1818 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

[Untitled, "Spenser! a jealous honourer of thine."]

Life, Letters and Literary Remains of John Keats. [Richard Monkton Milnes, ed.]

John Keats


A sonnet dated by Keats 5 February 1818; the poem was written following a visit to John Hamilton Reynolds (the "jealous honourer" of Spenser) the day before. Miriam Allott suggests that Keats declines the invitation to write a Spenserian poem because he was engaged in revising Endymion, Poems of Keats (1968) 309n.

Richard Monkton Milnes: "Nor will the just critic of the maturer poems of Keats fail to trace the influence of the study of Spenser much that at first appears forced and fantastical both in idea and expression, and discover that precisely these defects which are commonly attributed to an extravagant originality may be distinguished as proceeding from a too indiscriminate reverence for a great but unequal model, In the scanty records which are left of the adolescent years in which Keats became a poet, a Sonnet on Spenser, the date of which I have not been able to trace, itself illustrates this view" Life, Letters and Literary Remains of John Keats (1848) 1:10-11.

Greg Kucich: "In its outline of a projected Spenserianism, this sonnet reveals both the striking changes and the continuity in Keats's developing ideas of Spenserian poetics from 'Calidore' to Endymion. It indicates, on the one hand, everything he had learned about the complexity of trying to grow anew in Spenser's soil. Such an effort no longer seems a simple matter of proceeding with a vague sense of Spenser's approval, easily 'receiving a spiriting' as Keats had felt in 'Calidore.' To follow Spenser now presents several specific advantages and difficulties. Extending the Spenserian duality of 'mirth' and, if we hear the pun, 'mourning,' and everything that dichotomy implies about the modern psyche, promises to raise a new phoenix out of the ashes of the Renaissance" Keats, Shelley, and Romantic Spenserianism (1991) 183.

In 1817 Reynolds wrote a sonnet ("Milton and Spenser") which contains the lines "Mine be it to look | At the romantic land of Faery! | See Una sit under a shady tree, | And troops of satyrs near a wooded brook, | All dancing in a round; — and dimly see, | In arbour green, Sylvanus, lying drowsily."



Spenser! a jealous honourer of thine,
A forester deep in thy midmost trees,
Did last eve ask my promise to refine
Some English that might strive thine ear to please.
But, Elfin-poet! 'tis impossible
For an inhabitant of wintry earth
To rise, like Phoebus, with a golden quill,
Fire-winged, and make a morning in his mirth.
It is impossible to 'scape from toil
O' the sudden and receive thy spiriting:
The flower must drink the nature of the soil
Before it can put forth its blossoming:
Be with me in the summer days and I
Will for thine honour and his pleasure try.

[1:11]