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Written on a Blank Space at the end of Chaucer's
Tale of “The Floure and the Lefe.”
This pleasant tale is like a little copse :
The honied lines so freshly interlace
To keep the reader in so sweet a place,
Come cool and suddenly against his face,
And by the wandering melody may trace
This sonnet was published in The Examiner for the 16th of March 1817, having been written in February 1817 in the late Charles Cowden Clarke's “miniature 18mo. copy of Chaucer," as recorded in Clarke's Recollections of Keats in The Gentleman's Magazine. When Clarke died, he bequeathed the Chaucer to Alexander Ireland, author of the Leigh Hunt, Lamb, and Hazlitt Bibliography. The sonnet is said to have been “an extempore effusion, and without the alteration of a single word”; but as Clarke seems to have been asleep when it was written we are justified in construing the word extempore with a certain latitude. It was certainly most unusual for-Keats to write that much without a single erasure, and it is quite possible that he jotted the sonnet down in pencil in a note-book which he certainly carried at that time and certainly did draft sonnets in. In any case he probably had ample time and quiet, while Clarke was sleeping, to elaborate the two highly finished quatrains in his mind: the third quatrain and the couplet are of inferior merit, and might well be extemporary. This early performance seems to have
What mighty power has this gentle story!
I that do ever feel a thirst for glory,
Meekly upon the grass, as those whose sobbings
quite won the heart of the genial critic Hunt, for in inserting it in his paper he characterized it as exquisite”, and added that the author might" already lay true claim to that title :
The youngest he That sits in shadow of Apollo's tree.” It should perhaps be recorded in this place that Mr. Skeat finds in the language and prosody of The Floure and the Lefe very strong grounds for rejecting it from the roll of Chaucer's works.
To Haydon, with a Sonnet written on seeing the
Haydon ! forgive me that I cannot speak
Definitively on these mighty things;
Forgive me that I have not Eagle's wingsThat what I want I know not where to seek : And think that I would not be over meek
In rolling out upfollow'd thunderings,
Even to the steep of Heliconian springs,
Whose else? In this who touch thy vesture's hem ?
In regard to this subject it will be remembered that Haydon had been most energetic in preaching the gospel of the Elgin Marbles, and that his friends claimed for him the distinction of being the first to apply to modern art the “principles” of those immortal works. These two sonnets appeared in The Examiner for the 9th of March 1817, signed “ J. K.”; but this did not prevent Mr. James Elmes from letting them do duty for “ Original Poetry” in his Annals of the Fine Arts, where they re-appeared in No. 8 (that, seemingly, for April 1818), with the full signature" John Keats.” A comparison of the two versions leads me to the supposition that the Annals merely reprinted “copy” cut from The Examiner, with slight typographical laxity : I do not trace two manuscripts. Lord Houghton transposes the two sonnets, and alters the headings accordingly, reading indescribable for undescribable in line 10 of the
For when men star'd at what was most divine
With browless idiotism-o'erwise phlegmThou hadst beheld the Hesperean shine
Of their star in the East, and gone to worship them.
On secing the Elgin Marbles.
My spirit is too weak—mortality
Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep,
And each imagin'd pinnacle and steep Of godlike hardship, tells me I must die Like a sick Eagle looking at the sky.
Yet 'tis a gentle luxury to weep
That I have not the cloudy winds to keep, Fresh for the opening of the morning's eye. Such dim-conceived glories of the brain
Bring round the heart an undescribable feud ; So do these wonders a most dizzy pain,
That mingles Grecian grandeur with the rude Wasting of old Time—with a billowy main
A sun-a shadow of a magnitude.
sonnet on the Marbles, and giving lines 12 and 13 of the other thus
With brainless idiotism and o'erwise phlegm,
Thou hadst beheld the full Hesperian shine... Both the versions published in Keats's life-time read as in the text, except that Elmes has Hesperian with an i, probably not noting that the accent was to be read on the third syllable-Hesperian.
ON A PICTURE OF LEANDER.
Come hither all sweet maidens soberly,
Down-looking aye, and with a chasten'd light,
Hid in the fringes of your eyelids white,
Untouch'd, a victim of your beauty bright,
Sinking away to his young spirit's night,-
This sonnet appeared in the year 1829 both in The Gem, a Literary Annual, edited by Thomas Hood, and in Galignani's edition of Shelley, Keats, and Coleridge. In the same volume of The Gem wherein Hood inserted this sonnet, he also published his own punning verses On a Picture of Hero and Leander,
Why, Lover, why
Such a Water-rover ?
For coming half seas over? &c. I doubt whether so real an admirer and in some senses disciple of Keats as Hood was would have thought it in good taste to invite a comparison between the flimsy cleverness of these verses and the heart-felt beauty of the sonnet ; and I should explain to myself as an editorial exigency the not over fortunate juxtaposition. Thus, the editor of The Gem finds himself in possession of a lovely sonnet on a picture, and obtains an engraving of Hero and Leander to insert with it : when the engraving comes, it turns out to representnot the death of Leander, but his successful landing and reception by Hero, with Cupid Auttering above, torch in hand, and Hero's