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Mr. Keats’s Poems &c. Concluded.
The Examiner  No. 498  (13 July 1817)  443-44.
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No. 498. SUNDAY, JULY 13, 1817.


No. 31.

Mr. Keats’s Poems &c.—(Concluded.)

The Epistles, the Sonnets, and indeed the whole of the book, contain strong evidences of warm and social feelings, but particularly the Epistle to Charles Cowden Clarke, and the Sonnet to his own Brothers, in which the “faint cracklings” of the coal-fire are said to be
Like whispers of the household gods that keep
A gentle empire o’er fraternal souls.
The Epistle to Mr. Clarke is very amiable as well as poetical, and equally honourable to both parties,—to the young writer who can be so grateful towards his teacher, and to the teacher who had the sense to perceive his genius, and the qualities to call forth his affection. It consists chiefly of recollections of what his friend had pointed out to him in poetry and in general taste; and the lover of
Spenser will readily judge of his preceptor’s qualifications, even from a single triplet, in which he is described, with a deep feeling of simplicity, as one
Who had beheld Belphœbe in a brook,
And lovely Una in a leafy nook,
And Archimago leaning o’er his book.

The Epistle thus concludes:—
Picture of Companionship.
But many days have past—
Since I have walk’d with you through shady lanes
That freshly terminate in open plains,
And revel’d in a chat that ceased not
When at night-fall among your books we got:
No, nor when supper came,—nor after that,—
Nor when reluctantly I took my hat;
No, nor till cordially you shook my hand
Mid-way between our homes:—your accents bland
Still sounded in my ears, when I no more
Could hear your footsteps touch the grav’ly floor.
Sometimes I lost them, and then found again;
You chang’d the footpath for the grassy plain.
In those still moments I have wish’d you joys
That well you know to honour:—“Life’s very toys
With him,” said I, “will take a pleasant charm;
It cannot be that ought will work him harm.”
And we can only add, without any disrespect to the graver warmth of our young poet, that if Ought attempted it, Ought would find he had stout work to do with more than one person.

The following passage in one of the Sonnets passes, with great happiness, from the mention of physical associations to mental; and concludes with a feeling which must have struck many a contemplative mind, that has found the sea-shore like a border, as it were, of existence. He is speaking of
The Ocean
The Ocean with it’s vastness, it’s blue green,
It’s ships, it’s rocks, it’s caves,—it’s hopes, it’s fears,—
It’s voice mysterious, which whoso hears
Must think on what will be, and what has been.
We have read somewhere the remark of a traveller, who said that when he was walking alone at night-time on the sea-shore, he felt conscious of the earth, not as the common every day sphere it seems, but as one of the planets, rolling round him in the mightiness of space. The same feeling is common to imaginations that are not in need of similar local excitements.

The best poem is certainly the last and longest, entitled Sleep and Poetry. It originated in sleeping in a room adorned with busts and pictures, and is a striking specimen of the restlessness of the young poetical appetite, obtaining its food by the very desire of it, and glancing for fit subjects of creation “from earth to heaven.” Nor do we like it the less for an impatient, and as it may be thought by some, irreverend assault upon the late French school of criticism and monotony, which has held poetry chained long enough to render it somewhat indignant when it has got free.

The following ardent passage is highly imaginative:

An Aspiration after Poetry.
O Poesy! for thee I grasp my pen
That am not yet a glorious denizen
Of thy wide heaven; yet, to my ardent prayer,
Yield from thy sanctuary some clear air,
Smoothed for intoxication by the breath
Of flowering bays, that I may die a death
Of luxury, and my young spirit follow
The morning sun-beams to the great Apollo
Like a fresh sacrifice; or, if I can bear
The o’erwhelming sweets, ’twill bring to me the fair
Visions of all places: a bowery nook
Will be elysium—an eternal book
Whence I may copy many a lovely saying
About the leaves, and flowers—about the playing
Of nymphs in woods, and fountains; and the shade
Keeping a silence round a sleeping maid;
And many a verse from so strange influence
That we must ever wonder how, and whence
It came. Also imaginings will hover
Round my fire-side, and haply there discover
Vistas of solemn beauty, where I’d wander
In happy silence, like the clear meander
Through its lone vales; and where I found a spot
Of awfuller shade, or an enchanted grot,
Or a green hill o’erspread with chequered dress
Of flowers, and fearful from its loveliness,
Write on my tablets all that was permitted,
All that was for our human senses fitted.
Then the events of this wide world I’d seize
Like a strong giant, and my spirit teaze
Till at its shoulders it should proudly see
Wings to find out an immortality.

Mr. Keats takes an opportunity, though with very different feelings towards the school than he has exhibited towards the one above-mentioned, to object to the morbidity that taints the productions of the Lake Poets. They might answer perhaps, generally, that they chuse to grapple with what is unavoidable, rather than pretend to be blind to it; but the more smiling Muse may reply, that half of the evils alluded to are produced by brooding over them; and that it is much better to strike at as many causes of the
rest as possible, than to pretend to be satisfied with them in the midst of the most evident dissatisfaction.
Happy Poetry Preferred.
These things are doubtless: yet in truth we’ve had
Strange thunders from the potency of song;
Mingled indeed with what is sweet and strong,
From majesty: but in clear truth the themes
Are ugly clubs, the Poets Polyphemes
Disturbing the grand sea. A drainless shower
Of light is poesy; ’tis the supreme of power;
’Tis might half slumb’ring on its own right arm.
The very archings of her eye-lids charm
A thousand willing agents to obey,
And still she governs with the mildest sway:
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 soothe the cares, and lift the thoughts of man.
We conclude with the beginning of the paragraph which follows this passage, and which contains an idea of as lovely and powerful a nature in embodying an abstraction, as we ever remember to have seen put into words:—
Yet I rejoice: a myrtle fairer than
E’er grew in Paphos, from the bitter weeds
Lifts it’s sweet head into the air, and feeds
A silent space with ever sprouting green.

Upon the whole, Mr. Keats’s book cannot be better described than in a couplet written by Milton when he too was young, and in which he evidently alludes to himself. It is a little luxuriant heap of
Such sights as youthful poets dream
On summer eves by haunted stream.