgot the stars, the moon, and sun,And she forgot the blue above the trees,And she forgot the dells where waters run,And she forgot the chilly autumn breeze;420She had no knowledge when the day was done,And the new morn she saw not: but in peaceHung over her sweet Basil evermore,And moisten’d it with tears unto the core.LIV.
And so she ever fed it with thin tears,Whence thick, and green, and beautiful it grew,So that it smelt more balmy than its peersOf Basil-tufts in Florence; for it drewNurture besides, and life, from human fears,From the fast mouldering head there shut from view:430So that the jewel, safely casketed,Came forth, and in perfumed leafits spread.
O Melancholy, linger here awhile!O Music, Music, breathe despondingly!O Echo, Echo, from some sombre isle,Unknown, Lethean, sigh to us—O sigh!Spirits in grief, lift up your heads, and smile;Lift up your heads, sweet Spirits, heavily,And make a pale light in your cypress glooms,Tinting with silver wan your marble tombs.440LVI.
Moan hither, all ye syllables of woe,From the deep throat of sad Melpomene!Through bronzed lyre in tragic order go,And touch the strings into a mystery;Sound mournfully upon the winds and low;For simple Isabel is soon to beAmong the dead: She withers, like a palmCut by an Indian for its juicy balm.
O leave the palm to wither by itself;Let not quick Winter chill its dying hour!—450It may not be—those Baälites of pelf,Her brethren, noted the continual showerFrom her dead eyes; and many a curious elf,Among her kindred, wonder’d that such dowerOf youth and beauty should be thrown asideBy one mark’d out to be a Noble’s bride.LVIII.
And, furthermore, her brethren wonder’d muchWhy she sat drooping by the Basil green,And why it flourish’d, as by magic touch;Greatly they wonder’d what the thing might mean:460They could not surely give belief, that suchA very nothing would have power to weanHer from her own fair youth, and pleasures gay,And even remembrance of her love’s delay.
Therefore they watch’d a time when they might siftThis hidden whim; and long they watch’d in vain;For seldom did she go to chapel-shrift,And seldom felt she any hunger-pain;And when she left, she hurried back, as swiftAs bird on wing to breast its eggs again;470And, patient, as a hen-bird, sat her thereBeside her Basil, weeping through her hair.LX.
Yet they contriv’d to steal the Basil-pot,And to examine it in secret place:The thing was vile with green and livid spot,And yet they knew it was Lorenzo’s face:The guerdon of their murder they had got,And so left Florence in a moment’s space,Never to turn again.—Away they went,With blood upon their heads, to banishment.480
O Melancholy, turn thine eyes away!O Music, Music, breathe despondingly!O Echo, Echo, on some other day,From isles Lethean, sigh to us—O sigh!Spirits of grief, sing not your “Well-a-way!”For Isabel, sweet Isabel, will die;Will die a death too lone and incomplete,Now they have ta’en away her Basil sweet.LXII.
Piteous she look’d on dead and senseless things,Asking for her lost Basil amorously;490And with melodious chuckle in the stringsOf her lorn voice, she oftentimes would cryAfter the Pilgrim in his wanderings,To ask him where her Basil was; and why’Twas hid from her: “For cruel ’tis,” said she,”To steal my Basil-pot away from me.”
And so she pined, and so she died forlorn,Imploring for her Basil to the last.No heart was there in Florence but did mournIn pity of her love, so overcast.500And a sad ditty of this story bornFrom mouth to mouth through all the country pass’d:Still is the burthen sung—”O cruelty,To steal my Basil-pot away from me!”
EVE OF ST. AGNES.
St. Agnes’ Eve—Ah, bitter chill it was!The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;The hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass,And silent was the flock in woolly fold:Numb were the Beadsman’s fingers, while he toldHis rosary, and while his frosted breath,Like pious incense from a censer old,Seem’d taking flight for heaven, without a death,Past the sweet Virgin’s picture, while his prayer he saith.II.
His prayer he saith, this patient, holy man;10Then takes his lamp, and riseth from his knees,And back returneth, meagre, barefoot, wan,Along the chapel aisle by slow degrees:The sculptur’d dead, on each side, seem to freeze,Emprison’d in black, purgatorial rails:Knights, ladies, praying in dumb orat’ries,He passeth by; and his weak spirit failsTo think how they may ache in icy hoods and mails.
Northward he turneth through a little door,And scarce three steps, ere Music’s golden tongue20Flatter’d to tears this aged man and poor;But no—already had his deathbell rung;The joys of all his life were said and sung:His was harsh penance on St. Agnes’ Eve:Another way he went, and soon amongRough ashes sat he for his soul’s reprieve,And all night kept awake, for sinners’ sake to grieve.IV.
That ancient Beadsman heard the prelude soft;And so it chanc’d, for many a door was wide,From hurry to and fro. Soon, up aloft,30The silver, snarling trumpets ‘gan to chide:The level chambers, ready with their pride,Were glowing to receive a thousand guests:The carved angels, ever eager-eyed,Star’d, where upon their heads the cornice rests,With hair blown back, and wings put cross-wise on their breasts.
At length burst in the argent revelry,With plume, tiara, and all rich array,Numerous as shadows haunting fairilyThe brain, new stuff’d, in youth, with triumphs gay40Of old romance. These let us wish away,And turn, sole-thoughted, to one Lady there,Whose heart had brooded, all that wintry day,On love, and wing’d St. Agnes’ saintly care,As she had heard old dames full many times declare.VI.
They told her how, upon St. Agnes’ Eve,Young virgins might have visions of delight,And soft adorings from their loves receiveUpon the honey’d middle of the night,If ceremonies due they did aright;50As, supperless to bed they must retire,And couch supine their beauties, lily white;Nor look behind, nor sideways, but requireOf Heaven with upward eyes for all that they desire.
Full of this whim was thoughtful Madeline:The music, yearning like a God in pain,She scarcely heard: her maiden eyes divine,Fix’d on the floor, saw many a sweeping trainPass by—she heeded not at all: in vainCame many a tiptoe, amorous cavalier,60And back retir’d; not cool’d by high disdain,But she saw not: her heart was otherwhere:She sigh’d for Agnes’ dreams, the sweetest of the year.VIII.
She danc’d along with vague, regardless eyes,Anxious her lips, her breathing quick and short:The hallow’d hour was near at hand: she sighsAmid the timbrels, and the throng’d resortOf whisperers in anger, or in sport;’Mid looks of love, defiance, hate, and scorn,Hoodwink’d with faery fancy; all amort,70Save to St. Agnes and her lambs unshorn,And all the bliss to be before to-morrow morn.
So, purposing each moment to retire,She linger’d still. Meantime, across the moors,Had come young Porphyro, with heart on fireFor Madeline. Beside the portal doors,Buttress’d from moonlight, stands he, and imploresAll saints to give him sight of Madeline,But for one moment in the tedious hours,That he might gaze and worship all unseen;80Perchance speak, kneel, touch, kiss—in sooth such things have been.X.
He ventures in: let no buzz’d whisper tell:All eyes be muffled, or a hundred swordsWill storm his heart, Love’s fev’rous citadel:For him, those chambers held barbarian hordes,Hyena foemen, and hot-blooded lords,Whose very dogs would execrations howlAgainst his lineage: not one breast affordsHim any mercy, in that mansion foul,Save one old beldame, weak in body and in soul.90
Ah, happy chance! the aged creature came,Shuffling along with ivory-headed wand,To where he stood, hid from the torch’s flame,Behind a broad hall-pillar, far beyondThe sound of merriment and chorus bland:He startled her; but soon she knew his face,And grasp’d his fingers in her palsied hand,Saying, “Mercy, Porphyro! hie thee from this place;They are all here to-night, the whole blood-thirsty race!”XII.
“Get hence! get hence! there’s dwarfish Hildebrand;100He had a fever late, and in the fitHe cursed thee and thine, both house and land:Then there’s that old Lord Maurice, not a whitMore tame for his gray hairs—Alas me! flit!Flit like a ghost away.”—”Ah, Gossip dear,We’re safe enough; here in this arm-chair sit,And tell me how”—”Good Saints! not here, not here;Follow me, child, or else these stones will be thy bier.”
He follow’d through a lowly arched way,Brushing the cobwebs with his lofty plume,110And as she mutter’d “Well-a—well-a-day!”He found him in a little moonlight room,Pale, lattic’d, chill, and silent as a tomb.”Now tell me where is Madeline,” said he,”O tell me, Angela, by the holy loomWhich none but secret sisterhood may see,When they St. Agnes’ wool are weaving piously.”XIV.
“St. Agnes! Ah! it is St. Agnes’ Eve—Yet men will murder upon holy days:Thou must hold water in a witch’s sieve,120And be liege-lord of all the Elves and Fays,To venture so: it fills me with amazeTo see thee, Porphyro!—St. Agnes’ Eve!God’s help! my lady fair the conjuror playsThis very night: good angels her deceive!But let me laugh awhile, I’ve mickle time to grieve.”
Feebly she laugheth in the languid moon,While Porphyro upon her face doth look,Like puzzled urchin on an aged croneWho keepeth clos’d a wond’rous riddle-book,130As spectacled she sits in chimney nook.But soon his eyes grew brilliant, when she toldHis lady’s purpose; and he scarce could brookTears, at the thought of those enchantments coldAnd Madeline asleep in lap of legends old.XVI.
Sudden a thought came like a full-blown rose,Flushing his brow, and in his pained heartMade purple riot: then doth he proposeA stratagem, that makes the beldame start:”A cruel man and impious thou art:140Sweet lady, let her pray, and sleep, and dreamAlone with her good angels, far apartFrom wicked men like thee. Go, go!—I deemThou canst not surely be the same that thou didst seem.”
“I will not harm her, by all saints I swear,”Quoth Porphyro: “O may I ne’er find graceWhen my weak voice shall whisper its last prayer,If one of her soft ringlets I displace,Or look with ruffian passion in her face:Good Angela, believe me by these tears;150Or I will, even in a moment’s space,Awake, with horrid shout, my foemen’s ears,And beard them, though they be more fang’d than wolves and bears.”XVIII.
“Ah! why wilt thou affright a feeble soul?A poor, weak, palsy-stricken, churchyard thing,Whose passing-bell may ere the midnight toll;Whose prayers for thee, each morn and evening,Were never miss’d.”—Thus plaining, doth she bringA gentler speech from burning Porphyro;So woful, and of such deep sorrowing,160That Angela gives promise she will doWhatever he shall wish, betide her weal or woe.
Which was, to lead him, in close secrecy,Even to Madeline’s chamber, and there hideHim in a closet, of such privacyThat he might see her beauty unespied,And win perhaps that night a peerless bride,While legion’d fairies pac’d the coverlet,And pale enchantment held her sleepy-eyed.Never on such a night have lovers met,170Since Merlin paid his Demon all the monstrous debt.XX.
“It shall be as thou wishest,” said the Dame:”All cates and dainties shall be stored thereQuickly on this feast-night: by the tambour frameHer own lute thou wilt see: no time to spare,For I am slow and feeble, and scarce dareOn such a catering trust my dizzy head.Wait here, my child, with patience; kneel in prayerThe while: Ah! thou must needs the lady wed,Or may I never leave my grave among the dead.”180
So saying, she hobbled off with busy fear.The lover’s endless minutes slowly pass’d;The dame return’d, and whisper’d in his earTo follow her; with aged eyes aghastFrom fright of dim espial. Safe at last,Through many a dusky gallery, they gainThe maiden’s chamber, silken, hush’d, and chaste;Where Porphyro took covert, pleas’d amain.His poor guide hurried back with agues in her brain.XXII.
Her falt’ring hand upon the balustrade,190Old Angela was feeling for the stair,When Madeline, St. Agnes’ charmed maid,Rose, like a mission’d spirit, unaware:With silver taper’s light, and pious care,She turn’d, and down the aged gossip ledTo a safe level matting. Now prepare,Young Porphyro, for gazing on that bed;She comes, she comes again, like ring-dove fray’d and fled.
Out went the taper as she hurried in;Its little smoke, in pallid moonshine, died:200She clos’d the door, she panted, all akinTo spirits of the air, and visions wide:No uttered syllable, or, woe betide!But to her heart, her heart was voluble,Paining with eloquence her balmy side;As though a tongueless nightingale should swellHer throat in vain, and die, heart-stifled, in her dell.XXIV.
A casement high and triple-arch’d there was,All garlanded with carven imag’riesOf fruits, and flowers, and bunches of knot-grass,210And diamonded with panes of quaint device,Innumerable of stains and splendid dyes,As are the tiger-moth’s deep-damask’d wings;And in the midst, ‘mong thousand heraldries,And twilight saints, and dim emblazonings,A shielded scutcheon blush’d with blood of queens and kings.
Full on this casement shone the wintry moon,And threw warm gules on Madeline’s fair breast,As down she knelt for heaven’s grace and boon;Rose-bloom fell on her hands, together prest,220And on her silver cross soft amethyst,And on her hair a glory, like a saint:She seem’d a splendid angel, newly drest,Save wings, for heaven:—Porphyro grew faint:She knelt, so pure a thing, so free from mortal taint.XXVI.
Anon his heart revives: her vespers done,Of all its wreathed pearls her hair she frees;Unclasps her warmed jewels one by one;Loosens her fragrant boddice; by degreesHer rich attire creeps rustling to her knees:230Half-hidden, like a mermaid in sea-weed,Pensive awhile she dreams awake, and sees,In fancy, fair St. Agnes in her bed,But dares not look behind, or all the charm is fled.
Soon, trembling in her soft and chilly nest,In sort of wakeful swoon, perplex’d she lay,Until the poppied warmth of sleep oppress’dHer soothed limbs, and soul fatigued away;Flown, like a thought, until the morrow-day;Blissfully haven’d both from joy and pain;240Clasp’d like a missal where swart Paynims pray;Blinded alike from sunshine and from rain,As though a rose should shut, and be a bud again.XXVIII.
Stol’n to this paradise, and so entranced,Porphyro gazed upon her empty dress,And listen’d to her breathing, if it chancedTo wake into a slumberous tenderness;Which when he heard, that minute did he bless,And breath’d himself: then from the closet crept,Noiseless as fear in a wide wilderness,250And over the hush’d carpet, silent, stept,And ‘tween the curtains peep’d, where, lo!—how fast she slept.
Then by the bed-side, where the faded moonMade a dim, silver twilight, soft he setA table, and, half anguish’d, threw thereonA cloth of woven crimson, gold, and jet:—O for some drowsy Morphean amulet!The boisterous, midnight, festive clarion,The kettle-drum, and far-heard clarionet,Affray his ears, though but in dying tone:—260The hall door shuts again, and all the noise is gone.XXX.
And still she slept an azure-lidded sleep,In blanched linen, smooth, and lavender’d,While he from forth the closet brought a heapOf candied apple, quince, and plum, and gourdWith jellies soother than the creamy curd,And lucent syrops, tinct with cinnamon;Manna and dates, in argosy transferr’dFrom Fez; and spiced dainties, every one,From silken Samarcand to cedar’d Lebanon.270
These delicates he heap’d with glowing handOn golden dishes and in baskets brightOf wreathed silver: sumptuous they standIn the retired quiet of the night,Filling the chilly room with perfume light.—”And now, my love, my seraph fair, awake!Thou art my heaven, and I thine eremite:Open thine eyes, for meek St. Agnes’ sake,Or I shall drowse beside thee, so my soul doth ache.”XXXII.
Thus whispering, his warm, unnerved arm280Sank in her pillow. Shaded was her dreamBy the dusk curtains:—’twas a midnight charmImpossible to melt as iced stream:The lustrous salvers in the moonlight gleam;Broad golden fringe upon the carpet lies:It seem’d he never, never could redeemFrom such a stedfast spell his lady’s eyes;So mus’d awhile, entoil’d in woofed phantasies.
Awakening up, he took her hollow lute,—Tumultuous,—and, in chords that tenderest be,290He play’d an ancient ditty, long since mute,In Provence call’d, “La belle dame sans mercy:”Close to her ear touching the melody;—Wherewith disturb’d, she utter’d a soft moan:He ceased—she panted quick—and suddenlyHer blue affrayed eyes wide open shone:Upon his knees he sank, pale as smooth-sculptured stone.XXXIV.
Her eyes were open, but she still beheld,Now wide awake, the vision of her sleep:There was a painful change, that nigh expell’d300The blisses of her dream so pure and deepAt which fair Madeline began to weep,And moan forth witless words with many a sigh;While still her gaze on Porphyro would keep;Who knelt, with joined hands and piteous eye,Fearing to move or speak, she look’d so dreamingly.
“Ah, Porphyro!” said she, “but even nowThy voice was at sweet tremble in mine ear,Made tuneable with every sweetest vow;And those sad eyes were spiritual and clear:310How chang’d thou art! how pallid, chill, and drear!Give me that voice again, my Porphyro,Those looks immortal, those complainings dear!Oh leave me not in this eternal woe,For if thou diest, my Love, I know not where to go.”XXXVI.
Beyond a mortal man impassion’d farAt these voluptuous accents, he arose,Ethereal, flush’d, and like a throbbing starSeen mid the sapphire heaven’s deep reposeInto her dream he melted, as the rose320Blendeth its odour with the violet,—Solution sweet: meantime the frost-wind blowsLike Love’s alarum pattering the sharp sleetAgainst the window-panes; St. Agnes’ moon hath set.
‘Tis dark: quick pattereth the flaw-blown sleet:”This is no dream, my bride, my Madeline!”‘Tis dark: the iced gusts still rave and beat:”No dream, alas! alas! and woe is mine!Porphyro will leave me here to fade and pine.—Cruel! what traitor could thee hither bring?330I curse not, for my heart is lost in thineThough thou forsakest a deceived thing;—A dove forlorn and lost with sick unpruned wing.”XXXVIII.
“My Madeline! sweet dreamer! lovely bride!Say, may I be for aye thy vassal blest?Thy beauty’s shield, heart-shap’d and vermeil dyed?Ah, silver shrine, here will I take my restAfter so many hours of toil and quest,A famish’d pilgrim,—saved by miracle.Though I have found, I will not rob thy nest340Saving of thy sweet self; if thou think’st wellTo trust, fair Madeline, to no rude infidel.”
“Hark! ’tis an elfin-storm from faery land,Of haggard seeming, but a boon indeed:Arise—arise! the morning is at hand;—The bloated wassaillers will never heed:—Let us away, my love, with happy speed;There are no ears to hear, or eyes to see,—Drown’d all in Rhenish and the sleepy mead:Awake! arise! my love, and fearless be,350For o’er the southern moors I have a home for thee.”XL.
She hurried at his words, beset with fears,For there were sleeping dragons all around,At glaring watch, perhaps, with ready spears—Down the wide stairs a darkling way they found.—In all the house was heard no human sound.A chain-droop’d lamp was flickering by each door;The arras, rich with horseman, hawk, and hound,Flutter’d in the besieging wind’s uproar;And the long carpets rose along the gusty floor.360
They glide, like phantoms, into the wide hall;Like phantoms, to the iron porch, they glide;Where lay the Porter, in uneasy sprawl,With a huge empty flaggon by his side:The wakeful bloodhound rose, and shook his hide,But his sagacious eye an inmate owns:By one, and one, the bolts full easy slide:—The chains lie silent on the footworn stones;—The key turns, and the door upon its hinges groans.XLII.
And they are gone: ay, ages long ago370These lovers fled away into the storm.That night the Baron dreamt of many a woe,And all his warrior-guests, with shade and formOf witch, and demon, and large coffin-worm,Were long be-nightmar’d. Angela the oldDied palsy-twitch’d, with meagre face deform;The Beadsman, after thousand aves told,For aye unsought for slept among his ashes cold.
ODE TO A NIGHTINGALE.
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness painsMy sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,Or emptied some dull opiate to the drainsOne minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:’Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,But being too happy in thine happiness,—That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,In some melodious plotOf beechen green, and shadows numberless,Singest of summer in full-throated ease.102.
O, for a draught of vintage! that hath beenCool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,Tasting of Flora and the country green,Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!O for a beaker full of the warm South,Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,And purple-stained mouth;That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,And with thee fade away into the forest dim:20
Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forgetWhat thou among the leaves hast never known,The weariness, the fever, and the fretHere, where men sit and hear each other groan;Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;Where but to think is to be full of sorrowAnd leaden-eyed despairs,Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.30
Away! away! for I will fly to thee,Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,But on the viewless wings of Poesy,Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:Already with thee! tender is the night,And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays;But here there is no light,Save what from heaven is with the breezes blownThrough verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.405.
I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweetWherewith the seasonable month endowsThe grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves;And mid-May’s eldest child,The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.50
Darkling I listen; and, for many a timeI have been half in love with easeful Death,Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,To take into the air my quiet breath;Now more than ever seems it rich to die,To cease upon the midnight with no pain,While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroadIn such an ecstasy!Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—To thy high requiem become a sod.60
Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!No hungry generations tread thee down;The voice I hear this passing night was heardIn ancient days by emperor and clown:Perhaps the self-same song that found a pathThrough the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,She stood in tears amid the alien corn;The same that oft-times hathCharm’d magic casements, opening on the foamOf perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.708.
Forlorn! the very word is like a bellTo toll me back from thee to my sole self!Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so wellAs she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fadesPast the near meadows, over the still stream,Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deepIn the next valley-glades:Was it a vision, or a waking dream?Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?80
ODE ON A GRECIAN URN.
Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,Sylvan historian, who canst thus expressA flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shapeOf deities or mortals, or of both,In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?102.
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheardAre sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leaveThy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!20
Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shedYour leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;And, happy melodist, unwearied,For ever piping songs for ever new;More happy love! more happy, happy love!For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,For ever panting, and for ever young;All breathing human passion far above,That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.30
Who are these coming to the sacrifice?To what green altar, O mysterious priest,Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?What little town by river or sea shore,Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?And, little town, thy streets for evermoreWill silent be; and not a soul to tellWhy thou art desolate, can e’er return.405.
O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with bredeOf marble men and maidens overwrought,With forest branches and the trodden weed;Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thoughtAs doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!When old age shall this generation waste,Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woeThan ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,”Beauty is truth, truth beauty,”—that is allYe know on earth, and all ye need to know.50
ODE TO PSYCHE.
O Goddess! hear these tuneless numbers, wrungBy sweet enforcement and remembrance dear,And pardon that thy secrets should be sungEven into thine own soft-conched ear:Surely I dreamt to-day, or did I seeThe winged Psyche with awaken’d eyes?I wander’d in a forest thoughtlessly,And, on the sudden, fainting with surprise,Saw two fair creatures, couched side by sideIn deepest grass, beneath the whisp’ring roof10Of leaves and trembled blossoms, where there ranA brooklet, scarce espied:’Mid hush’d, cool-rooted flowers, fragrant-eyed,Blue, silver-white, and budded Tyrian,They lay calm-breathing on the bedded grass;Their arms embraced, and their pinions too;Their lips touch’d not, but had not bade adieu,As if disjoined by soft-handed slumber,And ready still past kisses to outnumberAt tender eye-dawn of aurorean love:20The winged boy I knew;But who wast thou, O happy, happy dove?His Psyche true!
O latest born and loveliest vision farOf all Olympus’ faded hierarchy!Fairer than Phœbe’s sapphire-region’d star,Or Vesper, amorous glow-worm of the sky;Fairer than these, though temple thou hast none,Nor altar heap’d with flowers;Nor virgin-choir to make delicious moan30Upon the midnight hours;No voice, no lute, no pipe, no incense sweetFrom chain-swung censer teeming;No shrine, no grove, no oracle, no heatOf pale-mouth’d prophet dreaming.
O brightest! though too late for antique vows,Too, too late for the fond believing lyre,When holy were the haunted forest boughs,Holy the air, the water, and the fire;Yet even in these days so far retir’d40From happy pieties, thy lucent fans,Fluttering among the faint Olympians,I see, and sing, by my own eyes inspired.So let me be thy choir, and make a moanUpon the midnight hours;Thy voice, thy lute, thy pipe, thy incense sweetFrom swinged censer teeming;Thy shrine, thy grove, thy oracle, thy heatOf pale-mouth’d prophet dreaming.
Yes, I will be thy priest, and build a fane50In some untrodden region of my mind,Where branched thoughts, new grown with pleasant pain,Instead of pines shall murmur in the wind:Far, far around shall those dark-cluster’d treesFledge the wild-ridged mountains steep by steep;And there by zephyrs, streams, and birds, and bees,The moss-lain Dryads shall be lull’d to sleep;And in the midst of this wide quietnessA rosy sanctuary will I dressWith the wreath’d trellis of a working brain,60With buds, and bells, and stars without a name,With all the gardener Fancy e’er could feign,Who breeding flowers, will never breed the same:And there shall be for thee all soft delightThat shadowy thought can win,A bright torch, and a casement ope at night,To let the warm Love in!
Ever let the Fancy roam,Pleasure never is at home:At a touch sweet Pleasure melteth,Like to bubbles when rain pelteth;Then let winged Fancy wanderThrough the thought still spread beyond her:Open wide the mind’s cage-door,She’ll dart forth, and cloudward soar.O sweet Fancy! let her loose;Summer’s joys are spoilt by use,10And the enjoying of the SpringFades as does its blossoming;Autumn’s red-lipp’d fruitage too,Blushing through the mist and dew,Cloys with tasting: What do then?Sit thee by the ingle, whenThe sear faggot blazes bright,Spirit of a winter’s night;When the soundless earth is muffled,And the caked snow is shuffled20From the ploughboy’s heavy shoon;When the Night doth meet the NoonIn a dark conspiracyTo banish Even from her sky.Sit thee there, and send abroad,With a mind self-overaw’d,Fancy, high-commission’d:—send her!She has vassals to attend her:She will bring, in spite of frost,Beauties that the earth hath lost;30She will bring thee, all together,All delights of summer weather;All the buds and bells of May,From dewy sward or thorny sprayAll the heaped Autumn’s wealth,With a still, mysterious stealth:She will mix these pleasures upLike three fit wines in a cup,And thou shalt quaff it:—thou shalt hearDistant harvest-carols clear;40Rustle of the reaped corn;Sweet birds antheming the morn:And, in the same moment—hark!’Tis the early April lark,Or the rooks, with busy caw,Foraging for sticks and straw.Thou shalt, at one glance, beholdThe daisy and the marigold;White-plum’d lilies, and the firstHedge-grown primrose that hath burst;50Shaded hyacinth, alwaySapphire queen of the mid-May;And every leaf, and every flowerPearled with the self-same shower.Thou shalt see the field-mouse peepMeagre from its celled sleep;And the snake all winter-thinCast on sunny bank its skin;Freckled nest-eggs thou shalt seeHatching in the hawthorn-tree,60When the hen-bird’s wing doth restQuiet on her mossy nest;Then the hurry and alarmWhen the bee-hive casts its swarm;Acorns ripe down-pattering,While the autumn breezes sing.Oh, sweet Fancy! let her loose;Every thing is spoilt by use:Where’s the cheek that doth not fade,Too much gaz’d at? Where’s the maid70Whose lip mature is ever new?Where’s the eye, however blue,Doth not weary? Where’s the faceOne would meet in every place?Where’s the voice, however soft,One would hear so very oft?At a touch sweet Pleasure meltethLike to bubbles when rain pelteth.Let, then, winged Fancy findThee a mistress to thy mind:80Dulcet-eyed as Ceres’ daughter,Ere the God of Torment taught herHow to frown and how to chide;With a waist and with a sideWhite as Hebe’s, when her zoneSlipt its golden clasp, and downFell her kirtle to her feet,While she held the goblet sweet,And Jove grew languid.—Break the meshOf the Fancy’s silken leash;90Quickly break her prison-stringAnd such joys as these she’ll bring.—Let the winged Fancy roamPleasure never is at home. 
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 communeWith the spheres of sun and moon;With the noise of fountains wond’rous,And the parle of voices thund’rous;With the whisper of heaven’s treesAnd one another, in soft ease10Seated on Elysian lawnsBrows’d by none but Dian’s fawnsUnderneath large blue-bells tented,Where the daisies are rose-scented,And the rose herself has gotPerfume which on earth is not;Where the nightingale doth singNot a senseless, tranced thing,But divine melodious truth;Philosophic numbers smooth;20Tales and golden historiesOf heaven and its mysteries.
Thus ye live on high, and thenOn the earth ye live again;And the souls ye left behind youTeach us, here, the way to find you,Where your other souls are joying,Never slumber’d, never cloying.Here, your earth-born souls still speakTo mortals, of their little week;30Of 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!40
THE MERMAID TAVERN.
Souls of Poets dead and gone,What Elysium have ye known,Happy field or mossy cavern,Choicer than the Mermaid Tavern?Have ye tippled drink more fineThan mine host’s Canary wine?Or are fruits of ParadiseSweeter than those dainty piesOf venison? O generous food!Drest as though bold Robin Hood10Would, with his maid Marian,Sup and bowse from horn and can.I have heard that on a dayMine host’s sign-board flew away,Nobody knew whither, tillAn astrologer’s old quillTo a sheepskin gave the story,Said he saw you in your glory,Underneath a new old-signSipping beverage divine,20And pledging with contented smackThe Mermaid in the Zodiac.
Souls of Poets dead and gone,What Elysium have ye known,Happy field or mossy cavern,Choicer than the Mermaid Tavern?
TO A FRIEND.
No! those days are gone away,And their hours are old and gray,And their minutes buried allUnder the down-trodden pallOf the leaves of many years:Many times have winter’s shears,Frozen North, and chilling East,Sounded tempests to the feastOf the forest’s whispering fleeces,Since men knew nor rent nor leases.10
No, the bugle sounds no more,And the twanging bow no more;Silent is the ivory shrillPast the heath and up the hill;There is no mid-forest laugh,Where lone Echo gives the halfTo some wight, amaz’d to hearJesting, deep in forest drear.
On the fairest time of JuneYou may go, with sun or moon,20Or the seven stars to light you,Or the polar ray to right you;But you never may beholdLittle John, or Robin bold;Never one, of all the clan,Thrumming on an empty canSome old hunting ditty, whileHe doth his green way beguileTo fair hostess Merriment,Down beside the pasture Trent;30For he left the merry taleMessenger for spicy ale.
Gone, the merry morris din;Gone, the song of Gamelyn;Gone, the tough-belted outlawIdling in the “grenè shawe;”All are gone away and past!And if Robin should be castSudden from his turfed grave,And if Marian should have40Once again her forest days,She would weep, and he would craze:He would swear, for all his oaks,Fall’n beneath the dockyard strokes,Have rotted on the briny seas;She would weep that her wild beesSang not to her—strange! that honeyCan’t be got without hard money!So it is: yet let us sing,Honour to the old bow-string!50Honour to the bugle-horn!Honour to the woods unshorn!Honour to the Lincoln green!Honour to the archer keen!Honour to tight little John,And the horse he rode upon!Honour to bold Robin Hood,Sleeping in the underwood!Honour to maid Marian,And to all the Sherwood-clan!60Though their days have hurried byLet us two a burden try. 
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;Conspiring with him how to load and blessWith fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shellsWith a sweet kernel; to set budding more,And still more, later flowers for the bees,Until they think warm days will never cease,10For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.2.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may findThee sitting careless on a granary floor,Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hookSpares the next swath and all its twined flowers:And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keepSteady thy laden head across a brook;20Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mournAmong the river sallows, borne aloftOr sinking as the light wind lives or dies;And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;30Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble softThe red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
ODE ON MELANCHOLY.
No, no, go not to Lethe, neither twistWolf’s-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kiss’dBy nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;Make not your rosary of yew-berries,Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth beYour mournful Psyche, nor the downy owlA partner in your sorrow’s mysteries;For shade to shade will come too drowsily,And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul.102.
But when the melancholy fit shall fallSudden 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.20
She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lipsBidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:Ay, in the very temple of DelightVeil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine,Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongueCan burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine;His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,And be among her cloudy trophies hung.30
A FRAGMENT. 
Deep in the shady sadness of a valeFar sunken from the healthy breath of morn,Far from the fiery noon, and eve’s one star,Sat gray-hair’d Saturn, quiet as a stone,Still as the silence round about his lair;Forest on forest hung about his headLike cloud on cloud. No stir of air was there,Not so much life as on a summer’s dayRobs not one light seed from the feather’d grass,But where the dead leaf fell, there did it rest.10A stream went voiceless by, still deadened moreBy reason of his fallen divinitySpreading a shade: the Naiad ‘mid her reedsPress’d her cold finger closer to her lips.
Along the margin-sand large foot-marks went,No further than to where his feet had stray’d,And slept there since. Upon the sodden groundHis old right hand lay nerveless, listless, dead,Unsceptred; and his realmless eyes were closed;While his bow’d head seem’d list’ning to the Earth,20His ancient mother, for some comfort yet.
It seem’d no force could wake him from his place;But there came one, who with a kindred handTouch’d his wide shoulders, after bending lowWith reverence, though to one who knew it not.She was a Goddess of the infant world;By her in stature the tall AmazonHad stood a pigmy’s height: she would have ta’enAchilles by the hair and bent his neck;Or with a finger stay’d Ixion’s wheel.30Her face was large as that of Memphian sphinx,Pedestal’d haply in a palace court,When sages look’d to Egypt for their lore.But oh! how unlike marble was that face:How beautiful, if sorrow had not madeSorrow more beautiful than Beauty’s self.There was a listening fear in her regard,As if calamity had but begun;As if the vanward clouds of evil daysHad spent their malice, and the sullen rear40Was with its stored thunder labouring up.One hand she press’d upon that aching spotWhere beats the human heart, as if just there,Though an immortal, she felt cruel pain:The other upon Saturn’s bended neckShe laid, and to the level of his earLeaning with parted lips, some words she spakeIn solemn tenour and deep organ tone:Some mourning words, which in our feeble tongueWould come in these like accents; O how frail50To that large utterance of the early Gods!”Saturn, look up!—though wherefore, poor old King?I have no comfort for thee, no not one:I cannot say, ‘O wherefore sleepest thou?’For heaven is parted from thee, and the earthKnows thee not, thus afflicted, for a God;And ocean too, with all its solemn noise,Has from thy sceptre pass’d; and all the airIs emptied of thine hoary majesty.Thy thunder, conscious of the new command,60Rumbles reluctant o’er our fallen house;And thy sharp lightning in unpractised handsScorches and burns our once serene domain.O aching time! O moments big as years!All as ye pass swell out the monstrous truth,And press it so upon our weary griefsThat unbelief has not a space to breathe.Saturn, sleep on:—O thoughtless, why did IThus violate thy slumbrous solitude?Why should I ope thy melancholy eyes?70Saturn, sleep on! while at thy feet I weep.”
As when, upon a tranced summer-night,Those green-rob’d senators of mighty woods,Tall oaks, branch-charmed by the earnest stars,Dream, and so dream all night without a stir,Save from one gradual solitary gustWhich comes upon the silence, and dies off,As if the ebbing air had but one wave;So came these words and went; the while in tearsShe touch’d her fair large forehead to the ground,80Just where her falling hair might be outspreadA soft and silken mat for Saturn’s feet.One moon, with alteration slow, had shedHer silver seasons four upon the night,And still these two were postured motionless,Like natural sculpture in cathedral cavern;The frozen God still couchant on the earth,And the sad Goddess weeping at his feet:Until at length old Saturn lifted upHis faded eyes, and saw his kingdom gone,90And all the gloom and sorrow of the place,And that fair kneeling Goddess; and then spake,As with a palsied tongue, and while his beardShook horrid with such aspen-malady:”O tender spouse of gold Hyperion,Thea, I feel thee ere I see thy face;Look up, and let me see our doom in it;Look up, and tell me if this feeble shapeIs Saturn’s; tell me, if thou hear’st the voiceOf Saturn; tell me, if this wrinkling brow,100Naked and bare of its great diadem,Peers like the front of Saturn. Who had powerTo make me desolate? whence came the strength?How was it nurtur’d to such bursting forth,While Fate seem’d strangled in my nervous grasp?But it is so; and I am smother’d up,And buried from all godlike exerciseOf influence benign on planets pale,Of admonitions to the winds and seas,Of peaceful sway above man’s harvesting,110And all those acts which Deity supremeDoth ease its heart of love in.—I am goneAway from my own bosom: I have leftMy strong identity, my real self,Somewhere between the throne, and where I sitHere on this spot of earth. Search, Thea, search!Open thine eyes eterne, and sphere them roundUpon all space: space starr’d, and lorn of light;Space region’d with life-air; and barren void;Spaces of fire, and all the yawn of hell.—120Search, Thea, search! and tell me, if thou seestA certain shape or shadow, making wayWith wings or chariot fierce to repossessA heaven he lost erewhile: it must—it mustBe of ripe progress—Saturn must be King.Yes, there must be a golden victory;There must be Gods thrown down, and trumpets blownOf triumph calm, and hymns of festivalUpon the gold clouds metropolitan,Voices of soft proclaim, and silver stir130Of strings in hollow shells; and there shall beBeautiful things made new, for the surpriseOf the sky-children; I will give command:Thea! Thea! Thea! where is Saturn?”This passion lifted him upon his feet,And made his hands to struggle in the air,His Druid locks to shake and ooze with sweat,His eyes to fever out, his voice to cease.He stood, and heard not Thea’s sobbing deep;A little time, and then again he snatch’d140Utterance thus.—”But cannot I create?Cannot I form? Cannot I fashion forthAnother world, another universe,To overbear and crumble this to nought?Where is another chaos? Where?”—That wordFound way unto Olympus, and made quakeThe rebel three.—Thea was startled up,And in her bearing was a sort of hope,As thus she quick-voic’d spake, yet full of awe.
“This cheers our fallen house: come to our friends,150O Saturn! come away, and give them heart;I know the covert, for thence came I hither.”Thus brief; then with beseeching eyes she wentWith backward footing through the shade a space:He follow’d, and she turn’d to lead the wayThrough aged boughs, that yielded like the mistWhich eagles cleave upmounting from their nest.
Meanwhile in other realms big tears were shed,More sorrow like to this, and such like woe,Too huge for mortal tongue or pen of scribe:160The Titans fierce, self-hid, or prison-bound,Groan’d for the old allegiance once more,And listen’d in sharp pain for Saturn’s voice.But one of the whole mammoth-brood still keptHis sov’reignty, and rule, and majesty;—Blazing Hyperion on his orbed fireStill sat, still snuff’d the incense, teeming upFrom man to the sun’s God; yet unsecure:For as among us mortals omens drearFright and perplex, so also shuddered he—170Not at dog’s howl, or gloom-bird’s hated screech,Or the familiar visiting of oneUpon the first toll of his passing-bell,Or prophesyings of the midnight lamp;But horrors, portion’d to a giant nerve,Oft made Hyperion ache. His palace brightBastion’d with pyramids of glowing gold,And touch’d with shade of bronzed obelisks,Glar’d a blood-red through all its thousand courts,Arches, and domes, and fiery galleries;180And all its curtains of Aurorian cloudsFlush’d angerly: while sometimes eagle’s wings,Unseen before by Gods or wondering men,Darken’d the place; and neighing steeds were heard,Not heard before by Gods or wondering men.Also, when he would taste the spicy wreathsOf incense, breath’d aloft from sacred hills,Instead of sweets, his ample palate tookSavour of poisonous brass and metal sick:And so, when harbour’d in the sleepy west,190After the full completion of fair day,—For rest divine upon exalted couchAnd slumber in the arms of melody,He pac’d away the pleasant hours of easeWith stride colossal, on from hall to hall;While far within each aisle and deep recess,His winged minions in close clusters stood,Amaz’d and full of fear; like anxious menWho on wide plains gather in panting troops,When earthquakes jar their battlements and towers.200Even now, while Saturn, rous’d from icy trance,Went step for step with Thea through the woods,Hyperion, leaving twilight in the rear,Came slope upon the threshold of the west;Then, as was wont, his palace-door flew opeIn smoothest silence, save what solemn tubes,Blown by the serious Zephyrs, gave of sweetAnd wandering sounds, slow-breathed melodies;And like a rose in vermeil tint and shape,In fragrance soft, and coolness to the eye,210That inlet to severe magnificenceStood full blown, for the God to enter in.
He enter’d, but he enter’d full of wrath;His flaming robes stream’d out beyond his heels,And gave a roar, as if of earthly fire,That scar’d away the meek ethereal HoursAnd made their dove-wings tremble. On he flared,From stately nave to nave, from vault to vault,Through bowers of fragrant and enwreathed light,And diamond-paved lustrous long arcades,220Until he reach’d the great main cupola;There standing fierce beneath, he stampt his foot,And from the basements deep to the high towersJarr’d his own golden region; and beforeThe quavering thunder thereupon had ceas’d,His voice leapt out, despite of godlike curb,To this result: “O dreams of day and night!O monstrous forms! O effigies of pain!O spectres busy in a cold, cold gloom!O lank-eared Phantoms of black-weeded pools!230Why do I know ye? why have I seen ye? whyIs my eternal essence thus distraughtTo see and to behold these horrors new?Saturn is fallen, am I too to fall?Am I to leave this haven of my rest,This cradle of my glory, this soft clime,This calm luxuriance of blissful light,These crystalline pavilions, and pure fanes,Of all my lucent empire? It is leftDeserted, void, nor any haunt of mine.240The blaze, the splendor, and the symmetry,I cannot see—but darkness, death and darkness.Even here, into my centre of repose,The shady visions come to domineer,Insult, and blind, and stifle up my pomp.—Fall!—No, by Tellus and her briny robes!Over the fiery frontier of my realmsI will advance a terrible right armShall scare that infant thunderer, rebel Jove,And bid old Saturn take his throne again.”—250He spake, and ceas’d, the while a heavier threatHeld struggle with his throat but came not forth;For as in theatres of crowded menHubbub increases more they call out “Hush!”So at Hyperion’s words the Phantoms paleBestirr’d themselves, thrice horrible and cold;And from the mirror’d level where he stoodA mist arose, as from a scummy marsh.At this, through all his bulk an agonyCrept gradual, from the feet unto the crown,260Like a lithe serpent vast and muscularMaking slow way, with head and neck convuls’dFrom over-strained might. Releas’d, he fledTo the eastern gates, and full six dewy hoursBefore the dawn in season due should blush,He breath’d fierce breath against the sleepy portals,Clear’d them of heavy vapours, burst them wideSuddenly on the ocean’s chilly streams.The planet orb of fire, whereon he rodeEach day from east to west the heavens through,270Spun round in sable curtaining of clouds;Not therefore veiled quite, blindfold, and hid,But ever and anon the glancing spheres,Circles, and arcs, and broad-belting colure,Glow’d through, and wrought upon the muffling darkSweet-shaped lightnings from the nadir deepUp to the zenith,—hieroglyphics old,Which sages and keen-eyed astrologersThen living on the earth, with labouring thoughtWon from the gaze of many centuries:280Now lost, save what we find on remnants hugeOf stone, or marble swart; their import gone,Their wisdom long since fled.—Two wings this orbPossess’d for glory, two fair argent wings,Ever exalted at the God’s approach:And now, from forth the gloom their plumes immenseRose, one by one, till all outspreaded were;While still the dazzling globe maintain’d eclipse,Awaiting for Hyperion’s command.Fain would he have commanded, fain took throne290And bid the day begin, if but for change.He might not:—No, though a primeval God:The sacred seasons might not be disturb’d.Therefore the operations of the dawnStay’d in their birth, even as here ’tis told.Those silver wings expanded sisterly,Eager to sail their orb; the porches wideOpen’d upon the dusk demesnes of nightAnd the bright Titan, phrenzied with new woes,Unus’d to bend, by hard compulsion bent300His spirit to the sorrow of the time;And all along a dismal rack of clouds,Upon the boundaries of day and night,He stretch’d himself in grief and radiance faint.There as he lay, the Heaven with its starsLook’d down on him with pity, and the voiceOf Cœlus, from the universal space,Thus whisper’d low and solemn in his ear.”O brightest of my children dear, earth-bornAnd sky-engendered, Son of Mysteries310All unrevealed even to the powersWhich met at thy creating; at whose joysAnd palpitations sweet, and pleasures soft,I, Cœlus, wonder, how they came and whence;And at the fruits thereof what shapes they be,Distinct, and visible; symbols divine,Manifestations of that beauteous lifeDiffus’d unseen throughout eternal space:Of these new-form’d art thou, oh brightest child!Of these, thy brethren and the Goddesses!320There is sad feud among ye, and rebellionOf son against his sire. I saw him fall,I saw my first-born tumbled from his throne!To me his arms were spread, to me his voiceFound way from forth the thunders round his head!Pale wox I, and in vapours hid my face.Art thou, too, near such doom? vague fear there is:For I have seen my sons most unlike Gods.Divine ye were created, and divineIn sad demeanour, solemn, undisturb’d,330Unruffled, like high Gods, ye liv’d and ruled:Now I behold in you fear, hope, and wrath;Actions of rage and passion; even asI see them, on the mortal world beneath,In men who die.—This is the grief, O Son!Sad sign of ruin, sudden dismay, and fall!Yet do thou strive; as thou art capable,As thou canst move about, an evident God;And canst oppose to each malignant hourEthereal presence:—I am but a voice;340My life is but the life of winds and tides,No more than winds and tides can I avail:—But thou canst.—Be thou therefore in the vanOf circumstance; yea, seize the arrow’s barbBefore the tense string murmur.—To the earth!For there thou wilt find Saturn, and his woes.Meantime I will keep watch on thy bright sun,And of thy seasons be a careful nurse.”—Ere half this region-whisper had come down,Hyperion arose, and on the stars350Lifted his curved lids, and kept them wideUntil it ceas’d; and still he kept them wide:And still they were the same bright, patient stars.Then with a slow incline of his broad breast,Like to a diver in the pearly seas,Forward he stoop’d over the airy shore,And plung’d all noiseless into the deep night. 
Just at the self-same beat of Time’s wide wingsHyperion slid into the rustled air,And Saturn gain’d with Thea that sad placeWhere Cybele and the bruised Titans mourn’d.It was a den where no insulting lightCould glimmer on their tears; where their own groansThey felt, but heard not, for the solid roarOf thunderous waterfalls and torrents hoarse,Pouring a constant bulk, uncertain where.Crag jutting forth to crag, and rocks that seem’d10Ever as if just rising from a sleep,Forehead to forehead held their monstrous horns;And thus in thousand hugest phantasiesMade a fit roofing to this nest of woe.Instead of thrones, hard flint they sat upon,Couches of rugged stone, and slaty ridgeStubborn’d with iron. All were not assembled:Some chain’d in torture, and some wandering.Cœus, and Gyges, and Briareüs,Typhon, and Dolor, and Porphyrion,20With many more, the brawniest in assault,Were pent in regions of laborious breath;Dungeon’d in opaque element, to keepTheir clenched teeth still clench’d, and all their limbsLock’d up like veins of metal, crampt and screw’d;Without a motion, save of their big heartsHeaving in pain, and horribly convuls’dWith sanguine feverous boiling gurge of pulse.Mnemosyne was straying in the world;Far from her moon had Phœbe wandered;30And many else were free to roam abroad,But for the main, here found they covert drear.Scarce images of life, one here, one there,Lay vast and edgeways; like a dismal cirqueOf Druid stones, upon a forlorn moor,When the chill rain begins at shut of eve,In dull November, and their chancel vault,The Heaven itself, is blinded throughout night.Each one kept shroud, nor to his neighbour gaveOr word, or look, or action of despair.40Creüs was one; his ponderous iron maceLay by him, and a shatter’d rib of rockTold of his rage, ere he thus sank and pined.Iäpetus another; in his grasp,A serpent’s plashy neck; its barbed tongueSqueez’d from the gorge, and all its uncurl’d lengthDead; and because the creature could not spitIts poison in the eyes of conquering Jove.Next Cottus: prone he lay, chin uppermost,As though in pain; for still upon the flint50He ground severe his skull, with open mouthAnd eyes at horrid working. Nearest himAsia, born of most enormous Caf,Who cost her mother Tellus keener pangs,Though feminine, than any of her sons:More thought than woe was in her dusky face,For she was prophesying of her glory;And in her wide imagination stoodPalm-shaded temples, and high rival fanes,By Oxus or in Ganges’ sacred isles.60Even as Hope upon her anchor leans,So leant she, not so fair, upon a tuskShed from the broadest of her elephants.Above her, on a crag’s uneasy shelve,Upon his elbow rais’d, all prostrate else,Shadow’d Enceladus; once tame and mildAs grazing ox unworried in the meads;Now tiger-passion’d, lion-thoughted, wroth,He meditated, plotted, and even nowWas hurling mountains in that second war,70Not long delay’d, that scar’d the younger GodsTo hide themselves in forms of beast and bird.Not far hence Atlas; and beside him pronePhorcus, the sire of Gorgons. Neighbour’d closeOceanus, and Tethys, in whose lapSobb’d Clymene among her tangled hair.In midst of all lay Themis, at the feetOf Ops the queen all clouded round from sight;No shape distinguishable, more than whenThick night confounds the pine-tops with the clouds:80And many else whose names may not be told.For when the Muse’s wings are air-ward spread,Who shall delay her flight? And she must chauntOf Saturn, and his guide, who now had climb’dWith damp and slippery footing from a depthMore horrid still. Above a sombre cliffTheir heads appear’d, and up their stature grewTill on the level height their steps found ease:Then Thea spread abroad her trembling armsUpon the precincts of this nest of pain,90And sidelong fix’d her eye on Saturn’s face:There saw she direst strife; the supreme GodAt war with all the frailty of grief,Of rage, of fear, anxiety, revenge,Remorse, spleen, hope, but most of all despair.Against these plagues he strove in vain; for FateHad pour’d a mortal oil upon his head,A disanointing poison: so that Thea,Affrighted, kept her still, and let him passFirst onwards in, among the fallen tribe.100As with us mortal men, the laden heartIs persecuted more, and fever’d more,When it is nighing to the mournful houseWhere other hearts are sick of the same bruise;So Saturn, as he walk’d into the midst,Felt faint, and would have sunk among the rest,But that he met Enceladus’s eye,Whose mightiness, and awe of him, at onceCame like an inspiration; and he shouted,”Titans, behold your God!” at which some groan’d;110Some started on their feet; some also shouted;Some wept, some wail’d, all bow’d with reverence;And Ops, uplifting her black folded veil,Show’d her pale cheeks, and all her forehead wan,Her eye-brows thin and jet, and hollow eyes.There is a roaring in the bleak-grown pinesWhen Winter lifts his voice; there is a noiseAmong immortals when a God gives sign,With hushing finger, how he means to loadHis tongue with the full weight of utterless thought,120With thunder, and with music, and with pomp:Such noise is like the roar of bleak-grown pines;Which, when it ceases in this mountain’d world,No other sound succeeds; but ceasing here,Among these fallen, Saturn’s voice therefromGrew up like organ, that begins anewIts strain, when other harmonies, stopt short,Leave the dinn’d air vibrating silverly.Thus grew it up—”Not in my own sad breast,Which is its own great judge and searcher out,130Can I find reason why ye should be thus:Not in the legends of the first of days,Studied from that old spirit-leaved bookWhich starry Uranus with finger brightSav’d from the shores of darkness, when the wavesLow-ebb’d still hid it up in shallow gloom;—And the which book ye know I ever keptFor my firm-based footstool:—Ah, infirm!Not there, nor in sign, symbol, or portentOf element, earth, water, air, and fire,—140At war, at peace, or inter-quarrelingOne against one, or two, or three, or allEach several one against the other three,As fire with air loud warring when rain-floodsDrown both, and press them both against earth’s face,Where, finding sulphur, a quadruple wrathUnhinges the poor world;—not in that strife,Wherefrom I take strange lore, and read it deep,Can I find reason why ye should be thus:No, no-where can unriddle, though I search,150And pore on Nature’s universal scrollEven to swooning, why ye, Divinities,The first-born of all shap’d and palpable Gods,Should cower beneath what, in comparison,Is untremendous might. Yet ye are here,O’erwhelm’d, and spurn’d, and batter’d, ye are here!O Titans, shall I say ‘Arise!’—Ye groan:Shall I say ‘Crouch!’—Ye groan. What can I then?O Heaven wide! O unseen parent dear!What can I? Tell me, all ye brethren Gods,160How we can war, how engine our great wrath!O speak your counsel now, for Saturn’s earIs all a-hunger’d. Thou, Oceanus,Ponderest high and deep; and in thy faceI see, astonied, that severe contentWhich comes of thought and musing: give us help!”
So ended Saturn; and the God of the Sea,Sophist and sage, from no Athenian grove,But cogitation in his watery shades,Arose, with locks not oozy, and began,170In murmurs, which his first-endeavouring tongueCaught infant-like from the far-foamed sands.”O ye, whom wrath consumes! who, passion-stung,Writhe at defeat, and nurse your agonies!Shut up your senses, stifle up your ears,My voice is not a bellows unto ire.Yet listen, ye who will, whilst I bring proofHow ye, perforce, must be content to stoop:And in the proof much comfort will I give,If ye will take that comfort in its truth.180We fall by course of Nature’s law, not forceOf thunder, or of Jove. Great Saturn, thouHast sifted well the atom-universe;But for this reason, that thou art the King,And only blind from sheer supremacy,One avenue was shaded from thine eyes,Through which I wandered to eternal truth.And first, as thou wast not the first of powers,So art thou not the last; it cannot be:Thou art not the beginning nor the end.190From chaos and parental darkness cameLight, the first fruits of that intestine broil,That sullen ferment, which for wondrous endsWas ripening in itself. The ripe hour came,And with it light, and light, engenderingUpon its own producer, forthwith touch’dThe whole enormous matter into life.Upon that very hour, our parentage,The Heavens and the Earth, were manifest:Then thou first-born, and we the giant-race,200Found ourselves ruling new and beauteous realms.Now comes the pain of truth, to whom ’tis pain;O folly! for to bear all naked truths,And to envisage circumstance, all calm,That is the top of sovereignty. Mark well!As Heaven and Earth are fairer, fairer farThan Chaos and blank Darkness, though once chiefs;And as we show beyond that Heaven and EarthIn form and shape compact and beautiful,In will, in action free, companionship,210And thousand other signs of purer life;So on our heels a fresh perfection treads,A power more strong in beauty, born of usAnd fated to excel us, as we passIn glory that old Darkness: nor are weThereby more conquer’d, than by us the ruleOf shapeless Chaos. Say, doth the dull soilQuarrel with the proud forests it hath fed,And feedeth still, more comely than itself?Can it deny the chiefdom of green groves?220Or shall the tree be envious of the doveBecause it cooeth, and hath snowy wingsTo wander wherewithal and find its joys?We are such forest-trees, and our fair boughsHave bred forth, not pale solitary doves,But eagles golden-feather’d, who do towerAbove us in their beauty, and must reignIn right thereof; for ’tis the eternal lawThat first in beauty should be first in might:Yea, by that law, another race may drive230Our conquerors to mourn as we do now.Have ye beheld the young God of the Seas,My dispossessor? Have ye seen his face?Have ye beheld his chariot, foam’d alongBy noble winged creatures he hath made?I saw him on the calmed waters scud,With such a glow of beauty in his eyes,That it enforc’d me to bid sad farewellTo all my empire: farewell sad I took,And hither came, to see how dolorous fate240Had wrought upon ye; and how I might bestGive consolation in this woe extreme.Receive the truth, and let it be your balm.”Whether through poz’d conviction, or disdain,They guarded silence, when OceanusLeft murmuring, what deepest thought can tell?But so it was, none answer’d for a space,Save one whom none regarded, Clymene;And yet she answer’d not, only complain’d,With hectic lips, and eyes up-looking mild,250Thus wording timidly among the fierce:”O Father, I am here the simplest voice,And all my knowledge is that joy is gone,And this thing woe crept in among our hearts,There to remain for ever, as I fear:I would not bode of evil, if I thoughtSo weak a creature could turn off the helpWhich by just right should come of mighty Gods;Yet let me tell my sorrow, let me tellOf what I heard, and how it made me weep,260And know that we had parted from all hope.I stood upon a shore, a pleasant shore,Where a sweet clime was breathed from a landOf fragrance, quietness, and trees, and flowers.Full of calm joy it was, as I of grief;Too full of joy and soft delicious warmth;So that I felt a movement in my heartTo chide, and to reproach that solitudeWith songs of misery, music of our woes;And sat me down, and took a mouthed shell270And murmur’d into it, and made melody—O melody no more! for while I sang,And with poor skill let pass into the breezeThe dull shell’s echo, from a bowery strandJust opposite, an island of the sea,There came enchantment with the shifting wind,That did both drown and keep alive my ears.I threw my shell away upon the sand,And a wave fill’d it, as my sense was fill’dWith that new blissful golden melody.280A living death was in each gush of sounds,Each family of rapturous hurried notes,That fell, one after one, yet all at once,Like pearl beads dropping sudden from their string:And then another, then another strain,Each like a dove leaving its olive perch,With music wing’d instead of silent plumes,To hover round my head, and make me sickOf joy and grief at once. Grief overcame,And I was stopping up my frantic ears,290When, past all hindrance of my trembling hands,A voice came sweeter, sweeter than all tune,And still it cried, ‘Apollo! young Apollo!The morning-bright Apollo! young Apollo!’I fled, it follow’d me, and cried ‘Apollo!’O Father, and O Brethren, had ye feltThose pains of mine; O Saturn, hadst thou felt,Ye would not call this too indulged tonguePresumptuous, in thus venturing to be heard.”
So far her voice flow’d on, like timorous brook300That, lingering along a pebbled coast,Doth fear to meet the sea: but sea it met,And shudder’d; for the overwhelming voiceOf huge Enceladus swallow’d it in wrath:The ponderous syllables, like sullen wavesIn the half-glutted hollows of reef-rocks,Came booming thus, while still upon his armHe lean’d; not rising, from supreme contempt.”Or shall we listen to the over-wise,Or to the over-foolish, Giant-Gods?310Not thunderbolt on thunderbolt, till allThat rebel Jove’s whole armoury were spent,Not world on world upon these shoulders piled,Could agonize me more than baby-wordsIn midst of this dethronement horrible.Speak! roar! shout! yell! ye sleepy Titans all.Do ye forget the blows, the buffets vile?Are ye not smitten by a youngling arm?Dost thou forget, sham Monarch of the Waves,Thy scalding in the seas? What, have I rous’d320Your spleens with so few simple words as these?O joy! for now I see ye are not lost:O joy! for now I see a thousand eyesWide glaring for revenge!”—As this he said,He lifted up his stature vast, and stood,Still without intermission speaking thus:”Now ye are flames, I’ll tell you how to burn,And purge the ether of our enemies;How to feed fierce the crooked stings of fire,And singe away the swollen clouds of Jove,330Stifling that puny essence in its tent.O let him feel the evil he hath done;For though I scorn Oceanus’s lore,Much pain have I for more than loss of realms:The days of peace and slumberous calm are fled;Those days, all innocent of scathing war,When all the fair Existences of heavenCame open-eyed to guess what we would speak:—That was before our brows were taught to frown,Before our lips knew else but solemn sounds;340That was before we knew the winged thing,Victory, might be lost, or might be won.And be ye mindful that Hyperion,Our brightest brother, still is undisgraced—Hyperion, lo! his radiance is here!”
All eyes were on Enceladus’s face,And they beheld, while still Hyperion’s nameFlew from his lips up to the vaulted rocks,A pallid gleam across his features stern:Not savage, for he saw full many a God350Wroth as himself. He look’d upon them all,And in each face he saw a gleam of light,But splendider in Saturn’s, whose hoar locksShone like the bubbling foam about a keelWhen the prow sweeps into a midnight cove.In pale and silver silence they remain’d,Till suddenly a splendour, like the morn,Pervaded all the beetling gloomy steeps,All the sad spaces of oblivion,And every gulf, and every chasm old,360And every height, and every sullen depth,Voiceless, or hoarse with loud tormented streams:And all the everlasting cataracts,And all the headlong torrents far and near,Mantled before in darkness and huge shade,Now saw the light and made it terrible.It was Hyperion:—a granite peakHis bright feet touch’d, and there he stay’d to viewThe misery his brilliance had betray’dTo the most hateful seeing of itself.370Golden his hair of short Numidian curl,Regal his shape majestic, a vast shadeIn midst of his own brightness, like the bulkOf Memnon’s image at the set of sunTo one who travels from the dusking East:Sighs, too, as mournful as that Memnon’s harpHe utter’d, while his hands contemplativeHe press’d together, and in silence stood.Despondence seiz’d again the fallen GodsAt sight of the dejected King of Day,380And many hid their faces from the light:But fierce Enceladus sent forth his eyesAmong the brotherhood; and, at their glare,Uprose Iäpetus, and Creüs too,And Phorcus, sea-born, and together strodeTo where he towered on his eminence.There those four shouted forth old Saturn’s name;Hyperion from the peak loud answered, “Saturn!”Saturn sat near the Mother of the Gods,In whose face was no joy, though all the Gods390Gave from their hollow throats the name of “Saturn!” 
Thus in alternate uproar and sad peace,Amazed were those Titans utterly.O leave them, Muse! O leave them to their woes;For thou art weak to sing such tumults dire:A solitary sorrow best befitsThy lips, and antheming a lonely grief.Leave them, O Muse! for thou anon wilt findMany a fallen old DivinityWandering in vain about bewildered shores.Meantime touch piously the Delphic harp,10And not a wind of heaven but will breatheIn aid soft warble from the Dorian flute;For lo! ’tis for the Father of all verse.Flush every thing that hath a vermeil hue,Let the rose glow intense and warm the air,And let the clouds of even and of mornFloat in voluptuous fleeces o’er the hills;Let the red wine within the goblet boil,Cold as a bubbling well; let faint-lipp’d shells,On sands, or in great deeps, vermilion turn20Through all their labyrinths; and let the maidBlush keenly, as with some warm kiss surpris’d.Chief isle of the embowered Cyclades,Rejoice, O Delos, with thine olives green,And poplars, and lawn-shading palms, and beech,In which the Zephyr breathes the loudest song,And hazels thick, dark-stemm’d beneath the shade:Apollo is once more the golden theme!Where was he, when the Giant of the SunStood bright, amid the sorrow of his peers?30Together had he left his mother fairAnd his twin-sister sleeping in their bower,And in the morning twilight wandered forthBeside the osiers of a rivulet,Full ankle-deep in lilies of the vale.The nightingale had ceas’d, and a few starsWere lingering in the heavens, while the thrushBegan calm-throated. Throughout all the isleThere was no covert, no retired caveUnhaunted by the murmurous noise of waves,40Though scarcely heard in many a green recess.He listen’d, and he wept, and his bright tearsWent trickling down the golden bow he held.Thus with half-shut suffused eyes he stood,While from beneath some cumbrous boughs hard byWith solemn step an awful Goddess came,And there was purport in her looks for him,Which he with eager guess began to readPerplex’d, the while melodiously he said:”How cam’st thou over the unfooted sea?50Or hath that antique mien and robed formMov’d in these vales invisible till now?Sure I have heard those vestments sweeping o’erThe fallen leaves, when I have sat aloneIn cool mid-forest. Surely I have tracedThe rustle of those ample skirts aboutThese grassy solitudes, and seen the flowersLift up their heads, as still the whisper pass’d.Goddess! I have beheld those eyes before,And their eternal calm, and all that face,60Or I have dream’d.”—”Yes,” said the supreme shape,”Thou hast dream’d of me; and awaking upDidst find a lyre all golden by thy side,Whose strings touch’d by thy fingers, all the vastUnwearied ear of the whole universeListen’d in pain and pleasure at the birthOf such new tuneful wonder. Is’t not strangeThat thou shouldst weep, so gifted? Tell me, youth,What sorrow thou canst feel; for I am sadWhen thou dost shed a tear: explain thy griefs70To one who in this lonely isle hath beenThe watcher of thy sleep and hours of life,From the young day when first thy infant handPluck’d witless the weak flowers, till thine armCould bend that bow heroic to all times.Show thy heart’s secret to an ancient PowerWho hath forsaken old and sacred thronesFor prophecies of thee, and for the sakeOf loveliness new born.”—Apollo then,With sudden scrutiny and gloomless eyes,80Thus answer’d, while his white melodious throatThrobb’d with the syllables.—”Mnemosyne!Thy name is on my tongue, I know not how;Why should I tell thee what thou so well seest?Why should I strive to show what from thy lipsWould come no mystery? For me, dark, dark,And painful vile oblivion seals my eyes:I strive to search wherefore I am so sad,Until a melancholy numbs my limbs;And then upon the grass I sit, and moan,90Like one who once had wings.—O why should IFeel curs’d and thwarted, when the liegeless airYields to my step aspirant? why should ISpurn the green turf as hateful to my feet?Goddess benign, point forth some unknown thing:Are there not other regions than this isle?What are the stars? There is the sun, the sun!And the most patient brilliance of the moon!And stars by thousands! Point me out the wayTo any one particular beauteous star,100And I will flit into it with my lyre,And make its silvery splendour pant with bliss.I have heard the cloudy thunder: Where is power?Whose hand, whose essence, what divinityMakes this alarum in the elements,While I here idle listen on the shoresIn fearless yet in aching ignorance?O tell me, lonely Goddess, by thy harp,That waileth every morn and eventide,Tell me why thus I rave, about these groves!110Mute thou remainest—Mute! yet I can readA wondrous lesson in thy silent face:Knowledge enormous makes a God of me.Names, deeds, gray legends, dire events, rebellions,Majesties, sovran voices, agonies,Creations and destroyings, all at oncePour into the wide hollows of my brain,And deify me, as if some blithe wineOr bright elixir peerless I had drunk,And so become immortal.”—Thus the God,120While his enkindled eyes, with level glanceBeneath his white soft temples, stedfast keptTrembling with light upon Mnemosyne.Soon wild commotions shook him, and made flushAll the immortal fairness of his limbs;Most like the struggle at the gate of death;Or liker still to one who should take leaveOf pale immortal death, and with a pangAs hot as death’s is chill, with fierce convulseDie into life: so young Apollo anguish’d:130His very hair, his golden tresses famedKept undulation round his eager neck.During the pain Mnemosyne upheldHer arms as one who prophesied.—At lengthApollo shriek’d;—and lo! from all his limbsCelestial * * * * * * ** * * * * * * * *
INTRODUCTION TO LAMIA.
Lamia, like Endymion, is written in the heroic couplet, but the difference in style is very marked. The influence of Dryden’s narrative-poems (his translations from Boccaccio and Chaucer) is clearly traceable in the metre, style, and construction of the later poem. Like Dryden, Keats now makes frequent use of the Alexandrine, or 6-foot line, and of the triplet. He has also restrained the exuberance of his language and gained force, whilst in imaginative power and felicity of diction he surpasses anything of which Dryden was capable. The flaws in his style are mainly due to carelessness in the rimes and some questionable coining of words. He also occasionally lapses into the vulgarity and triviality which marred certain of his early poems.
The best he gained from his study of Dryden’s Fables, a debt perhaps to Chaucer rather than to Dryden, was a notable advance in constructive power. In Lamia he shows a very much greater sense of proportion and power of selection than in his earlier work. There is, as it were, more light and shade.
Thus we find that whenever the occasion demands it his style rises to supreme force and beauty. The metamorphosis of the serpent, the entry of Lamia and Lycius into Corinth, the building by Lamia of the Fairy Hall, and her final withering under the eye of Apollonius—these are the most important points in the story, and the passages in which they are described are also the most striking in the poem.
The allegorical meaning of the story seems to be, that it is fatal to attempt to separate the sensuous and emotional life from the life of reason. Philosophy alone is cold and destructive, but the pleasures of the senses alone are unreal and unsatisfying. The man who attempts such a divorce between the two parts of his nature will fail miserably as did Lycius, who, unable permanently to exclude reason, was compelled to face the death of his illusions, and could not, himself, survive them.
Of the poem Keats himself says, writing to his brother in September, 1819: ‘I have been reading over a part of a short poem I have composed lately, called Lamia, and I am certain there is that sort of fire in it that must take hold of people some way; give them either pleasant or unpleasant sensation—what they want is a sensation of some sort.’ But to the greatest of Keats’s critics, Charles Lamb, the poem appealed somewhat differently, for he writes, ‘More exuberantly rich in imagery and painting [than Isabella] is the story of Lamia. It is of as gorgeous stuff as ever romance was composed of,’ and, after enumerating the most striking pictures in the poem, he adds, ‘[these] are all that fairy-land can do for us.’ Lamia struck his imagination, but his heart was given to Isabella.
NOTES ON LAMIA.
l. 2. Satyr, a horned and goat-legged demi-god of the woods.
l. 5. Dryads, wood-nymphs, who lived in trees. The life of each terminated with that of the tree over which she presided. Cf. Landor’s ‘Hamadryad’.
l. 5. Fauns. The Roman name corresponding to the Greek Satyr.
l. 7. Hermes, or Mercury, the messenger of the Gods. He is always represented with winged shoes, a winged helmet, and a winged staff, bound about with living serpents.
l. 19. unknown to any Muse, beyond the imagination of any poet.
l. 42. dove-footed. Cf. note on l. 7.
l. 47. gordian, knotted, from the famous knot in the harness of Gordius, King of Phrygia, which only the conqueror of the world was to be able to untie. Alexander cut it with his sword. Cf. Henry V, i. i. 46.
l. 58. Ariadne’s tiar. Ariadne was a nymph beloved of Bacchus, the god of wine. He gave her a crown of seven stars, which, after her death, was made into a constellation. Keats has, no doubt, in his mind Titian’s picture of Bacchus and Ariadne in the National Gallery. Cf. Ode to Sorrow, Endymion.
Page 7. l. 63. As Proserpine . . . air. Proserpine, gathering flowers in the Vale of Enna, in Sicily, was carried off by Pluto, the king of the underworld, to be his queen. Cf. Winter’s Tale, iv. iii, and Paradise Lost, iv. 268, known to be a favourite passage with Keats.
l. 77. as morning breaks, the freshness and splendour of the youthful god.
Star of Lethe. Hermes is so called because he had to lead the souls of the dead to Hades, where was Lethe, the river of forgetfulness. Lamb comments: ‘. . . Hermes, the Star of Lethe, as he is called by one of those prodigal phrases which Mr. Keats abounds in, which are each a poem in a word, and which in this instance lays open to us at once, like a picture, all the dim regions and their habitants, and the sudden coming of a celestial among them.’l. 91. The line dances along like a leaf before the wind.
l. 92. Miltonic construction and phraseology.
l. 103. Silenus, the nurse and teacher of Bacchus—a demigod of the woods.
l. 133. lythe, quick-acting.
Caducean charm. Caduceus was the name of Hermes’ staff of wondrous powers, the touch of which, evidently, was powerful to give the serpent human form.
l. 136. like a moon in wane. Cf. the picture of Cynthia, Endymion, iii. 72 sq.
l. 138. like a flower . . . hour. Perhaps a reminiscence of Milton’s ‘at shut of evening flowers.’ Paradise Lost, ix. 278.
l. 180. This gives us a feeling of weakness and weariness as well as measuring the distance.
And then my heart with pleasure fillsAnd dances with the daffodils.
l. 195. Intrigue with the specious chaos, enter on an understanding with the fair-looking confusion of joy and pain.
l. 198. unshent, unreproached.
l. 208. Thetis, one of the sea deities.
l. 210. glutinous, referring to the sticky substance which oozes from the pine-trunk. Cf. Comus, l. 917, ‘smeared with gums of glutinous heat.’
l. 212. Mulciber, Vulcan, the smith of the Gods. His fall from Heaven is described by Milton, Paradise Lost, i. 739-42.
piazzian, forming covered walks supported by pillars, a word coined by Keats.
Page 17. l. 248. Refers to the story of Orpheus’ attempt to rescue his wife Eurydice from Hades. With his exquisite music he charmed Cerberus, the fierce dog who guarded hell-gates, into submission, and won Pluto’s consent that he should lead Eurydice back to the upper world on one condition—that he would not look back to see that she was following. When he was almost at the gates, love and curiosity overpowered him, and he looked back—to see Eurydice fall back into Hades whence he now might never win her.207]l. 265. Pleiad. The Pleiades are seven stars making a constellation. Cf. Walt Whitman, ‘On the beach at night.’
ll. 266-7. keep in tune Thy spheres. Refers to the music which the heavenly bodies were supposed to make as they moved round the earth. Cf. Merchant of Venice, v. i. 60.
l. 297. Into another, i.e. into the trance of passion from which he only wakes to die.
Page 21. l. 320. Adonian feast. Adonis was a beautiful youth beloved of Venus. He was killed by a wild boar when hunting, and Venus then had him borne to Elysium, where he sleeps pillowed on flowers. Cf. Endymion, ii. 387.
ll. 330-2. The vulgarity of these lines we may attribute partly to the influence of Leigh Hunt, who himself wrote of
The two divinest things the world has got—A lovely woman and a rural spot.
It was an influence which Keats, with the development of his own character and genius, was rapidly outgrowing.
l. 333. Pyrrha’s pebbles. There is a legend that, after the flood, Deucalion and Pyrrha cast stones behind them which became men, thus re-peopling the world.
l. 352. lewd, ignorant. The original meaning of the word which came later to mean dissolute.Page 24. l. 360. corniced shade. Cf. Eve of St. Agnes, ix, ‘Buttress’d from moonlight.’
ll. 363-77. Note the feeling of fate in the first appearance of Apollonius.
l. 386. Aeolian. Aeolus was the god of the winds.
Page 27. ll. 1-9. Again a passage unworthy of Keats’s genius. Perhaps the attempt to be light, like his seventeenth-century model, Dryden, led him for the moment to adopt something of the cynicism of that age about love.
ll. 7-9. i.e. If Lycius had lived longer his experience might have either contradicted or corroborated this saying.
ll. 27-8. came a thrill Of trumpets. From the first moment that the outside world makes its claim felt there is no happiness for the man who, like Lycius, is living a life of selfish pleasure.209]l. 80. serpent. See how skilfully this allusion is introduced and our attention called to it by his very denial that it applies to Lamia.
With music loud and longI would build that dome in air.
ll. 215-29. Cf. The Winter’s Tale, iv. iv. 73, &c., where Perdita gives to each guest suitable flowers. Cf. also Ophelia’s flowers, Hamlet, iv. v. 175, etc.
l. 217. osier’d gold. The gold was woven into baskets, as though it were osiers.
l. 224. willow, the weeping willow, so-called because its branches with their long leaves droop to the ground, like dropping tears. It has always been sacred to deserted or unhappy lovers. Cf. Othello, iv. iii. 24 seq.
adder’s tongue. For was she not a serpent?
l. 226. thyrsus. A rod wreathed with ivy and crowned with a fir-cone, used by Bacchus and his followers.
l. 228. spear-grass . . . thistle. Because of what he is about to do.
Page 41. ll. 229-38. Not to be taken as a serious expression of Keats’s view of life. Rather he is looking at it, at this moment, through the eyes of the chief actors in his drama, and feeling with them.
l. 266. step by step, prepares us for the thought of the silence as a horrid presence.
ll. 274-5. to illume the deep-recessed vision. We at once see her dull and sunken eyes.
INTRODUCTION TO ISABELLA AND THE EVE OF ST. AGNES
In Lamia and Hyperion, as in Endymion, we find Keats inspired by classic story, though the inspiration in each case came to him through Elizabethan writers. Here, on the other hand, mediaeval legend is his inspiration; the ‘faery broods’ have driven ‘nymph and satyr from the prosperous woods’. Akin to the Greeks as he was in spirit, in his instinctive personification of the lovely manifestations of nature, his style and method were really more naturally suited to the portrayal of mediaeval scenes, where he found the richness and warmth of colour in which his soul delighted.
The story of Isabella he took from Boccaccio, an Italian writer of the fourteenth century, whose Decameron, a collection of one hundred stories, has been a store-house of plots for English writers. By Boccaccio the tale is very shortly and simply told, being evidently interesting to him mainly for its plot. Keats was attracted to it not so much by the action as by the passion involved, so that his enlargement of it means little elaboration of incident, but very much more dwelling on the psychological aspect. That is to say, he does not care so much what happens, as what the personages of the poem think and feel.
Thus we see that the main incident of the story, the murder of Lorenzo, is passed over in a line—’Thus was Lorenzo slain and buried in,’ the next line, ‘There, in that forest, did his great love cease,’ bringing us back at once from the physical reality of the murder to the thought of his love, which is to Keats the central fact of the story.
In the delineation of Isabella, her first tender passion of love, her agony of apprehension giving way to dull despair, her sudden wakening to a brief period of frenzied action, described in stanzas of incomparable dramatic force, and the ‘peace’ which followed when she
Forgot the stars, the moon, the sun,And she forgot the blue above the trees,And she forgot the dells where waters run,And she forgot the chilly autumn breeze;She had no knowledge when the day was done,And the new morn she saw not—
culminating in the piteous death ‘too lone and incomplete’—in the delineation of all this Keats shows supreme power and insight.
In the conception, too, of the tragic loneliness of Lorenzo’s ghost we feel that nothing could be changed, added, or taken away.
Not quite equally happy are the descriptions of the cruel brothers, and of Lorenzo as the young lover. There is a tendency to exaggerate both their inhumanity and his gentleness, for purposes of contrast, which weakens where it would give strength.
The Eve of St. Agnes, founded on a popular mediaeval legend, not being a tragedy like Isabella, cannot be expected to rival it in depth and intensity; but in every other poetic quality it equals, where it does not surpass, the former poem.
To be specially noted is the skilful use which Keats here makes of contrast—between the cruel cold without and the warm love within; the palsied age of the Bedesman and Angela, and the eager youth of Porphyro and Madeline; the noise and revel and the hush of Madeline’s bedroom, and, as Mr. Colvin has pointed out, in the moonlight which, chill and sepulchral when it strikes elsewhere, to Madeline is as a halo of glory, an angelic light.
A mysterious charm is given to the poem by the way in which Keats endows inanimate things with a sort of half-conscious life. The knights and ladies of stone arouse the bedesman’s shuddering sympathy when he thinks of the cold they must be enduring; ‘the carven angels’ ‘star’d‘ ‘eager-eyed‘ from the roof of the chapel, and the scutcheon in Madeline’s window ‘blush’d with blood of queens and kings’.Keats’s characteristic method of description—the way in which, by his masterly choice of significant detail, he gives us the whole feeling of the situation, is here seen in its perfection. In stanza 1 each line is a picture and each picture contributes to the whole effect of painful chill. The silence of the sheep, the old man’s breath visible in the frosty air,—these are things which many people would not notice, but it is such little things that make the whole scene real to us.
There is another method of description, quite as beautiful in its way, which Coleridge adopted with magic effect in Christabel. This is to use the power of suggestion, to say very little, but that little of a kind to awaken the reader’s imagination and make him complete the picture. For example, we are told of Christabel—
Her gentle limbs did she undressAnd lay down in her loveliness.
Compare this with stanza xxvi of The Eve of St. Agnes.
That Keats was a master of both ways of obtaining a romantic effect is shown by his La Belle Dame Sans Merci, considered by some people his masterpiece, where the rich detail of The Eve of St. Agnes is replaced by reserve and suggestion.
As the poem was not included in the volume published in 1820, it is given here.
La Belle Dame Sans Merci.
Oh what can ail thee Knight at armsAlone and palely loitering?The sedge has withered from the LakeAnd no birds sing.Oh what can ail thee Knight at armsSo haggard, and so woe begone?The Squirrel’s granary is fullAnd the harvest’s done.
I see a lily on thy browWith anguish moist and fever dew,And on thy cheeks a fading roseFast withereth too.
I met a Lady in the MeadsFull beautiful, a faery’s child,Her hair was long, her foot was lightAnd her eyes were wild.
I made a garland for her head,And bracelets too, and fragrant zone,She look’d at me as she did loveAnd made sweet moan.
I set her on my pacing steed,And nothing else saw all day long,For sidelong would she bend and singA Faery’s song.
She found me roots of relish sweet,And honey wild and manna dew,And sure in language strange she saidI love thee true.
She took me to her elfin grot,And there she wept and sigh’d full sore,And there I shut her wild, wild eyesWith kisses four.And there she lulled me asleep,And there I dream’d, Ah! Woe betide!The latest dream I ever dreamtOn the cold hill side.
I saw pale Kings, and Princes too,Pale warriors, death pale were they all;They cried, La belle dame sans merci,Thee hath in thrall.
I saw their starv’d lips in the gloamWith horrid warning gaped wide,And I awoke, and found me hereOn the cold hill’s side.
And this is why I sojourn hereAlone and palely loitering;Though the sedge is withered from the LakeAnd no birds sing. . ..
NOTES ON ISABELLA.
Metre. The ottava rima of the Italians, the natural outcome of Keats’s turning to Italy for his story. This stanza had been used by Chaucer and the Elizabethans, and recently by Hookham Frere in The Monks and the Giants and by Byron in Don Juan. Compare Keats’s use of the form with that of either of his contemporaries, and notice how he avoids the epigrammatic close, telling in satire and mock-heroic, but inappropriate to a serious and romantic poem.216]Page 50. l. 21. constant as her vespers, as often as she said her evening-prayers.
ll. 51-2. wed To every symbol. Able to read every sign.
l. 64. shrive, confess. As the pilgrim cannot be at peace till he has confessed his sins and received absolution, so Lorenzo feels the necessity of confessing his love.
ll. 83-4. The repetition of the same words helps us to feel the unchanging nature of their devotion and joy in one another.
l. 95. Theseus’ spouse. Ariadne, who was deserted by Theseus after having saved his life and left her home for him. Odyssey, xi. 321-5.
l. 99. Dido. Queen of Carthage, whom Aeneas, in his wanderings, wooed and would have married, but the Gods bade him leave her.
silent . . . undergrove. When Aeneas saw Dido in Hades, amongst those who had died for love, he spoke to her pityingly. But she answered him not a word, turning from him into the grove to Lychaeus, her former husband, who comforted her. Vergil, Aeneid, Bk. VI, l. 450 ff.l. 103. almsmen, receivers of alms, since they take honey from the flowers.
l. 109. proud-quiver’d, proudly girt with quivers of arrows.
l. 112. rich-ored driftings. The sand of the river in which gold was to be found.
stairs, steps on which they sat to beg.
l. 125. red-lin’d accounts, vividly picturing their neat account-books, and at the same time, perhaps, suggesting the human blood for which their accumulation of wealth was responsible.
l. 130. gainful cowardice. A telling expression for the dread of loss which haunts so many wealthy people.
l. 133. hawks . . . forests. As a hawk pounces on its prey, so they fell on the trading-vessels which put into port.
ll. 133-4. the untired . . . lies. They were always ready for any dishonourable transaction by which money might be made.
l. 134. ducats. Italian pieces of money worth about 4s. 4d. Cf. Shylock, Merchant of Venice, ii. vii. 15, ‘My ducats.’
l. 135. Quick . . . away. They would undertake to fleece unsuspecting strangers in their town.
l. 140. Hot Egypt’s pest, the plague of Egypt.
ll. 145-52. As in Lycidas Milton apologizes for the introduction of his attack on the Church, so Keats apologizes for the introduction of this outburst of indignation against cruel and dishonourable dealers, which he feels is unsuited to the tender and pitiful story.
l. 150. ghittern, an instrument like a guitar, strung with wire.
l. 159. stead thee, do thee service.
l. 168. olive-trees. In which (through the oil they yield) a great part of the wealth of the Italians lies.
Page 60. l. 174. Cut . . . bone. This is not only a vivid way of describing the banishment of all their natural pity. It also, by the metaphor used, gives us a sort of premonitory shudder as at Lorenzo’s death. Indeed, in that moment the murder is, to all intents and purposes, done. In stanza xxvii they are described as riding ‘with their murder’d man’.
Page 61. ll. 187-8. ere . . . eglantine. The sun, drying up the dew drop by drop from the sweet-briar is pictured as passing beads along a string, as the Roman Catholics do when they say their prayers.
Page 62. l. 209. their . . . man. Cf. l. 174, note. Notice the extraordinary vividness of the picture here—the quiet rural scene and the intrusion of human passion with the reflection in the clear water of the pale murderers, sick with suspense, and the unsuspecting victim, full of glowing life.
l. 212. bream, a kind of fish found in lakes and deep water. Obviously Keats was not an angler.
freshets, little streams of fresh water.Page 63. l. 217. Notice the reticence with which the mere fact of the murder is stated—no details given. Keats wants the prevailing feeling to be one of pity rather than of horror.
ll. 219-20. Ah . . . loneliness. We perpetually come upon this old belief—that the souls of the murdered cannot rest in peace. Cf. Hamlet, i. v. 8, &c.
l. 221. break-covert . . . sin. The blood-hounds employed for tracking down a murderer will find him under any concealment, and never rest till he is found. So restless is the soul of the victim.
l. 222. They . . . water. That water which had reflected the three faces as they went across.
l. 223. convulsed spur, they spurred their horses violently and uncertainly, scarce knowing what they did.
l. 224. Each richer . . . murderer. This is what they have gained by their deed—the guilt of murder—that is all.
l. 229. stifling: partly literal, since the widow’s weed is close-wrapping and voluminous—partly metaphorical, since the acceptance of fate stifles complaint.
l. 230. accursed bands. So long as a man hopes he is not free, but at the mercy of continual imaginings and fresh disappointments. When hope is laid aside, fear and disappointment go with it.
Page 64. l. 241. Selfishness, Love’s cousin. For the two aspects of love, as a selfish and unselfish passion, see Blake’s two poems, Love seeketh only self to please, and, Love seeketh not itself to please.
l. 242. single breast, one-thoughted, being full of love for Lorenzo.Page 65. ll. 249 seq. Cf. Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind.
l. 252. roundelay, a dance in a circle.
l. 259. Striving . . . itself. Her distrust of her brothers is shown in her effort not to betray her fears to them.
dungeon climes. Wherever it is, it is a prison which keeps him from her. Cf. Hamlet, ii. ii. 250-4.
l. 262. Hinnom’s Vale, the valley of Moloch’s sacrifices, Paradise Lost, i. 392-405.
l. 264. snowy shroud, a truly prophetic dream.
Page 66. ll. 267 seq. These comparisons help us to realize her experience as sharp anguish, rousing her from the lethargy of despair, and endowing her for a brief space with almost supernatural energy and willpower.
Page 67. l. 286. palsied Druid. The Druids, or priests of ancient Britain, are always pictured as old men with long beards. The conception of such an old man, tremblingly trying to get music from a broken harp, adds to the pathos and mystery of the vision.
l. 288. Like . . . among. Take this line word by word, and see how many different ideas go to create the incomparably ghostly effect.
ll. 289 seq. Horror is skilfully kept from this picture and only tragedy left. The horror is for the eyes of his murderers, not for his love.
l. 292. unthread . . . woof. His narration and explanation of what has gone before is pictured as the disentangling of woven threads.
l. 293. darken’d. In many senses, since their crime was (1) concealed from Isabella, (2) darkly evil, (3) done in the darkness of the wood.Page 68. ll. 305 seq. The whole sound of this stanza is that of a faint and far-away echo.
l. 308. knelling. Every sound is like a death-bell to him.
l. 317. bright abyss, the bright hollow of heaven.
l. 322. The atom . . . turmoil. Every one must know the sensation of looking into the darkness, straining one’s eyes, until the darkness itself seems to be composed of moving atoms. The experience with which Keats, in the next lines, compares it, is, we are told, a common experience in the early stages of consumption.
Page 70. l. 334. school’d my infancy. She was as a child in her ignorance of evil, and he has taught her the hard lesson that our misery is not always due to the dealings of a blind fate, but sometimes to the deliberate crime and cruelty of those whom we have trusted.
l. 344. forest-hearse. To Isabella the whole forest is but the receptacle of her lover’s corpse.
Page 71. l. 347. champaign, country. We can picture Isabel, as they ‘creep’ along, furtively glancing round, and then producing her knife with a smile so terrible that the old nurse can only fear that she is delirious, as her sudden vigour would also suggest.
Page 72. st. xlvi-xlviii. These are the stanzas of which Lamb says, ‘there is nothing more awfully simple in diction, more nakedly grand and moving in sentiment, in Dante, in Chaucer, or in Spenser’—and again, after an appreciation of Lamia, whose fairy splendours are ‘for younger impressibilities’, he reverts to them, saying: ’To us an ounce of feeling is worth a pound of fancy; and therefore we recur again, with a warmer gratitude, to the story of Isabella and the pot of basil, and those never-cloying stanzas which we have cited, and which we think should disarm criticism, if it be not in its nature cruel; if it would not deny to honey its sweetness, nor to roses redness, nor light to the stars in Heaven; if it would not bay the moon out of the skies, rather than acknowledge she is fair.’—The New Times, July 19, 1820.
l. 361. fresh-thrown mould, a corroboration of her fears. Mr. Colvin has pointed out how the horror is throughout relieved by the beauty of the images called up by the similes, e.g. ‘a crystal well,’ ‘a native lily of the dell.’
l. 370. Her silk . . . phantasies, i.e. which she had embroidered fancifully for him.
Page 73. l. 385. wormy circumstance, ghastly detail. Keats envies the un-self-conscious simplicity of the old ballad-writers in treating such a theme as this, and bids the reader turn to Boccaccio, whose description of the scene he cannot hope to rival. Boccaccio writes: ‘Nor had she dug long before she found the body of her hapless lover, whereon as yet there was no trace of corruption or decay; and thus she saw without any manner of doubt that her vision was true. And so, saddest of women, knowing that she might not bewail him there, she would gladly, if she could, have carried away the body and given it more honourable sepulture elsewhere; but as she might not do so, she took a knife, and, as best she could, severed the head from the trunk, and wrapped it in a napkin and laid it in the lap of the maid; and having covered the rest of the corpse with earth, she left the spot, having been seen by none, and went home.’
Page 74. l. 393. Perséan sword. The sword of sharpness given to Perseus by Hermes, with which he cut off the head of the Gorgon Medusa, a monster with the head of a woman, and snaky locks, the sight of whom turned those who looked on her into stone. Perseus escaped by looking only at her reflection in his shield.
l. 406. chilly: tears, not passionate, but of cold despair.
l. 412. serpent-pipe, twisted pipe.
l. 416. Sweet Basil, a fragrant aromatic plant.
ll. 417-20. The repetition makes us feel the monotony of her days and nights of grief.
Page 76. l. 432. leafits, leaflets, little leaves. An old botanical term, but obsolete in Keats’s time. Coleridge uses it in l. 65 of ‘The Nightingale’ in Lyrical Ballads. In later editions he altered it to ‘leaflets’.
l. 439. cypress, dark trees which in Italy are always planted in cemeteries. They stand by Keats’s own grave.
l. 451. Baälites of pelf, worshippers of ill-gotten gains.
l. 453. elf, man. The word is used in this sense by Spenser in The Faerie Queene.224]ll. 469-72. And when . . . hair. The pathos of this picture is intensified by its suggestions of the wife- and mother-hood which Isabel can now never know. Cf. st. xlvii, where the idea is still more beautifully suggested.
l. 493. Pilgrim in his wanderings. Cf. st. i, ‘a young palmer in Love’s eye.’
l. 503. burthen, refrain. Cf. Tempest, i. ii. Ariel’s songs.
NOTES ON THE EVE OF ST. AGNES.
See Introduction to Isabella and The Eve of St. Agnes, p. 212.
St. Agnes was a martyr of the Christian Church who was beheaded just outside Rome in 304 because she refused to marry a Pagan, holding herself to be a bride of Christ. She was only 13—so small and slender that the smallest fetters they could find slipped over her little wrists and fell to the ground. But they stripped, tortured, and killed her. A week after her death her parents dreamed that they saw her in glory with a white lamb, the sign of purity, beside her. Hence she is always pictured with lambs (as her name signifies), and to the place of her martyrdom two lambs are yearly taken on the anniversary and blessed. Then their wool is cut off and woven by the nuns into the archbishop’s cloak, or pallium (see l. 70).For the legend connected with the Eve of the Saint’s anniversary, to which Keats refers, see st. vi.
Metre. That of the Faerie Queene.
l. 8. without a death. The ‘flight to heaven’ obscures the simile of the incense, and his breath is thought of as a departing soul.
Page 84. l. 12. meagre, barefoot, wan. Such a compression of a description into three bare epithets is frequent in Keats’s poetry. He shows his marvellous power in the unerring choice of adjective; and their enumeration in this way has, from its very simplicity, an extraordinary force.
l. 15. purgatorial rails, rails which enclose them in a place of torture.
l. 22. already . . . rung. He was dead to the world. But this hint should also prepare us for the conclusion of the poem.
Page 85. l. 31. ‘gan to chide. l. 32. ready with their pride. l. 34. ever eager-eyed. l. 36. with hair . . . breasts. As if trumpets, rooms, and carved angels were all alive. See Introduction, p. 212.
l. 37. argent, silver. They were all glittering with rich robes and arms.226]l. 70. amort, deadened, dull. Cf. Taming of the Shrew, iv. iii. 36, ‘What sweeting! all amort.’
l. 77. Buttress’d from moonlight. A picture of the castle and of the night, as well as of Porphyro’s position.
l. 90. beldame, old woman. Shakespeare generally uses the word in an uncomplimentary sense—’hag’—but it is not so used here. The word is used by Spenser in its derivative sense, ‘Fair lady,’ Faerie Queene, ii. 43.
l. 133. brook, check. An incorrect use of the word, which really means bear or permit.
l. 168. While . . . coverlet. All the wonders of Madeline’s imagination.
l. 171. Since Merlin . . . debt. Referring to the old legend that Merlin had for father an incubus or demon, and was himself a demon of evil, though his innate wickedness was driven out by baptism. Thus his ‘debt’ to the demon was his existence, which he paid when Vivien compassed his destruction by means of a spell which he had taught her. Keats refers to the storm which is said to have raged that night, which Tennyson also describes in Merlin and Vivien. The source whence the story came to Keats has not been ascertained.
Kate of Kate Hall—my super-dainty Kate,For dainties are all cates.
We still use the verb ‘to cater’ as in l. 177.
l. 174. tambour frame, embroidery-frame.
l. 185. espied, spying. Dim, because it would be from a dark corner; also the spy would be but dimly visible to her old eyes.
l. 203. No uttered . . . betide. Another of the conditions of the vision was evidently silence.
l. 218. gules, blood-red.
l. 237. poppied, because of the sleep-giving property of the poppy-heads.
l. 241. Clasp’d . . . pray. The sacredness of her beauty is felt here.
l. 250. Noiseless . . . wilderness. We picture a man creeping over a wide plain, fearing that any sound he makes will arouse some wild beast or other frightful thing.
l. 257. Morphean. Morpheus was the god of sleep.
l. 261. and . . . gone. The cadence of this line is peculiarly adapted to express a dying-away of sound.
l. 267. tinct, flavoured; usually applied to colour, not to taste.
l. 268. argosy, merchant-ship. Cf. Merchant of Venice, i. i. 9, ‘Your argosies with portly sail.’
l. 292. ‘La belle . . . mercy.‘ This stirred Keats’s imagination, and he produced the wonderful, mystic ballad of this title (see p. 213).
My dream thou brokest not, but continued’st it.
l. 300. painful change, his paleness.229]l. 325. flaw, gust of wind. Cf. Coriolanus, v. iii. 74; Hamlet, v. i. 239.
l. 333. unpruned, not trimmed.
l. 351. o’er . . . moors. A happy suggestion of a warmer clime.
l. 360. And . . . floor. There is the very sound of the wind in this line.
Page 104. ll. 375-8. Angela . . . cold. The death of these two leaves us with the thought of a young, bright world for the lovers to enjoy; whilst at the same time it completes the contrast, which the first introduction of the old bedesman suggested, between the old, the poor, and the joyless, and the young, the rich, and the happy.
INTRODUCTION TO THE ODE TO A NIGHTINGALE, ODE ON A GRECIAN URN, ODE ON MELANCHOLY, AND TO AUTUMN.
These four odes, which were all written in 1819, the first three in the early months of that year, ought to be considered together, since the same strain of thought runs through them all and, taken all together, they seem to sum up Keats’s philosophy.
In all of them the poet looks upon life as it is, and the eternal principle of beauty, in the first three seeing them in sharp contrast; in the last reconciling them, and leaving us content.
The first-written of the four, the Ode to a Nightingale, is the most passionately human and personal of them all. For Keats wrote it soon after the death of his brother Tom, whom he had loved devotedly and himself nursed to the end. He was feeling keenly the tragedy of a world ‘where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies’, and the song of the nightingale, heard in a friend’s garden at Hampstead, made him long to escape with it from this world of realities and sorrows to the world of ideal beauty, which it seemed to him somehow to stand for and suggest. He did not think of the nightingale as an individual bird, but of its song, which had been beautiful for centuries and would continue to be beautiful long after his generation had passed away; and the thought of this undying loveliness he contrasted bitterly with our feverishly sad and short life. When, by the power of imagination, he had left the world behind him and was absorbed in the vision of beauty roused by the bird’s song, he longed for death rather than a return to disillusionment.
So in the Grecian Urn he contrasts unsatisfying human life with art, which is everlastingly beautiful. The figures on the vase lack one thing only—reality,—whilst on the other hand they are happy in not being subject to trouble, change, or death. The thought is sad, yet Keats closes this ode triumphantly, not, as in The Nightingale, on a note of disappointment. The beauty of this Greek sculpture, truly felt, teaches us that beauty at any rate is real and lasting, and that utter belief in beauty is the one thing needful in life.In the Ode on Melancholy Keats, in a more bitter mood, finds the presence, in a fleeting world, of eternal beauty the source of the deepest melancholy. To encourage your melancholy mood, he tells us, do not look on the things counted sad, but on the most beautiful, which are only quickly-fading manifestations of the everlasting principle of beauty. It is then, when a man most deeply loves the beautiful, when he uses his capacities of joy to the utmost, that the full bitterness of the contrast between the real and the ideal comes home to him and crushes him. If he did not feel so much he would not suffer so much; if he loved beauty less he would care less that he could not hold it long.
But in the ode To Autumn Keats attains to the serenity he has been seeking. In this unparalleled description of a richly beautiful autumn day he conveys to us all the peace and comfort which his spirit receives. He does not philosophize upon the spectacle or draw a moral from it, but he shows us how in nature beauty is ever present. To the momentary regret for spring he replies with praise of the present hour, concluding with an exquisite description of the sounds of autumn—its music, as beautiful as that of spring. Hitherto he has lamented the insecurity of a man’s hold upon the beautiful, though he has never doubted the reality of beauty and the worth of its worship to man. Now, under the influence of nature, he intuitively knows that beauty once seen and grasped is man’s possession for ever. He is in much the same position that Wordsworth was when he declared that
Nature never did betrayThe heart that loved her; ’tis her privilege,Through all the years of this our life, to leadFrom joy to joy: for she can so informThe mind that is within us, so impressWith quietness and beauty, and so feedWith lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor allThe dreary intercourse of daily life,Shall e’er prevail against us, or disturbOur cheerful faith, that all which we beholdIs full of blessings.
This was not the last poem that Keats wrote, but it was the last which he wrote in the fulness of his powers. We can scarcely help wishing that, beautiful as were some of the productions of his last feverish year of life, this perfect ode, expressing so serene and untroubled a mood, might have been his last word to the world.
NOTES ON THE ODE TO A NIGHTINGALE.
In the early months of 1819 Keats was living with his friend Brown at Hampstead (Wentworth Place). In April a nightingale built her nest in the garden, and Brown writes: ‘Keats felt a tranquil and continual joy in her song; and one morning he took his chair from the breakfast table to the grass-plot under a plum, where he sat for two or three hours. When he came into the house I perceived he had some scraps of paper in his hand, and these he was quietly thrusting behind the books. On inquiry, I found those scraps, four or five in number, contained his poetic feeling on the song of our nightingale. The writing was not well legible, and it was difficult to arrange the stanza on so many scraps. With his assistance I succeeded, and this was his Ode to a Nightingale.’
l. 14. sunburnt mirth. An instance of Keats’s power of concentration. The people are not mentioned at all, yet this phrase conjures up a picture of merry, laughing, sunburnt peasants, as surely as could a long and elaborate description.
l. 15. the warm South. As if the wine brought all this with it.
l. 16. Hippocrene, the spring of the Muses on Mount Helicon.
l. 23. The weariness . . . fret. Cf. ‘The fretful stir unprofitable and the fever of the world’ in Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey, which Keats well knew.
l. 40. Notice the balmy softness which is given to this line by the use of long vowels and liquid consonants.234]l. 50. The murmurous . . . eves. We seem to hear them. Tennyson, inspired by Keats, with more self-conscious art, uses somewhat similar effects, e.g.:
The moan of doves in immemorial elms,And murmuring of innumerable bees.
The Princess, vii.
l. 61. Thou . . . Bird. Because, so far as we are concerned, the nightingale we heard years ago is the same as the one we hear to-night. The next lines make it clear that this is what Keats means.
l. 64. clown, peasant.
ll. 69-70. magic . . . forlorn. Perhaps inspired by a picture of Claude’s, ‘The Enchanted Castle,’ of which Keats had written before in a poetical epistle to his friend Reynolds—’The windows [look] as if latch’d by Fays and Elves.’
l. 75. plaintive. It did not sound sad to Keats at first, but as it dies away it takes colour from his own melancholy and sounds pathetic to him. Cf. Ode on Melancholy: he finds both bliss and pain in the contemplation of beauty.
ll. 76-8. Past . . . glades. The whole country speeds past our eyes in these three lines.
NOTES ON THE ODE ON A GRECIAN URN.
This poem is not, apparently, inspired by any one actual vase, but by many Greek sculptures, some seen in the British Museum, some known only from engravings. Keats, in his imagination, combines them all into one work of supreme beauty.
Perhaps Keats had some recollection of Wordsworth’s sonnet ‘Upon the sight of a beautiful picture,’ beginning ‘Praised be the art.’
l. 7. Tempe was a famous glen in Thessaly.
Arcady. Arcadia, a very mountainous country, the centre of the Peloponnese, was the last stronghold of the aboriginal Greeks. The people were largely shepherds and goatherds, and Pan was a local Arcadian god till the Persian wars (c. 400 b.c.). In late Greek and in Roman pastoral poetry, as in modern literature, Arcadia is a sort of ideal land of poetic shepherds.
Thou lovest—but ne’er knew love’s sad satiety.
ll. 31 seq. Keats is now looking at the other side of the urn. This verse strongly recalls certain parts of the frieze of the Parthenon (British Museum).236]brede, embroidery. Cf. Lamia, i. 159. Here used of carving.
l. 44. tease us out of thought. Make us think till thought is lost in mystery.
INTRODUCTION TO THE ODE TO PSYCHE.
In one of his long journal-letters to his brother George, Keats writes, at the beginning of May, 1819: ‘The following poem—the last I have written—is the first and the only one with which I have taken even moderate pains. I have for the most part dashed off my lines in a hurry. This I have done leisurely—I think it reads the more richly for it, and will I hope encourage me to write other things in even a more peaceable and healthy spirit. You must recollect that Psyche was not embodied as a goddess before the time of Apuleius the Platonist, who lived after the Augustan age, and consequently the goddess was never worshipped or sacrificed to with any of the ancient fervour, and perhaps never thought of in the old religion—I am more orthodox than to let a heathen goddess be so neglected.’ The Ode to Psyche follows.
The story of Psyche may be best told in the words of William Morris in the ‘argument’ to ‘the story of Cupid and Psyche’ in his Earthly Paradise:
‘Psyche, a king’s daughter, by her exceeding beauty caused the people to forget Venus; therefore the goddess would fain have destroyed her: nevertheless she became the bride of Love, yet in an unhappy moment lost him by her own fault, and wandering through the world suffered many evils at the hands of Venus, for whom she must accomplish fearful tasks. But the gods and all nature helped her, and in process of time she was re-united to Love, forgiven by Venus, and made immortal by the Father of gods and men.’
Psyche is supposed to symbolize the human soul made immortal through love.
NOTES ON THE ODE TO PSYCHE.
l. 4. soft-conched. Metaphor of a sea-shell giving an impression of exquisite colour and delicate form.
l. 14. Tyrian, purple, from a certain dye made at Tyre.
l. 25. Olympus. Cf. Lamia, .
hierarchy. The orders of gods, with Jupiter as head.
l. 26. Phoebe, or Diana, goddess of the moon.
l. 27. Vesper, the evening star.
l. 37. fond believing, foolishly credulous.
l. 41. lucent fans, luminous wings.
Page 120. l. 55. fledge . . . steep. Probably a recollection of what he had seen in the Lakes, for on June 29, 1818, he writes to Tom from Keswick of a waterfall which ‘oozes out from a cleft in perpendicular Rocks, all fledged with Ash and other beautiful trees’.
INTRODUCTION TO FANCY.
This poem, although so much lighter in spirit, bears a certain relation in thought to Keats’s other odes. In the Nightingale the tragedy of this life made him long to escape, on the wings of imagination, to the ideal world of beauty symbolized by the song of the bird. Here finding all real things, even the most beautiful, pall upon him, he extols the fancy, which can escape from reality and is not tied by place or season in its search for new joys. This is, of course, only a passing mood, as the extempore character of the poetry indicates. We see more of settled conviction in the deeply-meditative Ode to Autumn, where he finds the ideal in the rich and ever-changing real.
This poem is written in the four-accent metre employed by Milton in L’Allegro and Il Penseroso, and we can often detect a similarity of cadence, and a resemblance in the scenes imagined.
NOTES ON FANCY.
l. 82. God of torment. Pluto, who presides over the torments of the souls in Hades.
l. 89. And Jove grew languid. Observe the fitting slowness of the first half of the line, and the sudden leap forward of the second.
NOTES ON ODE[‘Bards of Passion and of Mirth’].
l. 8. parle, French parler. Cf. Hamlet, i. i. 62.
l. 12. Dian’s fawns. Diana was the goddess of hunting.
INTRODUCTION TO LINES ON THE MERMAID TAVERN.
The Mermaid Tavern was an old inn in Bread Street, Cheapside. Tradition says that the literary club there was established by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1603. In any case it was, in Shakespeare’s time, frequented by the chief writers of the day, amongst them Ben Jonson, Beaumont, Fletcher, Selden, Carew, Donne, and Shakespeare himself. Beaumont, in a poetical epistle to Ben Jonson, writes:
What things have we seenDone at the Mermaid! heard words that have beenSo nimble and so full of subtle flame,As if that any one from whence they cameHad meant to put his whole wit in a jest,And has resolved to live a fool the restOf his dull life.
NOTES ON LINES ON THE MERMAID TAVERN.
l. 12. bowse, drink.240]l. 22. The Mermaid . . . Zodiac. The zodiac was an imaginary belt across the heavens within which the sun and planets were supposed to move. It was divided into twelve parts corresponding to the twelve months of the year, according to the position of the moon when full. Each of these parts had a sign by which it was known, and the sign of the tenth was a fish-tailed goat, to which Keats refers as the Mermaid. The word zodiac comes from the Greek , meaning a little animal, since originally all the signs were animals.
INTRODUCTION TO ROBIN HOOD.
Early in 1818 John Hamilton Reynolds, a friend of Keats, sent him two sonnets which he had written ‘On Robin Hood’. Keats, in his letter of thanks, after giving an appreciation of Reynolds’s production, says: ‘In return for your Dish of Filberts, I have gathered a few Catkins, I hope they’ll look pretty.’ Then follow these lines, entitled, ‘To J. H. R. in answer to his Robin Hood sonnets.’ At the end he writes: ‘I hope you will like them—they are at least written in the spirit of outlawry.’
Robin Hood, the outlaw, was a popular hero of the Middle Ages. He was a great poacher of deer, brave, chivalrous, generous, full of fun, and absolutely without respect for law and order. He robbed the rich to give to the poor, and waged ceaseless war against the wealthy prelates of the church. Indeed, of his endless practical jokes, the majority were played upon sheriffs and bishops. He lived, with his ‘merry men’, in Sherwood Forest, where a hollow tree, said to be his ‘larder’, is still shown.Innumerable ballads telling of his exploits were composed, the first reference to which is in the second edition of Langland’s Piers Plowman, c. 1377. Many of these ballads still survive, but in all these traditions it is quite impossible to disentangle fact from fiction.
NOTES ON ROBIN HOOD.
l. 9. fleeces, the leaves of the forest, cut from them by the wind as the wool is shorn from the sheep’s back.
ll. 15-18. Keats imagines some man who has not heard the laugh hearing with bewilderment its echo in the depths of the forest.
l. 21. seven stars, Charles’s Wain or the Big Bear.
l. 22. polar ray, the light of the Pole, or North, star.
l. 30. pasture Trent, the fields about the Trent, the river of Nottingham, which runs by Sherwood forest.
Page 135. l. 33. morris. A dance in costume which, in the Tudor period, formed a part of every village festivity. It was generally danced by five men and a boy in girl’s dress, who represented Maid Marian. Later it came to be associated with the May games, and other characters of the Robin Hood epic were introduced. It was abolished, with other village gaieties, by the Puritans, and though at the Restoration it was revived it never regained its former importance.
l. 34. Gamelyn. The hero of a tale (The Tale of Gamelyn) attributed to Chaucer, and given in some MSS. as The Cook’s Tale in The Canterbury Tales. The story of Orlando’s ill-usage, prowess, and banishment, in As You Like It, Shakespeare derived from this source, and Keats is thinking of the merry life of the hero amongst the outlaws.
l. 36. ‘grenè shawe,’ green wood.
NOTES ON ‘TO AUTUMN’.
In a letter written to Reynolds from Winchester, in September, 1819, Keats says: ‘How beautiful the season is now—How fine the air. A temperate sharpness about it. Really, without joking, chaste weather—Dian skies—I never liked stubble-fields so much as now—Aye better than the chilly green of the spring. Somehow, a stubble-field looks warm—in the same way that some pictures look warm. This struck me so much in my Sunday’s walk that I composed upon it.’ What he composed was the Ode To Autumn.
Page 137. ll. 1 seq. The extraordinary concentration and richness of this description reminds us of Keats’s advice to Shelley—’Load every rift of your subject with ore.’ The whole poem seems to be painted in tints of red, brown, and gold.
l. 18. swath, the width of the sweep of the scythe.ll. 23 seq. Now the sounds of autumn are added to complete the impression.
ll. 25-6. Compare letter quoted above.
ll. 28-9. borne . . . dies. Notice how the cadence of the line fits the sense. It seems to rise and fall and rise and fall again.
NOTES ON ODE ON MELANCHOLY.
l. 2. Wolf’s-bane, aconite or hellebore—a poisonous plant.
l. 4. nightshade, a deadly poison.
ruby . . . Proserpine. Cf. Swinburne’s Garden of Proserpine.
Proserpine. Cf. Lamia, i. 63, note.
l. 5. yew-berries. The yew, a dark funereal-looking tree, is constantly planted in churchyards.
l. 16. on . . . sand-wave, the iridescence sometimes seen on the ribbed sand left by the tide.
l. 21. She, i.e. Melancholy—now personified as a goddess. Compare this conception of melancholy with the passage in Lamia, i. 190-200. Cf. also Milton’s personifications of Melancholy in L’Allegro and Il Penseroso.244]
INTRODUCTION TO HYPERION.
This poem deals with the overthrow of the primaeval order of Gods by Jupiter, son of Saturn the old king. There are many versions of the fable in Greek mythology, and there are many sources from which it may have come to Keats. At school he is said to have known the classical dictionary by heart, but his inspiration is more likely to have been due to his later reading of the Elizabethan poets, and their translations of classic story. One thing is certain, that he did not confine himself to any one authority, nor did he consider it necessary to be circumscribed by authorities at all. He used, rather than followed, the Greek fable, dealing freely with it and giving it his own interpretation.
The situation when the poem opens is as follows:—Saturn, king of the gods, has been driven from Olympus down into a deep dell, by his son Jupiter, who has seized and used his father’s weapon, the thunderbolt. A similar fate has overtaken nearly all his brethren, who are called by Keats Titans and Giants indiscriminately, though in Greek mythology the two races are quite distinct. These Titans are the children of Tellus and Coelus, the earth and sky, thus representing, as it were, the first birth of form and personality from formless nature. Before the separation of earth and sky, Chaos, a confusion of the elements of all things, had reigned supreme. One only of the Titans, Hyperion the sun-god, still keeps his kingdom, and he is about to be superseded by young Apollo, the god of light and song.In the second book we hear Oceanus and Clymene his daughter tell how both were defeated not by battle or violence, but by the irresistible beauty of their dispossessors; and from this Oceanus deduces ‘the eternal law, that first in beauty should be first in might’. He recalls the fact that Saturn himself was not the first ruler, but received his kingdom from his parents, the earth and sky, and he prophesies that progress will continue in the overthrow of Jove by a yet brighter and better order. Enceladus is, however, furious at what he considers a cowardly acceptance of their fate, and urges his brethren to resist.
In Book I we saw Hyperion, though still a god, distressed by portents, and now in Book III we see the rise to divinity of his successor, the young Apollo. The poem breaks off short at the moment of Apollo’s metamorphosis, and how Keats intended to complete it we can never know.
It is certain that he originally meant to write an epic in ten books, and the publisher’s remark[245:1] at the beginning of the 1820 volume would lead us to think that he was in the same mind when he wrote the poem. This statement, however, must be altogether discounted, as Keats, in his copy of the poems, crossed it right out and wrote above, ‘I had no part in this; I was ill at the time.’Moreover, the last sentence (from ‘but’ to ‘proceeding’) he bracketed, writing below, ‘This is a lie.’
This, together with other evidence external and internal, has led Dr. de Sélincourt to the conclusion that Keats had modified his plan and, when he was writing the poem, intended to conclude it in four books. Of the probable contents of the one-and-half unwritten books Mr. de Sélincourt writes: ‘I conceive that Apollo, now conscious of his divinity, would have gone to Olympus, heard from the lips of Jove of his newly-acquired supremacy, and been called upon by the rebel three to secure the kingdom that awaited him. He would have gone forth to meet Hyperion, who, struck by the power of supreme beauty, would have found resistance impossible. Critics have inclined to take for granted the supposition that an actual battle was contemplated by Keats, but I do not believe that such was, at least, his final intention. In the first place, he had the example of Milton, whom he was studying very closely, to warn him of its dangers; in the second, if Hyperion had been meant to fight he would hardly be represented as already, before the battle, shorn of much of his strength; thus making the victory of Apollo depend upon his enemy’s unnatural weakness and not upon his own strength. One may add that a combat would have been completely alien to the whole idea of the poem as Keats conceived it, and as, in fact, it is universally interpreted from the speech of Oceanus in the second book. The resistance of Enceladus and the Giants, themselves rebels against an order already established, would have been dealt with summarily, and the poem would have closed with a description of the new age which had been inaugurated by the triumph of the Olympians, and, in particular, of Apollo the god of light and song.’
The central idea, then, of the poem is that the new age triumphs over the old by virtue of its acknowledged superiority—that intellectual supremacy makes physical force feel its power and yield. Dignity and moral conquest lies, for the conquered, in the capacity to recognize the truth and look upon the inevitable undismayed.
Keats broke the poem off because it was too ‘Miltonic’, and it is easy to see what he meant. Not only does the treatment of the subject recall that of Paradise Lost, the council of the fallen gods bearing special resemblance to that of the fallen angels in Book II of Milton’s epic, but in its style and syntax the influence of Milton is everywhere apparent. It is to be seen in the restraint and concentration of the language, which is in marked contrast to the wordiness of Keats’s early work, as well as in the constant use of classical constructions,[247:1] Miltonic inversions[247:2] and repetitions,[247:3] and in occasional reminiscences of actual lines and phrases in Paradise Lost.[247:4]In Hyperion we see, too, the influence of the study of Greek sculpture upon Keats’s mind and art. This study had taught him that the highest beauty is not incompatible with definiteness of form and clearness of detail. To his romantic appreciation of mystery was now added an equal sense of the importance of simplicity, form, and proportion, these being, from its nature, inevitable characteristics of the art of sculpture. So we see that again and again the figures described in Hyperion are like great statues—clear-cut, massive, and motionless. Such are the pictures of Saturn and Thea in Book I, and of each of the group of Titans at the opening of Book II.
Striking too is Keats’s very Greek identification of the gods with the powers of Nature which they represent. It is this attitude of mind which has led some people—Shelley and Landor among them—to declare Keats, in spite of his ignorance of the language, the most truly Greek of all English poets. Very beautiful instances of this are the sunset and sunrise in Book I, when the departure of the sun-god and his return to earth are so described that the pictures we see are of an evening and morning sky, an angry sunset, and a grey and misty dawn.
But neither Miltonic nor Greek is Keats’s marvellous treatment of nature as he feels, and makes us feel, the magic of its mystery in such a picture as that of the
tall oaksBranch-charmèd by the earnest stars,
or of the
dismal cirqueOf Druid stones, upon a forlorn moor,When the chill rain begins at shut of eve,In dull November, and their chancel vault,The heaven itself, is blinded throughout night.
This Keats, and Keats alone, could do; and his achievement is unique in throwing all the glamour of romance over a fragment ‘sublime as Aeschylus’.
NOTES ON HYPERION.
Page 145. ll. 2-3. By thus giving us a vivid picture of the changing day—at morning, noon, and night—Keats makes us realize the terrible loneliness and gloom of a place too deep to feel these changes.
l. 10. See how the sense is expressed in the cadence of the line.
l. 19. realmless eyes. The tragedy of his fall is felt in every feature.
l. 30. Ixion’s wheel. For insolence to Jove, Ixion was tied to an ever-revolving wheel in Hell.l. 31. Memphian sphinx. Memphis was a town in Egypt near to which the pyramids were built. A sphinx is a great stone image with human head and breast and the body of a lion.
ll. 76-8. Save . . . wave. See how the gust of wind comes and goes in the rise and fall of these lines, which begin and end on the same sound.
l. 94. aspen-malady, trembling like the leaves of the aspen-poplar.
Page 151. ll. 98 seq. Cf. King Lear. Throughout the figure of Saturn—the old man robbed of his kingdom—reminds us of Lear, and sometimes we seem to detect actual reminiscences of Shakespeare’s treatment. Cf. Hyperion, i. 98; and King Lear, i. iv. 248-52.
l. 102. front, forehead.
l. 105. nervous, used in its original sense of powerful, sinewy.
ll. 107 seq. In Saturn’s reign was the Golden Age.
l. 129. metropolitan, around the chief city.
l. 131. strings in hollow shells. The first stringed instruments were said to be made of tortoise-shells with strings stretched across.251]l. 147. rebel three. Jove, Neptune, and Pluto.
ll. 156-7. All the dignity and majesty of the goddess is in this comparison.
l. 172. familiar visiting, ghostly apparition.
l. 230. O . . . pools. A picture of inimitable chilly horror.252]l. 302. rack, a drifting mass of distant clouds. Cf. Lamia, i. 178, and Tempest, iv. i. 156.
l. 28. gurge, whirlpool.
l. 37. chancel vault. As if they stood in a great temple domed by the sky.
l. 70. that second war. An indication that Keats did not intend to recount this ‘second war’; it is not likely that he would have forestalled its chief incident.
l. 78. Ops, the same as Cybele.
l. 79. No shape distinguishable. Cf. Paradise Lost, ii. 666-8.
l. 98. A disanointing poison, taking away his kingship and his godhead.
l. 168. no . . . grove. ‘Sophist and sage’ suggests the philosophers of ancient Greece.
l. 170. locks not oozy. Cf. Lycidas, l. 175, ‘oozy locks’. This use of the negative is a reminiscence of Milton.
ll. 171-2. murmurs . . . sands. In this description of the god’s utterance is the whole spirit of the element which he personifies.
l. 207. though once chiefs. Though Chaos and Darkness once had the sovereignty. From Chaos and Darkness developed Heaven and Earth, and from them the Titans in all their glory and power. Now from them develops the new order of Gods, surpassing them in beauty as they surpassed their parents.254]ll. 237-41. No fight has taken place. The god has seen his doom and accepted the inevitable.
Page 183. l. 284. Like . . . string. In this expressive line we hear the quick patter of the beads. Clymene has had much the same experience as Oceanus, though she does not philosophize upon it. She has succumbed to the beauty of her successor.
l. 310. Giant-Gods? In the edition of 1820 printed ‘giant, Gods?’ Mr. Forman suggested the above emendation, which has since been discovered to be the true MS. reading.
l. 331. As if Jove’s appearance of strength were a deception, masking his real weakness.
ll. 346-56. As the silver wings of dawn preceded Hyperion’s rising so now a silver light heralds his approach.
l. 366. and made it terrible. There is no joy in the light which reveals such terrors.
Page 188. l. 374. Memnon’s image. Memnon was a famous king of Egypt who was killed in the Trojan war. His people erected a wonderful statue to his memory, which uttered a melodious sound at dawn, when the sun fell on it. At sunset it uttered a sad sound.
l. 375. dusking East. Since the light fades first from the eastern sky.
l. 10. Delphic. At Delphi worship was given to Apollo, the inventor and god of music.
Page 192. l. 12. Dorian. There were several ‘modes’ in Greek music, of which the chief were Dorian, Phrygian, and Lydian. Each was supposed to possess certain definite ethical characteristics. Dorian music was martial and manly. Cf. Paradise Lost, i. 549-53.
l. 13. Father of all verse. Apollo, the god of light and song.
l. 19. faint-lipp’d. Cf. ii. 270, ‘mouthed shell.’
l. 23. Cyclades. Islands in the Aegean sea, so called because they surrounded Delos in a circle.
l. 24. Delos, the island where Apollo was born.
l. 32. twin-sister, Artemis (Diana).
l. 40. murmurous . . . waves. We hear their soft breaking.
l. 82. Mnemosyne, daughter of Coelus and Terra, and mother of the Muses. Her name signifies Memory.
l. 86. Cf. Samson Agonistes, ll. 80-2.
l. 87. Cf. Merchant of Venice, i. i. 1-7.
l. 92. liegeless, independent—acknowledging no allegiance.
l. 93. aspirant, ascending. The air will not bear him up.256]l. 113. So Apollo reaches his divinity—by knowledge which includes experience of human suffering—feeling ‘the giant-agony of the world’.
l. 128. immortal death. Cf. Swinburne’s Garden of Proserpine, st. 7.
Who gathers all things mortalWith cold immortal hands.
Glory dawn’d, he was a god.
[245:1]‘If any apology be thought necessary for the appearance of the unfinished poem of Hyperion, the publishers beg to state that they alone are responsible, as it was printed at their particular request, and contrary to the wish of the author. The poem was intended to have been of equal length with Endymion, but the reception given to that work discouraged the author from proceeding.’
|e.g.||i.||56||Knows thee not, thus afflicted, for a god|
|i.||206||save what solemn tubes|
. . . . . gave
|ii.||70||that second war|
Not long delayed.
|e.g.||i.||35||How beautiful . . . self|
|182||While sometimes . . . wondering men|
|ii.||116, 122||Such noise . . . pines.|
|e.g.||ii.||79||No shape distinguishable. Cf. Paradise Lost, ii. 667.|
|i.||2||breath of morn. Cf. Paradise Lost, iv. 641.|
HENRY FROWDE, M.A.
PUBLISHER TO THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD
LONDON, EDINBURGH, NEW YORK, TORONTO AND MELBOURNE
Line numbers are placed every ten lines. In the original, due to space constraints, this is not always the case.
Ellipses match the original.
On page 237, the note for l. 25 refers to “Lamia, i. 9, note”. There is no such note.
The following words appear with and without hyphens. They have been left as in the original.
The following words have variations in spelling. They have been left as in the original.