Four Spenserians, published in 1817. John Keats's earliest extant poem was probably written soon after his tutor, Charles Cowden Clarke, had introduced him to Spenser. It is an exercise in descriptive gorgeousness that opens, appropriately enough, with a Spenserian sunrise. The "Imitation of Spenser" forms a striking contrast with the verse fragment, "In after-time, a sage of mickle lore," the satirical Spenserian that terminated Keats's oeuvre only six years afterwards.
John Hamilton Reynolds: "Here is a little volume filled throughout with very graceful and genuine poetry. The author is a very young man, and one, as we augur from the present work, that is likely to make a great addition to those who would overthrow that artificial taste which French criticism has long planted amongst us. At a time when nothing is talked of but the power and the passion of Lord Byron, and the playful and elegant fancy of Moore, and the correctness of Rogers, and the sublimity and pathos of Campbell (these terms we should conceive are kept ready composed in the Edinburgh Review-shop) a young man starts suddenly before us, with a genius that is likely to eclipse them all. He comes fresh from nature, — and the originals of his images are to be found in her keeping. Young writers are in general in their early productions imitators of their favorite poet; like young birds that in their first songs, mock the notes of those warblers, they hear the most, and love the best: but this youthful poet appears to have tuned his voice in solitudes, — to have sung from the pure inspiration of nature" The Champion (9 March 1817) 78.
Edinburgh Magazine: "'Sage, serious' Spencer, the most melodious and mildly fanciful of our old English poets, is Mr. Keats's favourite. He takes his motto from him, — puts his his head on his title-page, — and writes one of his most luxurious descriptions of nature in his measure. We find, indeed, Spencerianisms scattered through all his other verses, of whatsoever measure or character. But, though these things sufficiently point out where Mr. K. has caught his inspiration, they by no means determine the general character of his manner, which partakes a great deal of that picturesqueness of fancy and licentious brilliancy of epithet which distinguish the early Italian novelists and amorous poets" NS 1 (October 1817) 254.
Robert Chambers: "If we consider his extreme youth and delicate health, his solitary and interesting self-instruction, the severity of the attacks made upon him by his hostile and powerful critics, and, above all, the original richness and picturesqueness of his conceptions and imagery, even when they run to waste, he appears to be one of the greatest of the young self-taught poets. Michael Bruce or Henry Kirke White cannot for a moment be compared with him: he is more like the Milton of Lycidas, or the Spenser of the Tears of the Muses" Encyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 2:404.
Mary Russell Mitford: "No one since Spenser has possessed a more graphic pen. His processions not only live, they move" "Poetry that Poets Love" Recollections of a Literary Life; or Books, Places, and People (1852) 319.
W. J. Courthope: "Keats was removed from school at the age of fifteen, and (his father being dead and his mother having married again) was apprenticed to Mr. Hammond, a surgeon at Edmonton. With him he remained till 1814, when he came to London to study medicine. He had already had his taste for poetry confirmed by Charles Clarke, who in 1813 delighted his imagination by reading to him Spenser's Epithalamion. His inclination for the Elizabethan poets was strengthened by Leigh Hunt, under whose influence he came in 1816" History of English Poetry (1895-1910) 6:321.
George Saintsbury: "The Spenserians which Armitage Brown told Lord Houghton were Keats's earliest preserved work and were written in his seventeenth year, are no great things, but they are, with whatever inequalities and infelicities of phrase, much nearer to Spenser's rhythm than even Shelley's finest, and no bad first draft for the magnificence of the Eve of St. Agnes later" History of English Prosody (1906-10) 3:117.
M. M. Bhattacherje: "Reminiscences of Milton's L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, Comus and Paradise Lost and of Gray's poems are also noticeable in Keats's Imitation. His method is impressionistic and not expository like Spenser's. Keats presents without explanatory transitions a series of flashing images suggested by the description of the Bower of Bliss in the Faerie Queene. It is Keats's reminiscences of Spenser and Milton that are revealed in them, and not his own personal experience. Spenser's melody is also partly reproduced by Keats, but his diction is borrowed from eighteenth-century Spenserians like Thomson and is therefore lacking in freshness and spontaneity" Keats and Spenser (1944) 74.
Greg Kucich: "Considering the thoroughness with which he re-creates that idea of 'the Poet's Poet,' it would be more fitting to name his first attempt at poetry, 'Imitation of Leigh Hunt's Spenser'" Keats, Shelley, and Romantic Spenserianism (1991) 151.
Now Morning from her orient chamber came,
And her first footsteps touch'd a verdant hill;
Crowning its lawny crest with amber flame,
Silv'ring the untainted gushes of its rill;
Which, pure from mossy beds, did down distill,
And after parting beds of simple flowers,
By many streams a little lake did fill,
Which round its marge reflected woven bowers,
And, in its middle space, a sky that never lowers.
There the king-fisher saw his plumage bright
Viewing with fish of brilliant dye below;
Whose silken fins, and golden scales' light
Cast upward, through the waves, a ruby glow:
There saw the swan his neck of arched snow,
And oar'd himself along with majesty;
Sparkled his jetty eyes; his feet did show
Beneath the waves like Afric's ebony,
And on his back a fay reclined voluptuously.
Ah! could I tell the wonders of an isle
That in that fairest lake had placed been,
I could e'en Dido of her grief beguile;
Or rob from aged Lear his bitter teen:
For sure so fair a place was never seen,
Of all that ever charm'd romantic eye:
It seem'd an emerald in the silver sheen
Of the bright waters; or as when on high,
Through clouds of fleecy white, laughs the coerulean sky.
And all around it dipp'd luxuriously
Slopings of verdure through the glossy tide,
Which, as it were in gentle amity,
Rippled delighted up the flowery side;
As if to glean the ruddy tears, it tried,
Which fell profusely from the rose-tree stem!
Haply it was the workings of its pride,
In strife to throw upon the shore a gem
Outvieing all the buds in Flora's diadem.