To Fit The Naked Foot of Posey

keats
John Keats

“I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the Truth of the imagination.”

John Keats

 

On The Sonnet

by John Keats

If by dull rhymes our English must be chain’d,
  .And, like Andromeda, the Sonnet sweet
Fetter’d, in spite of pained loveliness;
Let us find out, if we must be constrain’d,
.Sandals more interwoven and complete
To fit the naked foot of posey;
Let us inspect the lyre, and weigh the stress
Of every chord, and see what may be gain’d
.By ear industrious, and attention meet:
Misers of sound and syllable, no less
.Than Midas of his coinage let us be
  .Jealous of dead leaves in the bay wreath crown;
So, if we may not let the Muse be free,
.She will be bound with garlands of her own.


Keats commitment to poetry was metaphysical, religious.   He famously rejected the Christian norms of the time, in particular the idea of salvation through a belief in Jesus Christ. The quote above comes form a letter to Benjamin Bailey dated November 22, 1817:

I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of the Imagination. What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth, whether it existed before or not, for I have the same Idea of all our Passions as of Love they are all in their sublime, creative of essential Beauty. . . . I have never yet been able to perceive how any thing can be known for truth by consequitive reasoning. . . . O for a Life of Sensations rather than of Thoughts! It is a “Vision in the form of Youth” a Shadow of reality to come‹and this consideration has further convinced me . . . that we shall enjoy ourselves here after by having what we called happiness on Earth repeated in a finer tone and so repeated. And yet such a fate can only befall those who delight in Sensation rather than hunger as you do after Truth.

Isn’t that the point of poetry?  Poetry provides a respite from the impossibility of truth and a chance to live for a moment in sensations.  Poetry provides a brief silence in which our imaginations might be fulfilled with a glimpse of something bigger than ourselves, that ephemeral connection of our soul to the universe.


O Solitude!

By John Keats

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

 

 

And With Your Tricksome Tune

Crickt Rider

On The Grasshopper and Cricket

by John Keats

The poetry of earth is never dead:
When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,
And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;
That is the Grasshopper’s–he takes the lead
In summer luxury,–he has never done
With his delights; for when tired out with fun
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.

The poetry of earth is ceasing never:
On a lone winter evening, when the frost
Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,
And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,
The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.


August is the peak time in Minnesota for insects of all types.  We don’t have many cicadas singing to us (yet) this summer, an off year for their shrill tunes.  But the cricket chorus has begun to build in the last week and should take us all the way through fall.

Agronomists, gardeners and good observers will take note around now that the green of the folliage on the trees isn’t as green as just a couple weeks ago. The levels of chlorophyll peaked in the leaves in July and is starting to wane, causing leaves to take take on a slightly darker hue. Insects, fungal and bacterial diseases on leaves are also at their peak, further reducing the amount of green in the canopy.  In two short weeks, it will suddenly be September and everything will seemingly change overnight, the lush greens of summer, replaced by a lighter paler and darker green and the start of colors of fall.

I am surprised there aren’t more examples of dueling poems and poets. Two friends, each accomplished writers, who challenge each other to write a poem with the same prompt, the same inspiration.  Maybe there are lots of them and I am not literally aware enough to recognize them (pun intended). Dear reader, if you know of more, please share them with me, I would be fascinated to uncover more examples of dueling poems, particularly dueling sonnets.

Do we need to  declare a victor?  Did Hunt and Keats settle their friendly bet with a round of drinks? Which poem did they privately declare superior? In my opinion Hunt’s is the better sonnet, more imaginative language, clever in its delivery. I particularly like the image Hunt paints of crickets as ‘warm little housekeepers’, a fond way of referring to the inevitable cricket or two who find their way into the basement or wood bin near the fireplace to sing a private serenade as the snows of winter begin.

Hunt’s friendship and writing is often credited in helping Keats become a better poet. Hunt, true to his name, led out and showed Keats the way, and Keats took up the challenge and blossomed as an artist, knowing his time on Earth likely short.


To The Grasshopper and The Cricket

by Leigh Hunt (1784 – 1859)

Green little vaulter in the sunny grass
Catching your heart up at the feel of June,
Sole voice that’s heard amidst the lazy noon,
When ev’n the bees lag at the summoning brass;
And you, warm little housekeeper, who class
With those who think the candles come too soon,
Loving the fire, and with your tricksome tune
Nick the glad silent moments as they pass;
Oh sweet and tiny cousins, that belong,
One to the fields, the other to the hearth,
Both have your sunshine; both though small are strong
At your clear hearts; and both were sent on earth
To sing in thoughtful ears this natural song,–
In doors and out, summer and winter, Mirth.

The Magic Hand of Chance

thom gunn
Thom Gunn (1929 – 2004)

“At worst, one is in motion: and at best,
Reaching no absolute, in which to rest,
One is always nearer by not keeping still.”

From On The Move by Thom Gunn

A loose, slack, and not well dressed youth, met Mr. — and myself in a lane near Highgate. — knew him, and spoke. It was Keats. He was introduced to me and stayed a minute or so. After he had left us a little way, he ran back and said: “Let me carry away the memory, Coleridge, of having pressed your hand!” — “There is death in that hand,” I said to —, when Keats was gone; yet this was, I believe, before the consumption showed itself distinctly.

Samuel Coleridge – 1832

 

Keats At Highgate

By Thom Gunn

A cheerful youth joined Coleridge on his walk
(“Loose,” noted Coleridge, “slack, and not well-dressed”)
Listening respectfully to the talk talk talk
Of First and Second Consciousness, then pressed
The famous hand with warmth and sauntered back
Homeward in his own state of less dispered
More passive consciousness–passive, not slack,
Whether of Secondary type or First.

He made his way toward Hampstead so alert
He hardly passed the small grey ponds below
Or watched a sparrow pecking in the dirt
Without some insight swelling the mind’s flow
That banks made swift. Everything put to use.
Perhaps not well-dressed but oh no not loose.


In a very quick study of Keats entirety of his poetry, sonnets comprise 25 of the 54 poems he shared with the world in his life time, not quite half. No other poetical form is represented in as large a volume in Keats work.  So it is fitting that Gunn, who would not be known for his sonnets, would write a tribute to Keats as a sonnet.

What captured Gunn’s imagination to pen this little rebuttal to Coleridge?  Coleridge was a formidable critic and poet of his time, of much greater stature than Keats.  But time has flipped the tables in a way, at least for those of us who fancy ourselves a bit influenced by the romantics. One has to wonder whether Tuberculosis has robbed humanity of great art by shortening the lives of so many over history, or whether through its premature death, one can see death coming in what should be the flourish of their youth, that many of our most beloved artists stayed on the move long enough to capture the beauty of life in words amidst the juxtaposition of the tragedy of their consumption.


When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be

by John Keats (1795 – 1821)

When I have fears that I may cease to be
   Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-pilèd books, in charactery,
   Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
   Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
   Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
   That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
   Of unreflecting love—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.