1817
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

To [Mary Frogley].

Poems, by John Keats.

John Keats


John Keats's antique "valentine," dotted with Spenserian turns of phrase, is modeled on the blazon poems of renaissance literature.

Monthly Magazine: "A small volume of poems, by Mr. Keats, has appeared; and it well deserves the notice it has attracted, by the sweetness and beauty of the compositions. For the model of his style, the author has had recourse to the age of Elizabeth; and, if he has not wholly avoided the quaintness that characterises the writings of that period, it must be allowed by every candid reader that the fertile fancy and beautiful diction of our old poets, is not unfrequently rivaled by Mr. Keats. There is in his poems a rapturous glow and intoxication of the fancy — an air of careless and profuse magnificence in his diction — a revelry of the imagination and tenderness of feeling, that forcibly impress themselves on the reader" 43 (April 1817) 248.

W. J. Courthope: "Vast indeed is the contrast when we compare the tone in which Ben Jonson or Donne pay their addresses to the Countess of Bedford with that adopted by Keats in his amorous poetry. His fancy was inspired by the literary images of the ages of chivalry, but he knew nothing of the spirit by which the manners of those ages were at once animated and restrained" History of English Poetry (1895-1910) 6:334.

M. M. Bhattacherje: "The valentine 'Hadst thou lived in days of old' written by Keats for his brother George (to be given to Mary Frogley) in February, 1816, derived its style and substance largely from seventeenth-century Spenserians who were fanciful as well as artificial. The conceit 'At least for ever, evermore, | Will I call the Graces four' was borrowed from Spenser's Shepheardes Calender for April. But the substance of the second part of the poem was largely derived from the Faerie Queene. Keats suggested that Miss Frogley in the chivalric age would have been Britomart, the Knight of Chastity, who rescued Amoret from the spell and custody of Busirane the Enchanter" Keats and Spenser (1944) 81.



Hadst thou liv'd in days of old,
O what wonders had been told
Of thy lively countenance,
And thy humid eyes that dance
In the midst of their own brightness;
In the very fane of lightness.
Over which thine eyebrows, leaning,
Picture out each lovely meaning:
In a dainty bend they lie,
Like to streaks across the sky,
Or the feathers from a crow,
Fallen on a bed of snow.
Of thy dark hair that extends
Into many graceful bends:
As the leaves of Hellebore
Turn to whence they sprung before.
And behind each ample curl
Peeps the richness of a pearl.
Downward too flows many a tress
With a glossy waviness;
Full, and round like globes that rise
From the censer to the skies
Through sunny air. Add too, the sweetness
Of thy honied voice; the neatness
Of thine ankle lightly turn'd:
With those beauties, scarce discern'd,
Kept with such sweet privacy,
That they seldom meet the eye
Of the little loves that fly
Round about with eager pry.
Saving when, with freshening lave,
Thou dipp'st them in the taintless wave;
Like twin water lillies, born
In the coolness of the morn.
O, if thou hadst breathed then,
Now the Muses had been ten.
Couldst thou wish for lineage higher
Than twin sister of Thalia?
At least for ever, evermore,
Will I call the Graces four.

Hadst thou liv'd when chivalry
Lifted up her lance on high,
Tell me what thou wouldst have been?
Ah! I see the silver sheen
Of thy broidered, floating vest
Cov'ring half thine ivory breast;
Which, O heavens! I should see,
But that cruel destiny
Has placed a golden cuirass there;
Keeping secret what is fair.
Like sunbeams in a cloudlet nested
Thy locks in knightly casque are rested:
O'er which bend four milky plumes
Like the gentle lilly's blooms
Springing from a costly vase.
See with what a stately pace
Comes thine alabaster steed;
Servant of heroic deed!
O'er his loins, his trappings glow
Like the northern lights on snow.
Mount his back! thy sword unsheath!
Sign of the enchanter's death;
Bane of every wicked spell;
Silencer of dragon's yell.
Alas! thou this wilt never do:
Thou art an enchantress too,
And wilt surely never spill
Blood of those whose eyes can kill.

[pp. 36-39]