Tag Archives: john keats

Keats’s Beaker

Perhaps I think
Too much on fallen leaves,
When I ought to drink
From Keats’s beaker.

Hemlock is not my friend,
Yet the nightingale, Keats heard
Speaks of beauty,
And life’s end.

Should Poetry be “Relevant”?

Yesterday evening, my friend and I fell into a discussion concerning poetry. This came about as a consequence of me mentioning that I am in the process of producing a further collection of my own work.

During the course of our conversation, my friend mentioned that “poetry should be relevant”.

I responded that Keats great poem, “Ode to a Nightingale” (https://poets.org/poem/ode-nightingale), remains as relevant today as when the poet composed it. I said that the poem deals powerfully with the themes of beauty, life and death, and continues to resonate with the 21st century reader due to the fact that it touches on the human condition.

My friend acknowledged that “Ode to a Nightingale” is a wonderful poem. However he said that Keat’s work was written for an educated elite and was not read by ordinary people.

It is undoubtedly the case that at the time of the poems composition few “working class” people possessed the ability to read and write. Consequently “Ode” was (by and large) appreciated by an educated (and often wealthy) reading public. To acknowledge this self-evident fact does not, however imply that we ought to embrace the contention that “poetry should be relevant”.

Every poem is, of course relevant to the poet who puts pen to paper, (he would not have composed it where this not the case). A poet feels love, sadness, despair, sorrow, happiness (or a myriad other emotions) and feels impelled to compose a poem. In the moment of composition his poem is “relevant” to him and usually remains so throughout the remainder of his life.

However the power of a great poem lies in it’s ability to transcend time and place. From the early 19th century Keats “Nightingale” speaks poignantly to people of all social groups today. for the themes of life, death and beauty are as “relevant” to 21st century man as they were to the man or woman of the 19th century. Unlike the early 19th century, in the 20th (and 21st centuries) education is (in the developed world at least) now widespread, which enables people of all backgrounds to appreciate more complex poetry. I say “more complex”, for humans have always enjoyed poems, whether of the nursery rhyme variety, baudy verses or Homer’s “Odyssey” and “Iliad”. The latter were of course (originally) recited from memory so were accessible to people of all social stations. Therefore Homer, who is considered by some as “elitist”, was not viewed in this manner when his great works enthralled the ancients, when recited to the assembled populace.

We do, I believe need to be wary of assuming that because someone grows up in a tower block where the lifts rarely (if ever) work and gangs roam the estate, that they need (if, indeed they need poetry at all), to read poems about people living in similar circumstances to those in which they find themselves.

If an individual living in the circumstances described above writes poetry, she may well compose poems about gangs, drug dealers and other issues which often plague run down estates. Her work may possess literary merit (or it may not). However it should not be argued that her work is (due to it being based in gritty reality) more “relevant” than “Ode to a Nightingale”.

Of course the work of the poet living on a badly maintained estate is as “relevant” to her, as was Keats “Nightingale” to the poet as he sat penning it on Hampstead Heath. We should not, however jump to the assumption that merely because a person comes from poor circumstances that they are, somehow incapable of appreciating Keats, Shakespeare or Wordsworth. Through good teaching people of all kinds can (and should) enjoy our rich literary heritage, for it belongs to all of us. Certainly it is easier for the child growing up in a household full of books to gain an appreciation for the literary arts. But its by no means impossible for the girl or boy growing up on a poor estate to do likewise. Ultimately great art does not only transcend time and place, it also goes beyond social class and touches the hearts of us all. This is why I dislike the word “relevant” when applied to the appreciation of literature.

“Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats, read by Stephen Fry

Yesterday evening, I ran a quiz for friends on Zoom. One of the questions I posed was who wrote these lines:

“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-wards had sunk:
‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine 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”.

The answer is, of course John Keats, the poem in question being “Ode to a Nightingale”.

Along with “Autumn”, “Ode to a Nightingale” is one of my favourite poems, written by a poet who died at a tragically young age.

You can find a wonderful reading of “Ode to a Nightingale”, read by Stephen Fry here,


Whilst Walking In The Forest Green

Whilst walking in the forest green
I met with the fairy queen,
Who said,”la belle dame sans merci”.
I said, “do, please excuse me,
But is this a Keatsian dream?”.

Sometimes Brevity is King

I have long been an admirer of those who can express themselves well in short verse. Consequently I was interested when I came across 7 Poems, an Alexa skill, which provides the user of an Amazon Echo with access to 7 poems from the book Text Messages, by Andrew Wilson, https://www.amazon.co.uk/Studio-for-Co-operation-Seven-Poems/dp/B07GZT6DVK/.

I was impressed with the poems showcased in the above free Alexa skill, and will be purchasing Wilson’s book Text Messages.

My love for the short poem began, I believe with my reading of Ernest Dowson’s “They are not long, the weeping and the laughter” which runs thus:

“They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.
They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream”.

Life is indeed brief and the brevity of Dowson’s poem serves to underline this fact. It is, of course true that there have been many fine long poems written on the subject of mortality. Take, for example Keats “Ode to a Nightingale” which is, incidentally one of my favourite poems.

Keats produced a wonderful meditation on mortality, suicide and beauty and his ode does, to my mind contain not one extraneous word. I have, however read other poems where I have thought that (had the poem been briefer) it would have been more impactful. Dowson’s “They are not Long” certainly does not suffer from being long winded, and his verses undoubtedly pack a powerful punch.

Many (but by no means all) of my own poems are brief in nature. Take, for example my poem Summer, which runs as follows:

“Summer unlocks
Youthful passion.
Now ’tis the fashion
For short frocks
And tiny socks.
Some girls barefoot go;
For, of a summer’s day,
They little know
That winter snow
Is on its way.”

Only my readers can say whether the above poem conveys (in 10 lines) what the poet wished to convey, and, if so whether his message is well expressed in so brief a space. As the poet, I believe that I said all I wished to convey in 10 lines. Had I said more I would have been guilty of the sin of waffle, and heaven preserve us from wafflers! But, in the final analysis its all in the interpretation of my readers.

In conclusion, there is, I believe a place for both short and longer poems. If something can be expressed briefly and with impact then there is, in my opinion no point in spinning out the word count. Indeed doing so will merely weary the reader and turn an otherwise potentially good (even great) poem, into a mediocre or poor piece of writing. Some things are, however better expressed at greater length, as is the case with Keats “Nightingale”.

My poem Summer can be found in my Selected Poems, which is available in paperback and e-book format from Amazon:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07WW8WXPP/ (for the UK, and https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07WW8WXPP/. (for the US and elsewhere).

The BBC retrace the walk which inspired Keats to compose his “To Autumn”

On todays “The World this Weekend”, on BBC Radio 4, there was a piece regarding John Keat’s “To Autumn”. In it a poet and a local nature expert retrace Keat’s footsteps as they walk through the countryside that inspired the composition of “To Autumn”.

To listen to the piece (its about 20 minutes into the 30 minute programme) please follow this link, https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0008qgb. Please note, you will need to log-in to BBC sounds in order to listen or, if you don’t have an account, you will need to create one.

Below is Keat’s “To Autumn”:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Why Do Certain Sounds Bring Sadness To Mind?

Why do certain sounds bring
Sadness to mind?
I find
That when birds sing
And engine’s notes are in distance
Lost, that my resistance
To melancholy
Is low
And I go
In search of Keat’s Nightingale.
Yet tis folly
I think
To drink
Too much of Keat’s brimming cup.
But o how sweet it is to sup
At melancholy’s table
Provided we are able
To partake of her store
For a while,
Then, with a wisthful smile

Keats had his Nightingale

Keats had his Nightingale, which made him think of death.
I have my owl, which brings to mind Macbeth.
Tis a different name
For the same

The morning birds sing
Replacing the owl’s cry
And I
Ponder on Keats, who is remembered still
And wonder will
My owl survive
Long after I am alive.

Beauty is truth, and truth beauty

From time to time, a line of poetry pops into my head. I can’t shake off the words of the poet and remain a little restless until the author of said lines has been discovered by me.

Recently the following lines kept running around in my mind

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

A quick Google search reveals that the above beautiful words where penned by John Keats and appear in his Ode on a Grecian Urn

The internet is often attacked for “dumbing down” literature in that it fosters a desire for instant gratification (the wish for easily digestable bite-sized entertainment in the form of stories, poems etc).

There is, in my opinion an element of truth in this criticism. However the internet does, at it’s best open up almost instantaneous access to the world of literature and, in the case of the lines sighted above, enabled me to quickly ascertain their origin.


“Autumnal” by Ernest Christopher Dowson

Yesterday evening, I sat in my living room leafing through “The New Oxford Book of English Verse”. Pausing at Keats, I read several of his poems, the last one among them being “Autumn”. “Autumn” is one of those poems which refreshes the jaded soul and causes the reader to gasp in wonder at the sheer beauty of the poet’s creation.
Having read Keats, I was minded to reproduce “Autumn” on this site. However “Autumn” is well known and rather than quote a much loved and well known poem, I have chosen instead to share Ernest Christopher Dowson’s poem, “Autumnal”:


“PALE amber sunlight falls across
The reddening October trees,
That hardly sway before a breeze
As soft as summer: summer’s loss
Seems little, dear! on days like these!

Let misty autumn be our part!
The twilight of the year is sweet:
Where shadow and the darkness meet
Our love, a twilight of the heart
Eludes a little time’s deceit.

Are we not better and at home
In dreamful Autumn, we who deem
No harvest joy is worth a dream?
A little while and night shall come,
A little while, then, let us dream.

Beyond the pearled horizons lie
Winter and night: awaiting these
We garner this poor hour of ease,
Until love turn from us and die
Beneath the drear November trees”.