"Souls of Poets dead and gone ..."
As regular readers of this space will no doubt recall from my previous blitherings, I've been a big fan of the Dover Thrift Editions for a long time. For many years (before I finally broke down and got Amazon Prime and its free shipping), I relied on these as a way to nudge an order up over the free-shipping threshold, which then also gave me an excuse to “fill holes” in my otherwise excellent liberal arts education.
The latter, however, wasn't a specific concern bringing me to this edition of John Keats' Lyric Poems
, as I'd been conversant with his poems from back in high school (when I wrote a bit of doggerel which started out “Shelley, Byron and Keats / do not the oiseau to eat / ...”
), so I probably picked this up for its inexpense (cover price $3, currently going for a buck) as for anything else. The collection “contains 30 of his finest poems” which appear to have been excerpted from a number of publications, both released during his life and posthumously.
Keats died in Rome in 1821 at the age of 26 from tuberculosis. His writing career barely spanned five years, so his fame and influence (as one of the “Romantic Poets” - albeit not a group with whom he had much actual contact) is remarkable, especially as “He published only fifty-four poems, in three slim volumes and a few magazines.”
. So, excepting his longer pieces (not included here), the poems collected for this book are a fairly substantial chunk of what he wrote.
Speaking of “slim” … this is going to be a fairly brief review, as I'm not going to try to dig into an analysis of Keat's poetry … where I rather liked this back in my school days, my tolerance for rhyming poetry has not improved with age, and I found myself being frequently cranky when reading this in regards to the frequency of (what sounds to me
as) tortured convolutions to get a rhyming word (or some abused variation on a word) where it needs to be in one of these odes or sonnets (there was a time in my teens when I was hell-bent on writing “sonnet cycles” much like these here, but could not stand to indulge in the necessary word-wringing to get concepts to fit within the rhyme schemes).
So, I'm just going to do some re-typing of bits that stood out to me to give you a bit of the flavor here (although sparing you some of the noted “groaners”) …
from Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil – A story from Boccacio
And many a jealous conference had they,
And many times they bit their lips alone,
Before they fix'd upon a surest way
To make the youngster for his crime atone;
And at the last, these men of cruel clay
Cut Mercy with a sharp knife to the bone;
For they resolved in some forest dim
To kill Lorenzo, and there bury him.
Obviously, there's nothing to fault with they/way/clay, alone/atone/bone, and dim/him in this one … and it does give some sense of the somewhat cinematographical feel of Keats' depictions of his subjects.
from The Eve of St. Agnes:
‘St. Agnes! Ah! It is St. Agnes' Eve –
‘Yet men will murder upon holy days:
‘Thou must hold water in a witch's sieve,
‘And be liege-lord of all the Elves and Fays,
‘To venture so: it fills me with amaze
‘To see thee, Porphyro! - St. Anges' Eve!
‘God's help! My lady fair the conjuror plays
‘This the very night: good angels her deceive!
‘But let me laugh awhile, I've mickle time to grieve.’
This certainly points towards the classical/literary influences brought out in Keats' writing … themes that are most famously on display on the piece that eventually launched a thousand “drachma jokes” :
from Ode on a Grecian Urn:
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?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.
OK, that one comes close to having painful word pairings (there are much worse examples than priest/drest
, trust me), but who am I to complain about something that nearly every English major (or well-rounded high school student) has had to deal with in class?
Anyway, Lyric Poems
is a great way to get familiar with Keats (even if it doesn't have some of the “most highly regarded works of his maturity”
, in the longer Endymion
, and Hyperion
– all of which can be found on-line
, if you want to go with free), for a very low price, and, frankly, a minimal time investment.