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She wrapp'd it up; and for its tomb did choose

A garden-pot, wherein she laid it by, And cover'd it with mould, and o'er it set Sweet Basil, which her tears kept ever wet.

LIII.
And she forgot the stars, the moon, and sun,

And she forgot the blue above the trees,
And she forgot the dells where waters run,

And she forgot the chilly autumn breeze;
She had no knowledge when the day was done,

And the new morn she saw not : but in peace
Hung over her sweet Basil evermore,
And moisten'd it with tears unto the core.

LIV.
And so she ever fed it with thin tears,

Whence thick, and green, and beautiful it grew,
So that it smelt more balmy than its peers

Of Basil-tusts in Florence; for it drew Nurture besides, and life, from human fears,

From the fast mouldering head there shut from view: So that the jewel, safely casketed, Came forth, and in perfumed leafits spread.

LV.
O Melancholy, linger here awhile !

O Music, Music, breathe despondingly!
O Echo, Echo, from some sombre isle,

Unknown, Lethean, sigh to us— sigh !

(LIV) Whether the “ savage and tartarly" assailants of Keats's day availed themselves of the word leafits in the 8th line for an accusation of word.coining, I do not know ; but as far as I have been able to ascertain this diminutive of leaf is peculiar to the present passage.

70

could not take a better opportunity of increasing the public acquaintance with this exquisite production, which is founded on the popular superstition connected with the day. St. Agnes was a Roman virgin, who suffered martyrdom in the reign of Dioclesian. Her parents, a few days after her decease, are said to have had a vision of her, surrounded by angels, and attended by a white lamb, which afterwards became sacred to her. In the Catholic church formerly the nuns used to bring a couple of lambs to her altar during mass. The superstition is (for we believe it is still to be found) that by taking certain measures of divination, damsels may get a sight of their future husbands in a dream. The ordinary process seems to have been by fasting. Aubrey (as quoted in Brand's 'Popular Antiquities') mentions another, which is, to take a row of pins, and pull them out one by one, saying a Pater-noster ; after which, upon going to bed, the dream is sure to ensue. Brand quotes Ben Jonson :

And on sweet St. Agnes' night,
Please you with the promis'd sight-
Some of husbands, some of lovers,

Which an empty dream discovers. But another poet has now taken up the creed in good poetic earnest; and if the superstition should go out in every other respect, in his rich and loving pages it will live for ever.”

Hunt is wrong in saying the 21st of January is the Eve of St. Agnes. That day is the Feast of St. Agnes : the Eve or Vigil is of course the 20th. An account of the superstitions connected with this Vigil, the English “ Halloween,” will be found in Chambers's Book of Days.-H. B. F.]

THE

EVE OF ST. AGNES.

1. St. Agnes' Eve-Ah, bitter chill it was! The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold; The hare limp'd trembling through the frozen grass, And silent was the flock in woolly fold : Numb were the Beadsman's fingers, while he told His rosary, and while his frosted breath, Like pious incense from a censer old,

Seem'd taking flight for heaven, without a death, Past the sweet Virgin's picture, while his prayer he saith.

(1) Hunt, quoting the first line as an illustration for the paper A Now;" descriptive of a Cold Day in his London Journal for the 3rd of December 1834, changes the sex of the owl and reads

“The owl, with all her feathers, is a-cold, or you think her so." In his comment on the whole stanza he again misquotes the line. He says, “What a complete feeling of wintertime is here, together with an intimation of those Catholic elegancies, of which we are to have more in the poem !

The owl, with all his feathers, was a-cold. Could he have selected an image more warm and comfortable in itself, and, therefore, better contradicted by the season? We feel the

II.
His prayer he saith, this patient, holy man;
Then takes his lamp, and riseth from his knees,
And back returneth, meagre, barefoot, wan,
Along the chapel aisle by slow degrees :
The sculptur'd dead, on each side, seem to freeze,
Emprison'd in black, purgatorial rails :
Knights, ladies, praying in dumb orat'ries,

He passeth by; and his weak spirit fails
To think how they may ache in icy hoods and mails.

plump, feathery bird in his nook, shivering in spite of his natural household warmth, and staring out at the strange weather. The hare cringing through the chill grass is very piteous, and the silent flock' very patient; and how quiet and gentle, as well as winterly, are all these circumstances, and fit to open a quiet and gentle poem ! The breath of the pilgrim, likened to 'pious incense,' completes them, and is a simile in admirable 'keeping,' as the painters call it ; that is to say, is thoroughly harmonious with itself and all that is going on. The breath of the pilgrim is visible, so is that of a censer ; his object is religious, and so is the use of the censer ; the censer, after its fashion, may be said to pray, and its breath, like the pilgrim's, ascends to heaven. Young students of poetry may, in this image alone, see what imagination is, under one of its most poetical forms, and how thoroughly it tells.' There is no part of it unfitting. It is not applicable in one point, and the reverse in another.”

In the letter which Keats wrote to Taylor about an alteration made in stanza vii (which see) he explains that he used the word chill to avoid the echo cold in the second line"; from which we may infer that the publisher had altered chill to cold! We may safely assume that the obsolete form a-cold was imported straight from Shakespeare, since in Keats's copy of the 1808 folio Scene IV of Act III of King Lear bears evidence of having been read shortly after Tom Keats's death ; and the words poore Tom, in the immediate neighbourhood of Tom's a-cold, are underlined, the date Sunday evening, Oct". 4, 1818, being written alongside by Keats.

(11) Hunt says “The germ of the thought, or something like it, is in Dante, where he speaks of the figures that perform the part of sustaining columns in architecture. Keats had read Dante in Mr.

III.
Northward he turneth through a little door,
And scarce three steps, ere Music's golden tongue

Carey's translation, for which he had a great respect. He began to read him afterwards in Italian, which language he was mastering with surprising quickness. A friend of ours has a copy of Ariosto, containing admiring marks of his pen. But the same thought may have originally struck one poet as well as another. Perhaps there are few that have not felt something like it in seeing the figures upon tombs. Here, however, for the first time, we believe, in English poetry, it is expressed, and with what feeling and elegance ! Most wintry as well as penitential is the word 'aching,' in ‘icy hoods and mails;' and most felicitous the introduction of the Catholic idea in the word 'purgatorial.' The very colour of the rails is made to assume a meaning, and to shadow forth the gloom of the punishment

Imprisoned in black purgatorial rails." The passage of Dante referred to is in Canto x of the Purgatorio, and relates to "the souls of those who expiate the sin of pride, and who are bent down beneath the weight of heavy stones”. I quote the version of Cary, as that with which Keats was familiar :

As, to support incumbent floor or roof,
For corbel, is a figure sometimes seen,
That crumples up its knees unto its breast ;
With the feign'd posture, stirring ruth unfeign'd
In the beholder's fancy ; so I saw
These fashion'd, when I noted well their guise.

Each, as his back was laden, came indeed
Or more or less contracted; and it seem'd
As he, who showd most patience in his look,

Wailing exclaim'd : “I can endure no more.” Cary adds the following note to this passage : “ Chillingworth, cap. vi. $ 54, speaks of 'those crouching anticks, which seem in great buildings to labour under the weight they bear'. And Lord Shaftesbury has a similar illustration in his Essay on Wit and Humour, p. 4. § 3." (111) Hunt italicizes and comments thus :

Flatter'd to tears this aged man and poor. This 'flattered' is exquisite. A true poet is by nature a metaVOL. II.

G

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