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On sitting down to read King Lear once again.
GOLDEN tongued Romance, with serene lute !
Leave melodizing on this wintry day,
Betwixt damnation and impassion'd clay
Must I burn through ; once more humbly assay The bitter-sweet of this Shakespearian fruit :
This sonnet appears to have been written on the 22nd of January 1818, in the folio Shakespeare containing the manuscript of the preceding poem ; but I think Keats must have drafted it before writing it in the Shakespeare ; and there is a second manuscript in Sir Charles Dilke's copy of Endymion. A third may perhaps be presumed to be in America, as Keats, writing to his brothers on the 23rd of January 1818, transcribed the sonnet for them with the following remarks :
"I think a little change has taken place in my intellect lately ; I cannot bear to be uninterested or unemployed, I, who for so long a time have been addicted to passiveness. Nothing is finer for the purposes of great productions than a very gradual ripening of the intellectual powers. As an instance of this-observe—I sat down yesterday to read King Lear'once again : the thing appeared to demand the prologue of a sonnet. I wrote it, and began to read. (I know you would like to see it.)”
A copy of the sonnet follows, and then the words, “So you see I am getting at it with a sort of determination and strength,...” So far as I have ascertained, the first appearance of the sonnet was with this letter, in the Life, Letters &c. (1848), Volume I, pages 96 and
Chief Poet! and ye clouds of Albion,
Begetters of our deep eternal theme !
Let me not wander in a barren dream,
97 ; but Medwin, in his Life of Shelley (1847, Volume II, page 106) records the belief that the sonnet had already appeared in a periodical. Lord Houghton gave the title as above in 1848 ; and so it stands in both the manuscripts I have seen; but in the Aldine edition of 1876 it is Written before re-reading King Lear. There are several points in which the manuscripts vary from the text as previously printed ; and the new readings adopted above are from these manuscripts. The first variation to note is in line 2, where previous versions stand thus
Fair plumed Syren ! Queen ! if far away! Lord Houghton also reads volume for pages in line 4, Hell torment for damnation in line 6, drops the word humbly from line 7, and the hyphen between bitter and sweet in line 8, and gives line it thus
When I am through the old oak forest gonereading also with for in in line 13. In one of the manuscripts this is cancelled in favour of our in line 10.
TO THE NILE.
Son of the old moon-mountains African !
Chief of the Pyramid and Crocodile !
We call thee fruitful, and, that very while,
Art thou so fruitful ? or dost thou beguile
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 yohn Hamilton Reynolds.
THOU whose face hath felt the Winter's wind, Whose eye has seen the snow-clouds hung in mist, And the black elm tops 'mong the freezing stars,
To thee the spring will be a harvest-time.
Of supreme darkness which thou feddest on
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 rightI 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 11 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
The first fine careless rapture !
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
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 be consciously translated the wild melody of the thrush into an unrhymed sonnet-structure.