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John Keats, by William Hilton (died 1839). See...

John Keats, by William Hilton (died 1839). See source website for additional information. This set of images was gathered by User:Dcoetzee from the National Portrait Gallery, London website using a special tool. All images in this batch have been confirmed as author died before 1939 according to the official death date listed by the NPG. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Romanticism. To some, the very word begets the core of poetry–the flowery language, the graceful imagery, the tone and texture that sinks into the very depths of heart. Truly, one cannot pass the halls of poetic history without stopping a moment to undertake glimpses of that beautiful time period, and the many writers to grace it–and it would be a crime to do so without crossing paths with John Keats.

Keats was young. He was gifted. What’s more, he existed in a time when poetry was truly in a flowering way–and he knew well its enticing scents. Born to humble beginnings, he was denied the rich education some of his wealthier contemporaries could afford to undertake–and yet, he flourished for it, as his school, denied the income of others, nevertheless devoted what it had to more modern and progressive curriculum that stimulated this young poet’s mind. He lost his parents young, and would struggle his whole life with the burden of poverty–despite the fact that a great deal of money that should have been owed him never reached his knowing, or his hands.

Though he began to pursue the medical life, when it conflicted with his writing, he chose the writing–though stoppered ambition, financial crisis, and fear often paved a road for him to the depths of depression. Poetically, though regarded today as one of the greatest minds to grace the art, were not well-received in his time. Put against wordsmiths like Byron and Shelley, the critics all but eviscerated him as he began to travel, and to write in earnest. So too did he love in earnest–only to find this, too, should be denied him…not by a cruel twist of the heart, but by the illness that would eventually take his life.

John Keats suffered from tuberculosis. It forced him from home and from love, to Rome and hopes of warmer climates. No such thing could help him. He died, in terrible agony, at just 25 years old. When he went, he was convinced that he had left no mark on this earth…and today has left one of the most profound.

Why might have been so agonized? Perhaps a letter from his own brother told it best, in that he: “feared that he should never be a poet, & if he was not he would destroy himself”.

Perhaps it is appropriate that on his grave, his friends engraved the everlasting words: “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.”

* A special note. Friends, it is with great sadness I announce today that this edition of Pretzels and Bullfights shall be my last. Life, as they say, can be a fickle thing–and mine has taken many tumultuous and chaotic tumbles that struggle against the time and capability nature saw fit to deliver. In short: life pulls me elsewhere at the moment.

This said, it has been a pleasure to bring to you each week some semblance of our collective poetic history, and to share with you the voices that have truly honed our craft. If I have opened eyes and ears to but one poet they did not know before, I consider this segment a victory. It has truly been a pleasure, and for those of you that have read and supported this segment each week, my heart goes out to you, and my thanks. Keep reading. Keep scribbling. May all the best find you–and may you continue to enjoy the excitements here at dVerse. I know not what shall replace my own scribbles here, but I have no doubt it shall be of the same quality this site at large has come to exemplify.

~Chris Galford

Ode to a Nightingale

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One 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 plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool’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:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, 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 sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

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 blown
Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The 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.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I 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 abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain–
To thy high requiem become a sod.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that oft-times hath
Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:–Do I wake or sleep?

~John Keats