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TO THE NILE.
Sox of the old moon-mountains African!
Chief of the Pyramid and Crocodile!
Such men to honour thee, who, worn with toil,
'Tis ignorance that makes a barren waste Of all beyond itself, thou dost bedew
Green rushes like our rivers, and dost taste The pleasant sun-rise, green isles hast thou too, And to the sea as happily dost haste.
This sonnet seems to have been composed on the 4th of February 1818; for in writing to his brothers (Life, Letters &c., 1848, Volume I, page 98) on the 16th of that month, a Monday, Keats says— "The Wednesday before last, Shelley, Hunt, and I, wrote each a sonnet on the river Nile: some day you shall read them all." Lord Houghton appended Keats's sonnet to the letter, together with Leigh Hunt's, and Shelley's Ozymandias. The Nile sonnet of Shelley, discovered within the last few years, will be found with Hunt's in the Appendix. Of Keats's there is a fair copy among those written in Sir Charles Dilke's copy of Endymion. From this manuscript there are three verbal variations in Lord Houghton's editions, Stream for Chief in line 2, Those for Such in line 7, and them for for in line 8; and the punctuation of the sestet is different -more correct grammatically, but less rapid metrically, and I think less characteristic.
What the Thrush said:
Lines from a Letter to John Hamilton Reynolds.
O THOU whose face hath felt the Winter's wind,
In an undated letter to Reynolds bearing the postmark " Hampstead, Feb. 19, 1818" (Life, Letters &c., 1848, Volume I, page 87), occurs the passage-" I was led into these thoughts, my dear Reynolds, by the beauty of the morning operating on a sense of idleness. I have not read any books-the morning said I was right— I had no idea but of the morning, and the thrush said I was right, seeming to say,"-and these fourteen lines of blank verse follow immediately on the word say, so that the title I have ventured to give the lines accords at all events with the facts. Keats seems to have been really writing in a kind of spiritual parallelism with the thrush's song: it will be noted that line 5 repeats the form of line 1, line 8 of line 4, while lines II and 12 are a still closer repetition of lines 9 and 10; so that the poem follows in a sense the thrush's method of repetition. A later poet, perhaps a closer and more conscious observer than Keats, namely Robert Browning, says of the same bird in his Home-Thoughts from Abroad
That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over
Having seen the original letter to Reynolds, I have collated the text
O fret not after knowledge-I have none,
And yet my song comes native with the warmth. O fret not after knowledge-I have none,
And yet the Evening listens. He who saddens At thought of idleness cannot be idle,
And he's awake who thinks himself asleep.
of Keats's lines with the manuscript, wherein they are not indented as above. The arrangement has been adopted in order to emphasize the repetitions, and to suggest the form of the sonnet. Having regard to the varieties of sonnet metre used by Keats, his bold boyish attempt (Volume I, page 82) at emancipation in making five syllables without a rhyme serve as a full line, and his sonnet protest further on in the present volume against chaining our English "by dull rhymes", I think it hardly fantastic to suppose that he consciously translated the wild melody of the thrush into an unrhymed
Written in answer to a Sonnet ending thus:
Dark eyes are dearer far
Than those that mock the hyacinthine bell—
BY J. H. REYNOLDS.
BLUE! 'Tis the life of heaven,-the domain
The bosomer of clouds, gold, grey and dun.
And all its vassal streams, pools numberless, May rage, and foam, and fret, but never can
Subside, if not to dark blue nativeness. Blue! Gentle cousin of the forest-green,
Married to green in all the sweetest flowers,—
The sonnet of John Hamilton Reynolds to which this is a reply appeared in 1821 in The Garden of Florence &c., and will be found in the Appendix. From a letter signed "A. J. Horwood" which was published in The Athenæum of the 3rd of June 1876, it would seem that this poem, like many others, must have been written out more than once by Keats; for, in a copy of The Garden of Florence mentioned in that letter, Keats's sonnet is transcribed, seemingly, from a different manuscript from that used by Lord Houghton when he gave the sonnet in the Life, Letters, and Literary Remains (Volume II, page 295) in 1848. The transcript quoted in The Athenæum reads hue for life in line 1, and bright for wide in line 2, and gives line 6 thus
With all his tributary streams, pools numberless,
a foot too long: it also reads to for of in line 9. These strike me
Forget-me-not,-the Blue bell,-and, that Queen
as decidedly genuine variations, but indicative of an earlier state of the poem than that adopted in the text. The punctuation of The Athenæum version is characteristic of Keats, and I have adopted it in part. Lord Houghton dates the sonnet February 1818.