April 26, 2011

Poets for April 26, 2011 - Keats and Shelley

Today is John Audubon's birthday and what better way to celebrate the day than to post two poems about birds. Coincidentally, the two Romantic era poets I have paired today, Keats (25) and Shelley (30), both died young. The mind boggles at what these two great poets achieved in such short lives; with humankind celebrating their poems many centuries later!

First up, John Keats, whose celebration of nature, "a thing of beauty", is forever ingrained in our brains through the famous first line in the excerpt below:
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
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.

 - John Keats (A Thing of Beauty)
John Keats (Born: 31 October 1795, London, UK – Died: 23 February 1821, Rome, Italy)
I realized I had heard of and know of this poem by Keats but have never really read the whole poem! Enjoy!
Ode to a Nightingale
by John Keats

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-wingèd Dryad of the trees,   
          In some melodious plot   
  Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,   
    Singest of summer in full-throated ease.     

O for a draught of vintage! that hath been   
  Cool'd a long age in the deep-delvèd earth,   
Tasting of Flora and the country-green,   
  Dance, and Provençal 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-stainèd mouth;   
  That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,   
    And with thee fade away into the forest dim:     

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 grey hairs,     
  Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;   
    Where but to think is to be full of sorrow   
          And leaden-eyed despairs;   
  Where beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,   
    Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.     

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,   
  Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,   
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,   
  Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:   
Already with thee! tender is the night,     
  And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,   
    Cluster'd around by all her starry Fays   
          But here there is no light,   
  Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown   
    Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.     

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,   
  Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,   
But, in embalmèd darkness, guess each sweet   
  Wherewith the seasonable month endows   
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;     
  White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;   
    Fast-fading violets cover'd up in leaves;   
          And mid-May's eldest child,   
  The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,   
    The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.     

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.     

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 ofttimes hath   
  Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam   
    Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.     

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell   
  To toll me back from thee to my sole self!   
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well   
  As she is famed to do, deceiving elf.   
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades    
  Past the near meadows, over the still stream,   
    Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep   
          In the next valley-glades:   
  Was it a vision, or a waking dream?   
    Fled is that music:—do I wake or sleep?

And the second poet for today is Percy Bysche Shelley. Like Keats, Shelley also died as very young man... Keats died in 1821, a little over 25 years old! Read Shelley's moving elegy on the death of John Keats, written in the spring of 1821 and first published in July 1821.
Thou wert the morning star among the living,
Ere thy fair light had fled;
Now, having died, thou art as Hesperus, giving
New splendor to the dead.

Just about a year later, in July 1822, Shelley himself drowned and died in the Gulf of Spezia while sailing with a friend; he was a month shy of his thirtieth birthday.)

Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present. - Percy Shelley (A Defence of Poetry)
Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. - ibid

Percy Bysshe Shelley (Born: 4 August 1792, Horsham, England – Died: 8 July 1822, Viareggio, Grand Duchy of Tuscany)

Again, there are many poems by Shelley which can be read online, some of which we were taught in school, and I've chosen to share only one here. It is a poem that jumps to my mind when I hear his name mentioned: Ode to a Skylark (just as mentioning Keats, reminds me immediately of his poem: Ode to a Nightingale.)

by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
                     Bird thou never wert -
                 That from Heaven or near it
                       Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

                Higher still and higher
                     From the earth thou springest,
                Like a cloud of fire;
                     The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.

                In the golden lightning
                    Of the sunken sun,
                O'er which clouds are bright'ning,
                    Thou dost float and run,
Like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun.

                 The pale purple even
                     Melts around thy flight;
                 Like a star of Heaven,
                     In the broad daylight
Thou art unseen, but yet I hear thy shrill delight -

                 Keen as are the arrows
                     Of that silver sphere
                 Whose intense lamp narrows
                     In the white dawn clear,
Until we hardly see, we feel that it is there.

                 All the earth and air
                    With thy voice is loud,
                 As, when night is bare,
                     From one lonely cloud
The moon rains out her beams, and Heaven is overflowed.

                 What thou art we know not;
                     What is most like thee?
                  From rainbow clouds there flow not
                     Drops so bright to see,
As from thy presence showers a rain of melody: -

                 Like a Poet hidden
                     In the light of thought,
                 Singing hymns unbidden,
                     Till the world is wrought
To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not:

                 Like a high-born maiden
                     In a palace-tower,
                 Soothing her love-laden
                     Soul in secret hour
With music sweet as love, which overflows her bower:

                 Like a glow-worm golden
                     In a dell of dew,
                 Scattering unbeholden
                     Its aërial hue
Among the flowers and grass which screen it from the view:

                   Like a rose embowered
                       In its own green leaves,
                   By warm winds deflowered,
                       Till the scent it gives
Makes faint with too much sweet these heavy-wingéd thieves:

                   Sound of vernal showers
                       On the twinkling grass,
                   Rain-awakened flowers -
                       All that ever was
Joyous and clear and fresh - thy music doth surpass.

                    Teach us, Sprite or Bird,
                        What sweet thoughts are thine:
                     I have never heard
                         Praise of love or wine
That panted forth a flood of rapture so divine.

                     Chorus hymeneal,
                         Or triumphal chant,
                    Matched with thine would be all
                         but an empty vaunt -
A thing wherein we feel there is some hidden want.

                    What objects are the fountains
                        Of thy happy strain?
                    What fields, or waves, or mountains?
                        What shapes of sky or plain?
What love of thine own kind? what ignorance of pain?

                     With thy clear keen joyance
                          Languor cannot be:
                     Shadow of annoyance
                         Never came near thee:
Thou lovest, but ne'er knew love's sad satiety.

                     Waking or asleep,
                         Thou of death must deem
                     Things more true and deep
                         Than we mortals dream,
Or how could thy notes flow in such a crystal stream?

                     We look before and after,
                         And pine for what is not:
                     Our sincerest laughter
                         With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.

                     Yet, if we could scorn
                        Hate and pride and fear,
                     If we were things born
                         Not to shed a tear,
I know not how thy joy we ever should come near.

                     Better than all measures
                         Of delightful sound,
                     Better than all treasures
                         That in books are found,
Thy skill to poet were, thou scorner of the ground!

                     Teach me half the gladness
                         That thy brain must know;
                     Such harmonious madness
                         From my lips would flow,
The world should listen then, as I am listening now.
P.S. If you love poetry, I strong recommend reading Shelley's A Defence of Poetry.
P.P.S. Books to read: Poetics of self and form in Keats and Shelley by Mark Sandy 

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