John Keats

Mary Russell Mitford, in "Poetry that Poets Love. Walter Savage Landor — Leigh Hunt — Percy Bysshe Shelley — John Keats" Recollections of a Literary Life; or Books, Places, and People (1852) 319-21.

If there he anywhere a companion poem to this [Shelley's Ode to a Skylark], it is John Keats's "Ode to the Nightingale." Poor John Keats! he too was called in scorn a "Cockney Poet;" he too was a friend of Leigh Hunt's; he, too, died far from his native country; not indeed like Shelley, by sad mischance, off the coast of Italy, but by slow disease in the very heart of the Eternal City; — died after having done enough to show the world all that it lost in him. No one since Spenser has possessed a more graphic pen. His processions not only live, they move.

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-ward had sunk:
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thy 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.

Oh for a draught of vintage, that hath been
Cooled a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provencal song, and sun-burnt mirth!
Oh 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;
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 thon among the leaves bast 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 specter-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be fall of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs;
Where Beauty can not 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 train perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
Clustered 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 can not see what flowers are at my feet,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed 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 covered up in leaves;
And mid-May's eldest child
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of bees on summer eves.

Darkling I listen; and for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Called him soft names in many a mused 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 oft-times hath
Charmed magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in fairy lands forlorn.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toll me hack from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the Fancy can not 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 hillside; 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?

A most interesting Life of Keats, by Mr. Monckton Milnes, has been recently published. Few works are better worth reading, not only for the sake of the young poet, but for that of his generous benefactors, Sir James Clarke and Mr. Severn. It is well in an age, called perhaps more selfish than it deserves to be, to fall back upon such instances of patient and unostentatious kindness.