John Keats

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The genius of poetry must work out its own salvation in a man; it cannot be matured by law and precept, but by sensation and watchfulness in itself.

John Keats (October 31, 1795February 23, 1821) was one of the principal poets of the English Romantic movement.

Sourced[edit]

Each imagin'd pinnacle and steep
Of godlike hardship tells me I must die
Like a sick Eagle looking at the sky.
On the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.
  • 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.
  • In drear-nighted December,
    Too happy, happy tree,
    Thy branches ne'er remember
    Their green felicity.
  • But were there ever any
    Writh'd not of passed joy?
    The feel of not to feel it,
    When there is none to heal it,
    Nor numbed sense to steel it,
    Was never said in rhyme.
    • "Stanzas", st. 3.
  • It keeps eternal whisperings around
    Desolate shores, and with its mighty swell
    Gluts twice ten thousand Caverns, till the spell
    Of Hecate leaves them their old shadowy sound.
  • When I have fears that I may cease to be
    Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
    Before high piled books, in charact’ry,
    Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain;
    When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
    Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
    And think that I may never live to trace
    Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
    And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
    That I shall never look upon thee more,
    Never have relish in the faery power
    Of unreflecting love! — then on the shore
    Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
    Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.
  • Shed no tear! O shed no tear!
    The flower will bloom another year.

    Weep no more! O weep no more!
    Young buds sleep in the root's white core.
    • "Faery Songs", I (1818).
  • This living hand, now warm and capable
    Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
    And in the icy silence of the tomb,
    So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
    That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood
    So in my veins red life might stream again,
    And thou be conscience-calm'd — see here it is —
    I hold it towards you.
  • Bright star! would I were stedfast as thou art-
    Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
    And watching with eternal lids apart,
    Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
    The moving waters at their priestlike task
    Of pure ablution round earth's human shores.
  • None can usurp this height...
    But those to whom the miseries of the world
    Are misery, and will not let them rest.
  • To his sight
    The husk of natural objects opens quite
    To the core; and every secret essence there
    Reveals the elements of good and fair;
    Making him see, where Learning hath no light.
    • "The Poet," London Magazine (Oct 1821).
  • Here lies one whose name was writ in water.
    • Epitaph for himself (1821).
  • "My chest of books divide amongst my friends."
    • Keats' last poem which doubled as his last will and testament.
  • Nought but a lovely sighing of the wind
    Along the reedy stream; a half-heard strain,
    Full of sweet desolation—balmy pain.
    • I stood tip-toe upon a little Hill; reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • The sweet converse of an innocent mind.
    • Sonnet, To Solitude; reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • The day is gone, and all its sweets are gone!
    Sweet voice, sweet lips, soft hand, and softer breast.
    • Sonnet, The Day is gone; reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).

Letters (1817-1820)[edit]

  • I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart's affections and the truth of imagination — what the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth — whether it existed before or not.
    • Letter to Benjamin Bailey (November 22, 1817).
  • The imagination may be compared to Adam's dream — he awoke and found it truth.
    • Letter to Benjamin Bailey (November 22, 1817).
  • O for a life of Sensations rather than of Thoughts!
    • Letter to Benjamin Bailey (November 22, 1817).
  • I scarcely remember counting upon happiness — I look not for it if it be not in the present hour — nothing startles me beyond the moment. The setting sun will always set me to rights, or if a sparrow come before my Window I take part in its existence and pick about the gravel.
    • Letter to Benjamin Bailey (November 22, 1817).
  • At once it struck me what quality went to form a man of achievement, especially in literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously — I mean negative capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.
    • Letter to George and Thomas Keats (December 22, 1817).
  • They will explain themselves — as all poems should do without any comment.
    • Letter to George Keats (1818).
  • Nothing is finer for the purposes of great productions than a very gradual ripening of the intellectual powers.
    • Letter to his brother, (January 23, 1818).
  • Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one's soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself, but with its subject.
    • Letter to John Hamilton Reynolds (Februrary 3, 1818).
  • We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us — and if we do not agree, seems to put its hand in its breeches pocket. Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one's soul, and does not startle or amaze with itself, but with its subject.
    • Letter to John Hamilton Reynolds (February 3, 1818).
  • Many have original minds who do not think it — they are led away by custom — Now it appears to me that almost any man may like the spider spin from his own inwards his own citadel.
    • Letter to John Hamilton Reynolds (February 19, 1818).
  • In Poetry I have a few axioms, and you will see how far I am from their centre. I think Poetry should surprise by a fine excess and not by singularity — it should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance — Its touches of Beauty should never be halfway thereby making the reader breathless instead of content: the rise, the progress, the setting of imagery should like the Sun come natural to him — shine over him and set soberly although in magnificence leaving him in the luxury of twilight — but it is easier to think what Poetry should be than to write it — and this leads me on to another axiom. That if Poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree it had better not come at all.
    • Letter to John Taylor (February 27, 1818).
  • Scenery is fine — but human nature is finer.
    • Letter to Benjamin Bailey (March 13, 1818).
  • Every mental pursuit takes its reality and worth from the ardour of the pursuer.
    • Letter to Benjamin Bailey (March 13, 1818).
  • Axioms in philosophy are not axioms until they are proved upon our pulses: we read fine things but never feel them to the full until we have gone the same steps as the author.
    • Letter to John Hamilton Reynolds (May 3, 1818).
  • I compare human life to a large mansion of many apartments, two of which I can only describe, the doors of the rest being as yet shut upon me.
    • Letter to John Hamilton Reynolds (May 3, 1818).
  • I am certain I have not a right feeling towards women - at this moment I am striving to be just to them, but I cannot. Is it because they fall so far beneath my boyish imagination? When I was a schoolboy I thought a fair woman a pure Godess; my mind was a soft nest in which some one of them slept, though she knew it not.
    • Letter to Benjamin Bailey (July 18, 1818).
  • There is an awful warmth about my heart like a load of immortality.
    • Letter to John Hamilton Reynolds (September 22, 1818).
  • I begin to get a little acquainted with my own strength and weakness. Praise or blame has but a momentary effect on the man whose love of beauty in the abstract makes him a severe critic on his own works.
    • Letter to James Hessey (October 9, 1818).
  • I have written independently without Judgment. I may write independently, and with Judgment, hereafter. The Genius of Poetry must work out its own salvation in a man: It cannot be matured by law and precept, but by sensation and watchfulness in itself — That which is creative must create itself — In Endymion, I leaped headlong into the sea, and thereby have become better acquainted with the Soundings, the quicksands, and the rocks, than if I had stayed upon the green shore, and piped a, silly pipe, and took tea and comfortable advice. I was never afraid of failure; for I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest.
    • Letter to James Hessey (October 9, 1818).
  • I think I shall be among the English Poets after my death.
    • Letter to George and Georgiana Keats (October 14, 1818).
  • The poetical character... is not itself — it has no self — it is every thing and nothing — It has no character — it enjoys light and shade; it lives in gusto, be it fair or foul, high or low, rich or poor, mean or elevated. — It has as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen. What shocks the virtuous philospher, delights the camelion poet.
    • Letter to Richard Woodhouse (October 27, 1818).
  • A poet is the most unpoetical of anything in existence; because he has no identity — he is continually informing — and filling some other body.
    • Letter to Richard Woodhouse (October 27, 1818).
  • A man's life of any worth is a continual allegory — and very few eyes can see the mystery of life — a life like the Scriptures, figurative... Lord Byron cuts a figure, but he is not figurative. Shakespeare led a life of allegory: his works are the comments on it.
    • Letter to George and Georgiana Keats (February 14 - May 3, 1819).
  • Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced — Even a proverb is no proverb to you till your Life has illustrated it.
    • Letter to George and Georgiana Keats (February 14-May 3, 1819).
  • I myself am pursuing the same instinctive course as the veriest human animal you can think of — I am, however young, writing at random — straining at particles of light in the midst of a great darkness — without knowing the bearing of any one assertion, of any one opinion. Yet may I not in this be free from sin?
    • Letter to George and Georgiana Keats (March 19, 1819).
  • Call the world if you please "The vale of soul-making."
    • Letter to George and Georgiana Keats (April 21, 1819).
  • I have two luxuries to brood over in my walks, your loveliness and the hour of my death. O that I could have possession of them both in the same minute.
    • To Fanny Brawne (July 25, 1819)
  • I have nothing to speak of but my self-and what can I say but what I feel
    • Letter to John Hamilton Reynolds (August 24 1819).
  • "If I should die," said I to myself, "I have left no immortal work behind me — nothing to make my friends proud of my memory — but I have loved the principle of beauty in all things, and if I had had time I would have made myself remembered."
    • To Fanny Brawne (c. February 1820).
  • You are always new. The last of your kisses was ever the sweetest; the last smile the brightest; the last movement the gracefullest.
    • Letter to Fanny Brawne (March 1820).
  • You might curb your magnanimity, and be more of an artist, and load every rift of your subject with ore.
  • I can scarcely bid you good-bye, even in a letter. I always made an awkward bow. God bless you!
    • Letter to Charles Armitage Brown (November 30, 1820).

Poems (1817)[edit]

  • I stood tip-toe upon a little hill,
    The air was cooling, and so very still,
    That the sweet buds which with a modest pride
    Pull droopingly, in slanting curve aside,
    Their scantly leaved, and finely tapering stems,
    Had not yet lost those starry diadems
    Caught from the early sobbing of the morn.
  • And then there crept
    A little noiseless noise among the leaves,
    Born of the very sigh that silence heaves.
    • "I Stood Tiptoe", l. 10.
  • Open afresh your round of starry folds,
    Ye ardent marigolds!
    • "I Stood Tiptoe", l. 47.
  • Why, you might read two sonnets, ere they reach
    To where the hurrying freshnesses aye preach
    A natural sermon o’er their pebbly beds;
    Where swarms of minnows show their little heads,
    Staying their wavy bodies ’gainst the streams,
    To taste the luxury of sunny beams
    Temper’d with coolness.
    • "I Stood Tiptoe", l. 72.
  • Sometimes goldfinches one by one will drop
    From low hung branches; little space they stop;
    But sip, and twitter, and their feathers sleek;
    Then off at once, as in a wanton freak:
    Or perhaps, to show their black, and golden wings
    Pausing upon their yellow flutterings.
    • "I Stood Tiptoe", l. 87.
  • E’en like the passage of an angel’s tear
    That falls through the clear ether silently.
    • "Sonnet. To One Who Has Been Long in City Pent".
  • Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
    And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
    Round many western islands have I been
    Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.

    Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
    That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne,
    Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
    Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
    Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
    When a new planet swims into his ken;
    Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
    He stared at the Pacific, and all his men
    Look'd at each other with a wild surmise,
    Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
  • And other spirits there are standing apart
    Upon the forehead of the age to come;
    These, these will give the world another heart,
    And other pulses. Hear ye not the hum
    Of mighty workings in a distant mart?
    Listen awhile ye nations, and be dumb.
  • Stop and consider! life is but a day;
    A fragile dew-drop on its perilous way
    From a tree’s summit.
  • O for ten years, that I may overwhelm
    Myself in poesy; so I may do the deed
    That my own soul has to itself decreed.
    • "Sleep and Poetry", st. 6.
  • A drainless shower
    Of light is poesy; ’tis the supreme of power;
    ’Tis might half slumb’ring on its own right arm.
    • "Sleep and Poetry", st. 11
  • But strength alone though of the Muses born
    Is like a fallen angel: trees uptorn,
    Darkness, and worms, and shrouds, and sepulchres
    Delight it; for it feeds upon the burrs,
    And thorns of life; forgetting the great end
    Of poesy, that it should be a friend
    To sooth the cares, and lift the thoughts of man.
    • "Sleep and Poetry", st. 11

Endymion (1818)[edit]

Full text online
  • There is not a fiercer hell than the failure in a great object.
    • Preface
  • The imagination of a boy is healthy, and the mature imagination of a man is healthy; but there is a space of life between, in which the soul is in a ferment, the character undecided, the way of life uncertain, the ambition thicksighted: thence proceeds mawkishness, and the thousand bitters which those men I speak of must necessarily taste in going over the following pages.
    • Preface
  • A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
    Its loveliness increases; it will never
    Pass into nothingness
    ; but still will keep
    A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
    Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
    • Bk. I, l. 1.
  • In spite of all,
    Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
    From our dark spirits.
    • Bk. I, l. 11.
  • And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
    We have imagined for the mighty dead;
    All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
    An endless fountain of immortal drink,
    Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.
    • Bk. I, l. 20
  • Nor do we merely feel these essences
    For one short hour; no, even as the trees
    That whisper round a temple become soon
    Dear as the temple’s self, so does the moon,
    The passion poesy, glories infinite,
    Haunt us till they become a cheering light
    Unto our souls, and bound to us so fast,
    That, whether there be shine, or gloom o’ercast,
    They alway must be with us, or we die.
    • Bk. I, l. 25.
  • O magic sleep! O comfortable bird,
    That broodest o’er the troubled sea of the mind
    Till it is hush’d and smooth!
    • Bk. I, l. 453.
  • Time, that aged nurse,
    Rocked me to patience.
    • Bk. I, l. 705.
  • Wherein lies happiness? In that which becks
    Our ready minds to fellowship divine,
    A fellowship with essence; till we shine,
    Full alchemiz’d, and free of space. Behold
    The clear religion of heaven!
    • Bk. I, l. 777.
  • Ghosts of melodious prophesyings rave
    Round every spot where trod Apollo's foot
    ;
    Bronze clarions awake, and faintly bruit,
    Where long ago a giant battle was;
    And, from the turf, a lullaby doth pass
    In every place where infant Orpheus slept.
    Feel we these things? — that moment have we stept
    Into a sort of oneness, and our state
    Is like a floating spirit's.
    But there are
    Richer entanglements, enthralments far
    More self-destroying, leading, by degrees,
    To the chief intensity: the crown of these
    Is made of love and friendship, and sits high
    Upon the forehead of humanity.
    • Bk. I, l. 789.
  • My restless spirit never could endure
    To brood so long upon one luxury,
    Unless it did, though fearfully, espy
    A hope beyond the shadow of a dream.
    • Bk. I, l. 854.
  • Pleasure is oft a visitant; but pain
    Clings cruelly to us.
    • Bk. I, l. 906.
  • He ne'er is crown'd
    With immortality, who fears to follow
    Where airy voices lead.
    • Bk. II, l. 211.
  • 'Tis the pest
    Of love, that fairest joys give most unrest.
    • Bk. II, l. 365.
  • To Sorrow
    I bade good-morrow,
    And thought to leave her far away behind;
    But cheerly, cheerly,
    She loves me dearly;
    She is so constant to me, and so kind:
    I would deceive her
    And so leave her,
    But ah! she is so constant and so kind.
    • Bk. IV, l. 173.
  • So many, and so many, and such glee.
    • Bk. IV.

La Belle Dame sans Merci (1819)[edit]

Full text online
  • O, what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
    Alone and palely loitering?
    The sedge has wither'd from the lake,
    And no birds sing.
    • Stanza I
  • I met a lady in the meads,
    Full beautiful — a faery's child,
    Her hair was long, her foot was light,
    And her eyes were wild.
    • Stanza IV
  • I made a garland for her head,
    And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
    She look'd at me as she did love,
    And made sweet moan.
    • Stanza V
  • I saw pale kings and princes too,
    Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
    They cried- "La Belle Dame sans Merci
    Hath thee in thrall!"
    • Stanza X

Hyperion : A Fragment (1819)[edit]

Full text online
  • Deep in the shady sadness of a vale
    Far sunken from the healthy breath of morn,
    Far from the fiery noon, and eve’s one star,
    Sat gray-hair’d Saturn, quiet as a stone,
    Still as the silence round about his lair;
    Forest on forest hung about his head
    Like cloud on cloud.
    • Bk. I, l. 1.
  • That large utterance of the early gods!
    • Bk. I
  • As when, upon a tranced summer-night,
    Those green-rob’d senators of mighty woods,
    Tall oaks, branch-charmed by the earnest stars,
    Dream, and so dream all night without a stir,
    Save from one gradual solitary gust
    Which comes upon the silence, and dies off,
    As if the ebbing air had but one wave.
    • Bk. I, l. 72.
  • The days of peace and slumberous calm are fled.
    • Bk. II
  • For to bear all naked truths,
    And to envisage circumstance, all calm,
    That is the top of sovereignty.
    • Bk. II, l. 203.
  • Knowledge enormous makes a God of me.
    • Bk. III, l. 113.

Poems (1820)[edit]

  • And for her eyes: what could such eyes do there
    But weep, and weep, that they were born so fair?
  • Love in a hut, with water and a crust,
    Is — Love, forgive us! — cinders, ashes, dust.
    • "Lamia", Pt. II, l. 1.
  • There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
    We know her woof, her texture; she is given
    In the dull catalogue of common things.
    Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings,
    Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
    Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine —
    Unweave a rainbow, as it erewhile made
    The tender-person’d Lamia melt into a shade.
    • "Lamia", Pt. II, l. 229.
  • So let me be thy choir, and make a moan
    Upon the midnight hours
  • And there shall be for thee all soft delight
    That shadowy thought can win,
    A bright torch, and a casement ope at night,
    To let the warm Love in!
    • "Ode to Psyche", st. 5.
  • Ever let the Fancy roam,
    Pleasure never is at home.
  • Bards of Passion and of Mirth,
    Ye have left your souls on earth!
    Have ye souls in heaven too,
    Double-lived in regions new?
    • "Ode", The Fair Maid of the Inn
  • Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
    Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
    Conspiring with him how to load and bless
    With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run
    ;
    To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
    And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
    To swell the ground, and plump the hazel shells
    With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
    And still more, later flowers for the bees,
    Until they think warm days will never cease,
    For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
  • Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
    Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
    Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
    Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
    Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
    Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
    Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers.
    • "To Autumn", st. 2.
  • Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
    Among the river sallows, borne aloft
    Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies.
    • "To Autumn", st. 3.
  • No, no, go not to Lethe, neither twist
    Wolfs-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
    Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kiss’d
    By nightshade.
  • But when the melancholy fit shall fall
    Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
    That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
    And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
    Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose.
    • "Ode on Melancholy", st. 2.
  • She dwells with Beauty — Beauty that must die;
    And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
    Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
    Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips.
    Ay, in the very temple of Delight
    Veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
    Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
    Can burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine;
    His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,
    And be among her cloudy trophies hung.
    • "Ode on Melancholy", st. 3.

The Eve of St. Agnes[edit]

The Eve of St. Agnes
  • 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.
    • Stanza 1.
  • Music's golden tongue
    Flatter'd to tears this aged man and poor.
    • Stanza 3.
  • The silver snarling trumpets 'gan to chide.
    • Stanza 4.
  • The music, yearning like a God in pain.
    • Stanza 7.
  • Asleep in lap of legends old.
    • Stanza 15.
  • Sudden a thought came like a full-blown rose,
    Flushing his brow, and in his pained heart
    Made purple riot.
    • Stanza 16.
  • A poor, weak, palsy-stricken, churchyard thing.
    • Stanza 18.
  • As though a tongueless nightingale should swell
    Her throat in vain, and die, heart-stifled, in her dell.
    • Stanza 23.
  • Full on this casement shone the wintry moon,
    And threw warm gules on Madeline’s fair breast,
    As down she knelt for heaven’s grace and boon;
    Rose-bloom fell on her hands, together prest.
    • Stanza 25.
  • Unclasps her warmed jewels one by one;
    Loosens her fragrant bodice; by degrees
    Her rich attire creeps rustling to her knees.
    • Stanza 26.
  • As though a rose should shut and be a bud again.
    • Stanza 27.
  • And still she slept an azure-lidded sleep,
    In blanched linen, smooth, and lavender’d.
    • Stanza 30.
  • And lucent syrops, tinct with cinnamon.
    • Stanza 30.
  • He play'd an ancient ditty long since mute,
    In Provence call'd "La belle dame sans mercy."
    • Stanza 33.
  • She hurried at his words, beset with fears,
    For there were sleeping dragons all around,
    At glaring watch, perhaps, with ready spears —
    Down the wide stairs a darkling way they found. —
    In all the house was heard no human sound.
    A chain-droop’d lamp was flickering by each door;
    The arras, rich with horseman, hawk, and hound,
    Flutter’d in the besieging wind’s uproar;
    And the long carpets rose along the gusty floor.
    • Stanza 40.
  • And they are gone: ay, ages long ago
    These lovers fled away into the storm.
    • Stanza 42.

Ode to a Nightingale[edit]

Written in May 1819 - Full text online


The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown...]]

  • My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
    My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
    Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
    One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
    Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
    But being too happy in thine happiness, —
    That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
    In some melodious plot
    Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
    Singest of summer in full-throated ease.
    • Stanza 1.
  • O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
    Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth.

    Tasting of Flora and the country green,
    Dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth!
    O for a beaker full of the warm South,
    Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
    With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
    And purple-stained mouth.
    • Stanza 2.
  • Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
    What thou among the leaves hast never known,
    The weariness, the fever, and the fret
    Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
    Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
    Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
    Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
    And leaden-eyed despairs.
    • Stanza 3.
  • Already with thee! tender is the night.
    • Stanza 4.
  • I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
    Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
    But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet.
    • Stanza 5.
  • And mid-May’s eldest child,
    The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
    The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.
    • Stanza 5.
  • Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
    I have been half in love with easeful Death
    ,
    Call'd him soft names in many a musèd rhyme,
    To take into the air my quiet breath;
    Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
    To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
    While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
    In such an ecstasy!
    Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain —
    To thy high requiem become a sod.
    • Stanza 6.
  • Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
    No hungry generations tread thee down;
    The voice I hear this passing night was heard
    In ancient days by emperor and clown
    :
    Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
    Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
    She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
    The same that oft-times hath
    Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
    Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.
    • Stanza 7.
  • Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
    To toil me back from thee to my sole self!
    • Stanza 8.
  • Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
    Fled is that music: — Do I wake or sleep?
    • Stanza 8.

Ode on a Grecian Urn[edit]

Neo-Attic marble urn, traced by Keates from an engraving in Henry Moses, A Collection of Antique Vases, Altars, Paterae.
Written in May 1819 - Full text online
  • Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
    Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
    Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
    A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
    What leaf-fringed legend haunts about thy shape?
    Of deities or mortals, or of both,
    In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
    What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
    What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
    What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?
    • Stanza 1.
  • Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
    Are sweeter: therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
    Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
    Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone.

    Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
    Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
    Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
    Though winning near the goal — yet, do not grieve;
    She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
    For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!
    • Stanza 2.
  • Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
    To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
    Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
    And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
    • Stanza 4.
  • Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
    As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
    When old age shall this generation waste,
    Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
    Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
    "Beauty is truth, truth beauty," — that is all
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
    • Stanza 5. The final lines of this poem have been rendered in various ways in different editions, some placing the entire last two lines within quotation marks, others only the statement "Beauty is truth, truth beauty," and others without any quotation marks. The poet's final intentions upon the matter before his death are unclear.

Quotes about Keats[edit]

  • A very odd young man, but good-tempered, and good-hearted, and very clever indeed.
    • Mrs. Maria Dilke, quoted in ‘Papers of a Critic’, by Sir Charles Dilke, I, p. 8.
  • What harm he has done in English Poetry. As Browning is a man with a moderate gift passionately desiring movement and fulness, and obtaining but a confused multitudinousness, so Keats with a very high gift, is yet also consumed by this desire; and cannot produce the truly living and moving, as his conscience keeps telling him. They will not be patient neither understand that they must begin with an Idea of the world in order not be prevailed over by the world's multitudinousness: or if they cannot get that, at least with isolated ideas: and all other things shall (perhaps) be added unto them.
    • Matthew Arnold, Letter to Arthur Clough, 1848/9, in John Keats: The Critical Heritage, ed. G.M. Matthews (1995)
  • [On Monckton Milne's Life of Keats] An attempt to make us eat dead dog by exquisite currying and cooking [...] The kind of man that Keats was gets ever more horrible to me. Forces of hunger for every pleasure of every kind, and want of all other force -- that is a combination! Such a structure of soul, it would once have been very evident, was a chosen 'Vessel of Hell' [...]
    • Thomas Carlyle, in J.A. Froude, Thomas Carlyle: A History of His Life in London, 1834 - 1881 (1884)
  • Here are Johnny Keats's piss a-bed poetry [...] There is such trash of Keats and the like upon my tables, that I am ashamed to look at them [...] No more Keats, I entreat: flay him alive; if some of you don't I must skin him myself: ther eis no bearing the driveling idiotism of the Mankin.
The Edinburgh praises Jack Keats or Ketch, or whatever his names are [...] why, his is the Onanism of Poetry -- something like the pleasure an Italian fiddler extracted out of being suspended daily by a Street Walker in Drury Lane. This went on for some weeks: at last the Girl went to get a pint of Gin -- met another, chatted too long, and Cornelli was hanged outright before she returned. Such like is the trash they praise, and such will be the end of the outstretched poesy of this miserable Self-polluter of the human mind.
Mr Keats, whose poetry you enquire after, appears to me what I have already said: such writing is a sort of mental masturbation -- he is always frigging his Imagination. I don't mean he is indecent, but viciously soliciting his ideas into a state, which is neither poetry nor anything else but a Bedlam vision produced by raw pork and opium.
  • Lord Byron, Letters to John Murray, 12 August - 9 September 1820, in The Routledge Literary Sourcebook on the Poems of John Keats, ed. J. Strachan (2003)
  • My indignation at Mr. Keats's depreciation of Pope has hardly permitted me to do justice to his own genius, which, malgre all the fantastic fopperies of his style, was undoubtedly of great promise. His fragment of Hyperion seems actually inspired by the Titans, and is as sublime as Aeschylus. He is a loss to our literature.
  • Keats, entirely a stranger to error, could believe that the nightingale enchanting him was the same one Ruth heard amid the alien corn of Bethlehem in Judah; Stevenson posits a single bird that consumes the centuries: "the nightingale that devours time." Schopenhauer — impassioned, lucid Schopenhauer — provides a reason: the pure corporeal immediacy in which animals live, oblivious to death and memory. He then adds, not without a smile: Whoever hears me assert that the grey cat playing just now in the yard is the same one that did jumps and tricks there five hundred years ago will think whatever he likes of me, but it is a stranger form of madness to imagine that the present-day cat is fundamentally an entirely different one.
    • Jorge Luis Borges in "A History of Eternity" as translated in Selected Non-Fictions Vol. 1, (1999), edited by Eliot Weinberger
  • In the latter part of that year’s summer [1817] I first saw him. It was on the Hampstead road that we were introduced to each other…. …in that interview of a minute I inwardly desired his acquaintanceship, if not his friendship… He was small in stature, well proportioned, compact in form, and, though thin, rather muscular; — one of the many who prove that manliness is distinct from height and bulk. There is no magic equal to that of an ingenuous countenance, and I never beheld any human being’s so ingenuous as his. His full fine eyes were lustrously intellectual, and beaming (at that time!) with hope and joy. It has been remarked that the most faulty feature was his mouth; and, at intervals, it was so. But, whenever he spoke, or was, in any way, excited, the expression of the lips was so varied and delicate, that they might be called handsome.
  • Keats was in childhood not attached to books. His penchant was for fighting. He would fight any one – morning, noon, and night, his brother among the rest. It was meat and drink to him. Jennings their sailor relation was always in the thoughts of the brothers, and they determined to keep up the family reputation for courage; George in a passive manner; John and Tom more fiercely. The favourites of John were few; after they were known to fight readily he seemed to prefer them for a sort of grotesque and buffoon humour. I recollect at this moment his delight at the extraordinary gesticulations and pranks of a boy named Wade who was celebrated for this.... He was a boy whom any one from his extraordinary vivacity and personal beauty might easily fancy would become great — but rather in some military capacity than in literature.
    • Edward Holmes, a fellow pupil at Clarke's School in Enfield
  • He was called by his fellow students 'little Keats,' being at his full growth no more than five feet high.... In a room, he was always at the window, peering into space, so that the windowseat was spoken of by his comrades as Keats’s place.... In the lecture room he seemed to sit apart and to be absorbed in something else, as if the subject suggested thoughts to him which were not practically connected with it. He was often in the subject and out of it, in a dreamy way.
    He never attached much consequence to his own studies in medicine, and indeed looked upon the medical career as the career by which to live in a workaday world, without being certain that he could keep up the strain of it. He nevertheless had a consciousness of his own powers, and even of his own greatness, though it might never be recognised.... Poetry was to his mind the zenith of all his aspirations: the only thing worthy the attention of superior minds: so he thought: all other pursuits were mean and tame. He had no idea of fame or greatness but as it was connected with the pursuits of poetry, or the attainment of poetical excellence…. He was gentlemanly in his manners and when he condescended to talk upon other subjects he was agreeable and intelligent. He was quick and apt at learning, when he chose to give his attention to any subject. He was a steady quiet and well behaved person, never inclined to pursuits of a low or vicious character.
    • Henry Stephens, a fellow student at Guy's Hospital
  • He was under the middle height; and his lower limbs were small in comparison with the upper, but neat and well-turned. His shoulders were very broad for his size; he had a face, in which energy and sensibility were remarkably mixed-up, an eager power checked and made patient by ill-health. Every feature was at once strongly cut, and delicately alive. If there was any faulty expression, it was in the mouth, which was not without something of a character of pugnacity... The head was a particular puzzle for the phrenologist, being remarkably small in the skull; a singularity he has in common with Lord Byron and Mr Shelley, none of whose hats I could get on.
  • And don't you remember Keats proposing 'Confusion to the memory of Newton' and upon your insisting on an explanation before you drank it, his saying, 'Because he destroyed the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to a prism? Ah, my dear old friend, you and I shall never see such days again!
  • I remember… his first introduction to Mr. Haydon; and when in the course of conversation that great artist asked him, "if he did not love his country," how the blood rushed to his cheeks and the tears to his eyes, at his energetic reply. His love of freedom was ardent and grand.
  • He is studying closely, recovering his Latin, going to learn Greek, and seems altogether more rational than usual — but he is such a man of fits and starts he is not much to be depended on. Still he thinks of nothing but poetry as his being's end and aim, and sometime or other he will, I doubt not, do something valuable.
  • He, who is gone, was one of the very kindest friends I possessed, and yet he was not kinder perhaps to me, than to others. His intense mind and powerful feelings would, I truly believe, have done the world some service, had his life been spared — but he was of too sensitive a nature — and thus he was destroyed!
  • [Keats] was the very soul of courage and manliness, and as much like the holy Ghost as Johnny Keats.
    • George Keats.
  • When somebody expressed his surprise to Shelley, that Keats, who was not very conversant with the Greek language, could write so finely and classically of their gods and goddesses, Shelley replied "He was a Greek."
    • Richard H. Horne, in New Spirit of the Age (1844) Vol. 2.
  • With Wordsworth, mortality is often just under the surface, as it was with Keats, another child of his time, who believed, because of the Enlightenment, that we are material beings in a material universe and that we must just accept that fate. We are mortal, but with no divine shoulder to lean on, and we will never understand the deepest truths, which, contrary to all the protestations of the Enlightenment, neither reason nor science can reach. Keats had a tragic sense of life. He is recognizably a Romantic; there is no Enlightenment Utopia waiting for him.
    • Brian L. Silver, The Ascent of Science (1998)

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