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Fragment of an Ode to Maia, written on
May Day 1818.
Mother of Hermes! and still youthful Maia
May I sing to thee
Or may I woo thee
Leaving great verse unto a little clan?
Of heaven and few ears,
Content as theirs,
First given in the Life, Letters &c. (1848) in a letter to Reynolds from Teignmouth, dated the 3rd of May 1818, wherein Keats says -“it is impossible to know how far knowledge will console us for the death of a friend, and the ‘ills that flesh is heir to.' With respect to the affections and poetry, you must know by sympathy my thoughts that way, and I dare say these few lines will be but a ratification. I wrote them on May-day, and intend to finish the ode all in good time.” Lord Houghton very aptly observes—" It is much to be regretted he did not finish this Ode; this commencement is in his best manner : the sentiment and expression perfect, as every traveller in modern Greece will recognize.” An Ode so propitiously begun would, if completed, have been a worthy ending for the Devonshire series, though including what I believe I am not alone in regarding as Keats's masterpiece, - Isabella.
Hush, hush! tread softly! hush, hush my dear!
All the house is asleep, but we know very well That the jealous, the jealous old bald-pate may hear, Tho' you've padded his night-cap–O sweet Isabel !
Tho' your feet are more light than a Fairy's feet,
Who dances on bubbles where brooklets meet,Hush, hush! soft tiptoe! hush, hush my dear! For less than a nothing the jealous can hear.
No leaf doth tremble, no ripple is there
On the river,-all's still, and the night's sleepy eye Closes up, and forgets all its Lethean care, Charm'd to death by the drone of the humming May
fly; And the Moon, whether prudish or complaisant,
Has fled to her bower, well knowing I want No light in the dusk, no torch in the gloom, But my Isabel's eyes, and her lips pulp'd with bloom.
As far as I have been able to trace this poem, it appeared for the first time in the Life, Letters, and Literary Remains (1848), where it is dated 1818. The statement in the Aldine edition of 1876 that it was first printed in The Literary Pocket-book or Companion for the Lover of Nature and Art, for 1818, must derive from some misapprehension, as there is no such book. The Pocket-book was started by Hunt in 1819; and in a copy of the book for that year
3. Lift the latch ! ah gently ! ah tenderly-sweet!
We are dead if that latchet gives one little clink ! Well done—now those lips, and a flowery seatThe old man may sleep, and the planets may wink;
The shut rose shall dream of our loves, and awake
Full blown, and such warmth for the morning's take, The stock-dove shall hatch her soft brace and shall coo, While I kiss to the melody, aching all through!
now in Sir Charles Dilke's possession Keats wrote the Song; but it is not printed in that or in either of the four later Pocket-books which complete the series. For the text of the song I follow the evidently later manuscript in Sir Charles Dilke's copy of Endymion. The variations shown by the Pocket-book are, in stanza 1, line 7, tread softly for soft tiptoe ; in stanza 2, line 6, Hath for Has, and line 7, darkness for dusk; in stanza 3, line 2, сhink for clink, line 4, dream for sleep, line 5, may for shall, and line 6, morning for morning's. The final couplet is wanting in the later manuscript, with which Lord Houghton's version corresponds in the main. Here, however, previous texts read his soft twin-eggs and coo; and I am compelled to revert to the reading of the only manuscript I know of that couplet. It must be a later reading, because Keats never damages his work; and his, if a correct transcript from a third manuscript, is poetically inferior to her, while soft is inapplicable to eggs-applicable to the birds substituted. With lines 5 and 6 compare, in the garden song in Maud,
But the rose was awake all night for your sake,... The Laureate's sumptuous stanza can well afford the slight indebtedness.
EXTRACTS FROM AN OPERA.
! WERE I one of the Olympian twelve, Their godships should pass this into a law,That when a man doth set himself in toil After some beauty veiled far away, Each step he took should make his lady's hand More soft, more white, and her fair cheek more fair And for each briar-berry he might eat, A kiss should bud upon the tree of love, And pulp and ripen richer every hour, To melt away upon the traveller's lips.
First given among the Literary Remains in Volume II of the Life, Letters &c. (1848), and assigned to the year 1818.
When wedding fiddles are a-playing,
Huzza for folly O! And when maidens go a-Maying,
Huzza, &c. When a milk-pail is upset,
Huzza, &c. And the clothes left in the wet,
Huzza, &c. When the barrel's set abroach,
Huzza, &c. When Kate Eyebrow keeps a coach,
Huzza, &c. When the pig is over-roasted,
Huzza, &c. And the cheese is over-toasted,
Huzza, &c. When Sir Snap is with his lawyer,
Huzza, &c. And Miss Chip has kiss'd the sawyer,