1815
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

To George Felton Mathew.

Poems, by John Keats.

John Keats


A verse epistle dated "November 1815." This is the first of a section of three verse epistles in the 1817 Poems (the others are to "My Brother George" and Charles Cowden Clarke. Keats writes in response to a poem by Mathew, "To a Poetical Friend" published in the European Magazine 70 (October 1816) 365.

The Epistles are introduced with an epigraph from Browne of Tavistock's Britannia's Pastorals (1616): "Among the rest a shepherd (though but young | Yet hartned to his pipe) with all the skill | His few years could, began to fit his quill." This early poem envisions a community of poets celebrating ancient liberty and ancient poetry; Keats invites Mathew to "sit, and rhyme and think on Chatterton; | And that warm-hearted Shakspeare sent to meet him | Four laurell'd spirits, heaven-ward to intreat him. | With reverence would we speak of all the sages | Who have left streaks of light athwart their ages" p. 56.

George Felton Mathew to R. M. Milnes: "His Epistle to me beginning 'Sweet are the the pleasures that to verse belong' has many beauties; and I always thought the quotation from his favorite Spencer 'and make a sunshine in a shady place' [Una's face, in Faerie Queene 1.3.4] as singularly felicitous in its adaptation" 12 January 1848; in The Keats Circle, ed. H. E. Rollins (1948) 2:181. See his explication of the poem, 2:184-88.

M. M. Bhattacherje: "In October, 1816, after Keats had taken up his residence in London, Clarke introduced him to Hunt, now grown famous, and Keats became a professed disciple of his. All his poems written after this date bore traces of Hunt's new style. Keats's Epistle to George Felton Mathew was specially influenced by it in respect of its versification. This was the first poem Keats composed in loose, flowing heroic couplets. His earlier poems had followed the metres of the eighteenth-century imitative poetry" Keats and Spenser (1944) 80-81.



Sweet are the pleasures that to verse belong,
And doubly sweet a brotherhood in song;
Nor can remembrance, Mathew! bring to view
A fate more pleasing, a delight more true
Than that in which the brother Poets joy'd,
Who with combined powers, their wit employ'd
To raise a trophy to the drama's muses.
The thought of this great partnership diffuses
Over the genius loving heart, a feeling
Of all that's high, and great, and good, and healing.

Too partial friend! fain would I follow thee
Past each horizon of fine poesy;
Fain would I echo back each pleasant note
As o'er Sicilian seas, clear anthems float
'Mong the light skimming gondolas far parted,
Just when the sun his farewell beam has darted:
But 'tis impossible; far different cares
Beckon me sternly from soft "Lydian airs,"
And hold my faculties so long in thrall,
That I am oft in doubt whether at all
I shall again see Phoebus in the morning:
Or flush'd Aurora in the roseate dawning!
Or a white Naiad in a rippling stream;
Or a rapt seraph in a moonlight beam;
Or again witness what with thee I've seen,
The dew by fairy feet swept from the green,
After a night of some quaint jubilee
Which every elf and fay had come to see:
When bright processions took their airy march
Beneath the curved moon's triumphal arch.

But might I now each passing moment give
To the coy muse, with me she would not live
In this dark city, nor would condescend
'Mid contradictions her delights to lend.
Should e'er the fine-eyed maid to me be kind,
Ah! surely it must be whene'er I find
Some flowery spot, sequester'd, wild, romantic,
That often must have seen a poet frantic;
Where oaks, that erst the Druid knew, are growing,
And flowers, the glory of one day, are blowing;
Where the dark-leav'd laburnum's drooping clusters
Reflect athwart the stream their yellow lustres,
And intertwined the cassia's arms unite,
With its own drooping buds, but very white.
Where on one side are covert branches hung,
'Mong which the nightingales have always sung
In leafy quiet: where to pry, aloof,
Atween the pillars of the sylvan roof,
Would be to find where violet beds were nestling,
And where the bee with cowslip bells was wrestling
There must be too a ruin dark, and gloomy,
To say "joy not too much in all that's bloomy."

Yet this is vain — O Mathew lend thy aid
To find a place where I may greet the maid—
Where we may soft humanity put on,
And sit, and rhyme and think on Chatterton;
And that warm-hearted Shakspeare sent to meet him
Four laurell'd spirits, heaven-ward to intreat him.
With reverence would we speak of all the sages
Who have left streaks of light athwart their ages:
And thou shouldst moralize on Milton's blindness,
And mourn the fearful dearth of human kindness
To those who strove with the bright golden wing
Of genius, to flap away each sting
Thrown by the pitiless world. We next could tell
Of those who in the cause of freedom fell;
Of our own Alfred, of Helvetian Tell;
Of him whose name to ev'ry heart's a solace,
High-minded and unbending William Wallace.
While to the rugged north our musing turns
We well might drop a tear for him, and Burns.

Felton! without incitements such as these,
How vain for me the niggard Muse to tease:
For thee, she will thy every dwelling grace,
And make "a sun-shine in a shady place:"
For thou wast once a flowret blooming wild,
Close to the source, bright, pure, and undefil'd,
Whence gush the streams of song: in happy hour
Came chaste Diana from her shady bower,
Just as the sun was from the east uprising;
And, as for him some gift she was devising,
Beheld thee, pluck'd thee, cast thee in the stream
To meet her glorious brother's greeting beam.
I marvel much that thou hast never told
How, from a flower, into a fish of gold
Apollo chang'd thee; how thou next didst seem
A black-eyed swan upon the widening stream;
And when thou first didst in that mirror trace
The placid features of a human face:
That thou hast never told thy travels strange,
And all the wonders of the mazy range
O'er pebbly crystal, and o'er golden sands;
Kissing thy daily food from Naiad's pearly hands.

[pp. 53-58]