Complete Poems and Selected Letters of John Keats

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Overview

'I think I shall be among the English Poets after my death,' John Keats soberly prophesied in 1818 as he started writing the blankverse epic Hyperion. Today he endures as the archetypal Romantic genius who explored the limits of the imagination and celebrated the pleasures of the senses but suffered a tragic early death. Edmund Wilson counted him as 'one of the half dozen greatest English writers,' and T. S. Eliot has paid tribute to the Shakespearean quality of Keats's greatness. Indeed, his work has survived ...

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Complete Poems and Selected Letters of John Keats

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Overview

'I think I shall be among the English Poets after my death,' John Keats soberly prophesied in 1818 as he started writing the blankverse epic Hyperion. Today he endures as the archetypal Romantic genius who explored the limits of the imagination and celebrated the pleasures of the senses but suffered a tragic early death. Edmund Wilson counted him as 'one of the half dozen greatest English writers,' and T. S. Eliot has paid tribute to the Shakespearean quality of Keats's greatness. Indeed, his work has survived better than that of any of his contemporaries the devaluation of Romantic poetry that began early in this century. This Modern Library edition contains all of Keats's magnificent verse: 'Lamia,' 'Isabella,' and 'The Eve of St. Agnes'; his sonnets and odes; the allegorical romance Endymion; and the five-act poetic tragedy Otho the Great. Presented as well are the famous posthumous and fugitive poems, including the fragmentary 'The Eve of Saint Mark' and the great 'La Belle Dame sans Merci,' perhaps the most distinguished literary ballad in the language. 'No one else in English poetry, save Shakespeare, has in expression quite the fascinating felicity of Keats, his perception of loveliness,' said Matthew Arnold. 'In the faculty of naturalistic interpretation, in what we call natural magic, he ranks with Shakespeare.'

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"No one else in English poetry, save Shakespeare, has in expression quite the fascinating felicity of Keats, his perfection of loveliness."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375756696
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/28/2001
  • Series: Modern Library Classics Series
  • Edition description: 2001 MODER
  • Edition number: 2001
  • Pages: 640
  • Sales rank: 291,188
  • Product dimensions: 5.17 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Meet the Author

John Keats was born in London in living quarters connected with his maternal grandfather's livery stable, the Swan and Hoop Inn, on October 31, 1795. He was the eldest of five children (one of whom died in infancy) begot by Thomas and Frances Jennings Keats. His father was the chief hostler at the Swan and Hoop, and the family prospered. The boy was eight years old when Thomas Keats was killed in a riding accident; the next year, in 1805, Keats's grandfather died. When the future poet was fourteen, his mother (after an unsuccessful remarriage) succumbed to tuberculosis. By then, however, Keats had received a liberal education at the progressive Clarke school, a private academy in the village of Enfield, twelve miles north of London, where for eight years he studied English literature, modern languages, and Latin. (He began translating Virgil's Aeneid while still at shcool.) Charles Cowden Clarke, the headmaster's son, remembered him as an outgoing youth who made friends easily and fought passionately in their defense. A fellow student recalled his pugnacious spirit: 'Keats was not in childhood attached to books. His penchant was for fighting. He would fight any one.' Yet George Keats spoke of his brother's 'nervous, morbid temperament' (perhaps attributable to a complex about being short—'poor little Johnny Keats' was barely five feet tall) and of his having 'many a bitter fit of hypochondriasm.' Indeed Keats himself wrote: 'My mind has been the most discontented and restless one that ever was put into a body too small for it.'

In 1811 Keats left the Clarke school to become a surgeon's apprentice—first at Thomas Hammond's apothecary shop in a small town near Enfield and later in London at Guy's Hospital. (Surgery would have been a respectable and reasonable calling for someone of Keats's means: unlike the profession of medicine, it did not require a university degree. Moreover, Keats always maintained he was 'ambitious of doing the world some good.') During his five years of study for a license, the young apprentice completed his translation of the Aeneid and 'devoured rather than read' Ovid's Metamorphoses, Milton's Paradise Lost, and other books he borrowed from the Clarke school. But the work that decisively awakened his love of poetry—indeed shocked him suddenly into self-awareness of his own powers of imagination—was Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene. At some point in 1814 Keats composed his first poem, 'In Imitation of Spenser.' Although he struck medical colleagues as an 'idle loafing fellow, always writing poetry,' Keats passed the apothecaries' examination that allowed him to practice surgery on July 25, 1816.

In the meantime, his poetic genius was being recognized and encouraged by early friends like Charles Cowden Clarke and J. H. Reynolds, and in October 1816 Clarke introduced him to Leigh Hunt, whose Examiner, the leading liberal magazine of the day, had recently published Keats's sonnet 'O Solitude.' Five months later, on March 3, 1817, Poems, his first volume of verse, appeared. Despite the high hopes of the Hunt circle, it was a failure. During the fall of that year, Keats stayed with Oxford student Benjamin Bailey at Magdalen College. While Bailey crammed for exams, Keats worked on Endymion, his four-thousand-line romantic allegory; the two read and discussed Wordsworth, Hazlitt, Milton, Dante, and Shakespeare. Back in London, on November 22, 1817, Keats wrote to Bailey the first of his famous letters to friends (and siblings) on aesthetics, the social role of poetry, and his own sense of poetic mission. Rarely has a poet left such a remarkable record of his thoughts on his own career and its relation to the history of poetry. (The letters also reveal the astonishing speed with which Keats matured as an artist.) Yet by the time Endymion was published in April 1818, Keats's name had been identified with Hunt's 'Cockney School,' and the Tory Blackwood's Magazine delivered a violent attack on Keats as an 'ignorant and unsettled pretender' to culture who had no right to aspire to poetry.

Although the critical reaction to Endymion was infamous for its ferocity, the youthful bard was hardly destroyed by it—despite Byron's famous quip that Keats was 'snuffed out by an Article.' The surprising truth is that he entered upon an interval of astonishing productivity, perhaps the most concentrated period of creativity any English poet has ever known. In the summer of 1818, Keats journeyed to Scotland with Charles Brown, the rugged, worldly businessman who was one of his most loyal friends. There he vowed: 'I shall learn poetry here and shall henceforth write more than ever.' That fall he began composing Hyperion, his imitation of and challenge to Milton's Paradise Lost; even critics saw the work as a major achievement. In December, following his brother Tom's death from tuberculosis, Keats went to live with Charles Brown in Wentworth Place, Hampstead. There, almost in spite of himself, the young poet fell helplessly in love with Fanny Brawne, the eighteen-year-old daughter of a widowed neighbor; a year later they were betrothed. In 1819 Keats produced 'The Eve of St. Agnes,' 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci,' the major odes, Lamia, the Dantean dream-vision The Fall of Hyperion, and the five-act verse tragedy Otho the Great (written in collaboration with Brown).

On February 3, 1820, Keats suffered a pulmonary hemorrhage that signaled an advanced stage of tuberculosis. He quickly broke off his engagement and began what he called a -posthumous existence.' His career as a poet was effectively ended, although the volume Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems, containing the bulk of Keats's claim to immortality, was published that July. In a desperate attempt to recover his health in a milder climate, Keats sailed for Italy in September accompanied by the painter Joseph Severn. Declining an invitation to stay with Shelley in Pisa, the two arrived in Rome on November 15 and took up residence in rooms overlooking the Piazza di Spagna. John Keats died in Rome on the night of February 23, 1821, and was buried there on February 26 in the Protestant Cemetery. On his deathbed Keats requested that his tombstone bear no name, only the words 'Here lies one whose name was writ in water.'

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Read an Excerpt

'Places of nestling green for Poets made.'

Story of Rimini.

I STOOD tip-toe upon a little hill,
The air was cooling, and so very still,
That the sweet buds which with a modest pride
Pull droopingly, in slanting curve aside,
Their scantly leav'd, and finely tapering stems,
Had not yet lost those starry diadems
Caught from the early sobbing of the morn.
The clouds were pure and white as flocks new shorn,
And fresh from the clear brook; sweetly they slept
On the blue fields of heaven, and then there crept ———10
A little noiseless noise among the leaves,
Born of the very sigh that silence heaves:
For not the faintest motion could be seen
Of all the shades that slanted o'er the green.
There was wide wand'ring for the greediest eye,
To peer about upon variety;
Far round the horizon's crystal air to skim,
And trace the dwindled edgings of its brim;
To picture out the quaint, and curious bending
Of a fresh woodland alley, never ending; ———20
Or by the bowery clefts, and leafy shelves,
Guess where the jaunty streams refresh themselves.
I gazed awhile, and felt as light, and free
As though the fanning wings of Mercury
Had play'd upon my heels: I was light-hearted,
And many pleasures to my vision started;
So I straightway began to pluck a posey
Of luxuries bright, milky, soft and rosy.

A bush of May flowers with the bees about them;
Ah, sure no tasteful nook would be without them; ———30
And let a lush laburnum oversweep them,
And let long grass grow round the roots to keep them
Moist, cool and green; and shade the violets,
That they may bind the moss in leafy nets.
A filbert hedge with wild briar overtwined,
And clumps of woodbine taking the soft wind
Upon their summer thrones; there too should be
The frequent chequer of a youngling tree,
That with a score of light green brethren shoots
From the quaint mossiness of aged roots: ——— 40
Round which is heard a spring-head of clear waters
Babbling so wildly of its lovely daughters
The spreading blue-bells: it may haply mourn
That such fair clusters should be rudely torn
From their fresh beds, and scattered thoughtlessly
By infant hands, left on the path to die.

Open afresh your round of starry folds,
Ye ardent marigolds!
Dry up the moisture from your golden lids,
For great Apollo bids ——— 50
That in these days your praises should be sung
On many harps, which he has lately strung;
And when again your dewiness he kisses,
Tell him, I have you in my world of blisses:
So haply when I rove in some far vale,
His mighty voice may come upon the gale.

Here are sweet peas, on tip-toe for a flight:
With wings of gentle flush o'er delicate white,
And taper fingers catching at all things,
To bind them all about with tiny rings. ——— 60

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Table of Contents

Biographical Note v
Introduction xv
Poems (1817)
Dedication. To Leigh Hunt, Esq. 3
'I stood tip-toe upon a little hill' 3
Specimen of an Induction to a Poem 10
Calidore: A Fragment 12
To Some Ladies 17
On receiving a curious Shell and a Copy of Verses from the Same Ladies 18
To * * * * 20
To Hope 22
Imitation of Spenser 24
'Woman! when I behold thee flippant, vain' 25
Epistles 27
To George Felton Mathew 27
To my Brother George 30
To Charles Cowden Clarke 34
Sonnets 38
1 To my Brother George 38
2 To * * * * * 38
3 Written on the Day that Mr. Leigh Hunt left Prison 39
4 'How many bards gild the lapses of time!' 39
5 To a Friend who sent me some Roses 40
6 To G. A. W. 40
7 'O solitude! if I must with thee dwell' 41
8 To my Brothers 41
9 'Keen fitful gusts are whispering here and there' 42
10 'To one who has been long in city pent' 42
11 On first looking into Chapman's Homer 43
12 On leaving some Friends at an early Hour 43
13 Addressed to Haydon 44
14 Addressed to the Same 44
15 On the Grasshopper and Cricket 45
16 To Kosciusko 45
17 'Happy is England' 46
Sleep and Poetry 47
Endymion: A Poetic Romance 59
Lamia, Isabella, the Eve of St. Agnes and Other Poems (1820)
Lamia 187
Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil 208
The Eve of St. Agnes 224
Ode to a Nightingale 236
Ode on a Grecian Urn 238
Ode to Psyche 240
Fancy 242
Ode 245
Lines on the Mermaid Tavern 246
Robin Hood 247
To Autumn 249
Ode on Melancholy 250
Hyperion 251
Posthumous and Fugitive Poems
On Peace 279
Lines written on 29 May, the Anniversary of Charles's Restoration, on hearing the Bells ringing 260
Ode to Apollo 280
'As from the darkening gloom a silver dove' 281
To Lord Byron 282
'Fill for me a brimming bowl' 282
To Chatterton 283
To Emma 283
'Give me Women, Wine, and Snuff' 284
On receiving a Laurel Crown from Leigh Hunt 285
'Come hither all sweet maidens soberly' 285
Written in Digust of Vulgar Superstition 286
'O! how I love, on a fair summer's eve' 286
To a Young Lady who sent me a Laurel Crown 287
'After dark vapours have oppressed our plains' 287
Lines in a Letter to J. H. Reynolds, from Oxford 288
On the Sea 288
To the Ladies who saw me Crowned 289
Nebuchadnezzar's Dream 289
'Haydon! forgive me that I cannot speak' 290
Hymn to Apollo 290
On seeing the Elgin Marbles 291
On 'The Story of Rimini' 292
Written on a Blank Space at the End of Chaucer's 'The Floure and the Leafe' 292
'In drear nighted December' 293
'Unfelt, unheard, unseen' 294
Stanzas 294
'Hither, hither, love--' 295
'Think not of it, sweet one, so--' 296
On sitting down to read 'King Lear' once again 297
To a Cat 297
'Hence Burgundy, Claret, and Port' 298
Lines on seeing a Lock of Milton's Hair 299
'When I have fears that I may cease to be' 301
To the Nile 301
To a Lady seen for a few Moments at Vauxhall 302
'Spenser! a jealous honourer of thine' 302
Answer to a Sonnet by J. H. Reynolds, ending-- 303
Apollo to the Graces 303
'O blush not so!' 304
'O thou whose face hath felt the Winter's wind' 305
The Human Seasons 305
'Where be ye going, you Devon maid?' 306
'For there's Bishop's Teign' 306
To Homer 308
To J. H. Reynolds from Teignmouth 25 March 1818 309
'Over the hill and over the dale' 312
To J. R. 313
Fragment of an Ode to Maia 313
'Sweet, sweet is the greeting of eyes' 314
Acrostic 314
On visiting the Tomb of Burns 315
A Song about Myself 315
To Ailsa Rock 319
Meg Merrilies 319
'Ah! ken ye what I met the day' 320
'All gentle folks who owe a grudge' 322
'Of late two dainties were before me plac'd' 324
Sonnet written in the Cottage where Burns was born 324
Lines written in the Highlands after visiting the Burns Country 325
Staffa 327
'Read me a lesson, Muse, and speak it loud' 328
Ben Nevis: a Dialogue 329
Song 331
To his Brother George in America 332
'Where's the Poet?' 334
Modern Love 334
The Castle Builder: Fragments of a Dialogue 335
'Welcome joy, and welcome sorrow' 337
'Hush, hush! Tread softly! hush, hush, my dear!' 338
The Dove 339
Extracts from an Opera 339
The Eve of Saint Mark 342
To Sleep 346
'Why did I laugh to-night?' 346
On a Dream after reading of Paolo and Francesca in Dante's 'Inferno' 347
'The House of Mourning written by Mr. Scott' 347
'Fame, like a wayward girl' 348
Song of Four Fairies 348
La Belle Dame sans Mercy [Indicator version] 351
La belle dame sans merci 353
'How fever'd is the man, who cannot look' 355
'If by dull rhymes our English must be chain'd' 355
Faery Songs 356
Spenserian Stanzas on Charles Armitage Brown 357
Ode on Indolence 358
A Party of Lovers 360
'The day is gone' 361
Lines to Fanny 361
To Fanny 363
To Fanny 365
'This living hand, now warm and capable' 365
'Bright Star, would I were steadfast as thou art' 365
Two or three Posies 366
'When they were come unto the Faery's Court' 367
'In after-time a sage of mickle lore' 370
Longer Posthumous Poems: Narrative and Dramatic
The Fall of Hyperion: a Vision 373
The Cap and Bells; or, The Jealousies 388
Otho the Great 413
King Stephen 479
Selected Letters
To Benjamin Bailey, 22 November 1817 489
To George and Tom Keats, 21, 27 (?) December 1817 491
To J. H. Reynolds, 3 February 1818 493
To John Taylor, 27 February 1818 494
To John Taylor, 24 April 1818 495
To J. H. Reynolds, 3 May 1818 497
To Richard Woodhouse, 27 October 1818 500
To George and Georgiana Keats, 14 February to 3 May 1819 502
To Fanny Brawne, 25 July 1819 507
To Percy Bysshe Shelley, 16 August 1820 508
To Charles Brown, 30 September 1820 510
To Charles Brown, 30 November 1820 512
Notes 515
Index of Titles 565
Index of First Lines 571
Commentary 577
Study Guide 597
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Reading Group Guide

1. Compare the speakers of "Ode on a Grecian Urn" and "Ode to a Nightingale." How would you describe each speaker's state of mind? In both poems, something exterior to the speaker serves as a catalyst for a vision. What is the vision that each speaker experiences? Are these visions compatible or competing? Discuss why it might be significant that "Ode on a Grecian Urn" ends with a statement while "Ode to a Nightingale" ends with a question.

2. Consider the role of the human senses in Keats's poems. Compare two or more poems that invoke the senses (such as "Ode to a Nightingale" or "The Eve of St. Agnes"). Why are the senses important? Do the poems value certain senses more than others? What is the relationship between the senses and poetic imagination/poetic insight that each of these poems offers?

3. Discuss the role of female figures in Keats's poems. Examine poems such as "The Eve of St. Agnes," and "La Belle Dame sans Merci." How are female figures used in each?

4. Consider Keats's letters as a statement of poetics. Discuss, in particular, Keats's letter to Richard Woodhouse, in which he claims, "A Poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence, because he has no Identity." What does he mean by this? What does he imagine is the poet's function in society-interpreter? creator? visionary? What, according to Keats, motivates the poet to write? Discuss his claim that, "I feel assured I should write from the mere yearning and fondness I have for the Beautiful even if my night's labours should be burnt every morning and no eye ever shine upon them."

5. Discuss Keats's definition of "Negative Capability" in his letter to George and Thomas Keats. What is Negative Capability, and who, according to Keats, possesses it? How might Negative Capability be related to his notion that the poet "has no identity"?

6. Keats's first collection of poems, published in 1817, received a barrage of negative criticism from Tory politicians. Examine John Wilson Croker's and John Gibson Lockhart's critiques of Keats's poems. What, specifically, do they find so offensive about Keats's language? What do they think is the appropriate language for poetry? In what ways does Keats's assertion that "with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration" threaten Croker's and Lockhart's assumptions about poetry?

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