200 years ago Keats probably wrote his ‘Bright Star’ sonnet

On Thursday 21 October 1819 Keats returned to Wentworth Place to live with Brown again. An early sharp snowfall on this day makes it likely that this was when he wrote ‘Bright Star’:

Bright star! would I were steadfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night,
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like Nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.

200 years ago Keats gave up his rooms in College Street

On Tuesday 19 October 1819 Keats left the rooms in College Street. He wrote to Fanny Brawne from the Dilkes’ rooms in Great Smith Street:

My sweet Fanny,
On awakening from my three days dream (“I cry to dream again”) I find one and another astonish’d at my idleness and thoughtlessness. I was miserable last night—the morning is always restorative. I must be busy, or try to be so. I have several things to speak to you of tomorrow morning. Mrs. Dilke I should think will tell you that I purpose living at Hampstead. I must impose chains on myself. I shall be able to do nothing. I should like to cast the die for Love or death. I have no Patience with any thing else—if you should ever intend to be cruel to me as you say in jest now but perhaps may sometimes be in earnest, be so now—and I will—my mind is in a tremble, I cannot tell what I am writing.
Ever my love yours
John Keats.

200 years ago Keats wrote this tortured poem

After seeing Fanny Brawne on 15 October 1819 Keats wrote this poem in Westminster, separated both from her (in Hampstead) and from his brother George (in the ‘banished land’ of America):

What can I do to drive away
Remembrance from my eyes? for they have seen,
Aye, an hour ago, my brilliant Queen!
Touch has a memory. O say, love, say,
What can I do to kill it and be free
In my old liberty?
When every fair one that I saw was fair
Enough to catch me in but half a snare,
Not keep me there:
When, howe’er poor or particolour’d things,
My muse had wings,
And ever ready was to take her course
Whither I bent her force,
Unintellectual, yet divine to me;— …

Where shall I learn to get my peace again?
To banish thoughts of that most hateful land,
Dungeoner of my friends, that wicked strand
Where they were wreck’d and live a wrecked life;
That monstrous region, whose dull rivers pour,
Ever from their solid urns into the shore,
Unown’d of any weedy-haired gods;
Whose winds, all zephyrless, hold scourging rods,
Iced in the great lakes, to afflict mankind;
Whose rank-grown forests, frosted, black, and blind,
Would fright a Dryad; whose harsh herbaged meads
Make lean and lank the starv’d ox while he feeds;
There bad flowers have no scent, birds no sweet song,
And great unerring Nature once seems wrong.

O, for some sunny spell!
To dissipate the shadows of this hell!
Say they are gone,—with the new dawning light
Steps forth my lady bright!
O, let me once more rest
My soul upon that dazzling breast!
Let once again these aching arms be placed,
The tender gaolers of thy waist!
And let me feel that warm breath here and there
To spread a rapture in my very hair,—
O, the sweetness of the pain!
Give me those lips again!
Enough! Enough! it is enough for me
To dream of thee!

200 years ago Keats wrote to Fanny Brawne after their first meeting in 15 weeks

On Wednesday 13 October 1819 Keats wrote to Fanny Brawne:

My dearest Girl,

This moment I have set myself to copy some verses out fair. I cannot proceed with any degree of content. I must write you a line or two and see if that will assist in dismissing you from my Mind for ever so short a time. Upon my Soul I can think of nothing else. The time is passed when I had power to advise and warn you against the unpromising morning of my Life. My love has made me selfish. I cannot exist without you. I am forgetful of everything but seeing you again—my Life seems to stop there—I see no further. You have absorb’d me. I have a sensation at the present moment as though I was dissolving—I should be exquisitely miserable without the hope of soon seeing you. I should be afraid to separate myself far from you. My sweet Fanny, will your heart never change? My love, will it? I have no limit now to my love…

Do not threat me even in jest. I have been astonished that Men could die Martyrs for religion—I have shudder’d at it. I shudder no more—I could be martyr’d for my religion—Love is my religion—I could die for that. I could die for you. My Creed is Love and you are its only tenet. You have ravish’d me away by a Power I cannot resist: and yet I could resist till I saw you; and even since I have seen you I have endeavoured often “to reason against the reasons of my Love.” I can do that no more—the pain would be too great. My love is selfish. I cannot breathe without you.

Yours for ever John Keats

200 years ago Keats wrote an impassioned letter to Miss Brawne after their first meeting in 15 weeks

On Monday 11 October 1819 Keats wrote to Fanny Brawne from College Street, Westminster:

My sweet Girl,

I am living today in yesterday: I was in a complete fascination all day. I feel myself at your mercy. Write me ever so few lines and tell me you will never for ever be less kind to me than yesterday.—

You dazzled me. There is nothing in the world so bright and delicate. When Brown came out with that seemingly true story against me last night, I felt it would be death to me if you ever had believed it—though against any one else I could muster up my obstinacy. Before I knew Brown could disprove it I was for the moment more miserable.

When shall we pass a day alone? I have had a thousand kisses, for which with my whole soul I thank love—but if you should deny me the thousand and first—’twould put me to the proof how great a misery I could live through. If you should ever carry your threat yesterday into execution—believe me ’tis not my pride, my vanity or any petty passion would torment me—really ’twould hurt my heart—I could not bear it.

I have seen Mrs. Dilke this morning; she says she will come with me any fine day.
Ever yours
John Keats
Ah hertè mine!

[The reason for Mrs Dilke accompanying Keats on his next visit to Wentworth Place was to act as chaperone.
The closing quotation is from Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde. The full line runs: ‘Ah hertè mine, Criseyde, O swete fo!’]

200 years ago Keats met Miss Brawne after their 15-week separation

On Sunday 10 October 1819 Keats visited Wentworth Place to collect his books. He saw Fanny Brawne—and was smitten once more.
‘The Day is gone’ and ‘Lines to Fanny’ describe his feelings:

The day is gone, and all its sweets are gone!
Sweet voice, sweet lips, soft hand, and softer breast,
Warm breath, tranced whisper, tender semi-tone,
Bright eyes, accomplish’d shape, and lang’rous waist!
Vanish’d unseasonably at shut of eve,
When the dusk holiday—or holinight
Of fragrant-curtain’d love begins to weave
The woof of darkness thick, for hid delight;
Faded the flower and all its budded charms,
Faded the sight of beauty from my eyes,
Faded the shape of beauty from my arms,
Faded the voice, warmth, whiteness, paradise—
But, as I’ve read love’s missal through to-day,
He’ll let me sleep, seeing I fast and pray.

I cry your mercy—pity—love!—aye love!
Merciful love that tantalises not,
One-thoughted, never-wandering, guileless love,
Unmask’d, and being seen—without a blot!
O! let me have thee whole,—all—all—be mine!
That shape, that fairness, that sweet minor zest
Of love, your kiss,—those hands, those eyes divine,
That warm, white, lucent, million-pleasured breast,—
Yourself—your soul—in pity give me all,
Withhold no atom’s atom or I die,
Or living on, perhaps, your wretched thrall,
Forget, in the mist of idle misery,
Life’s purposes,—the palate of my mind
Losing its gust, and my ambition blind!

[Gust = the sense of taste]

200 years ago Keats had a visitor in his new lodgings

On Saturday 9 October 1819, Joseph Severn visited Keats at 25 College Street, Westminster. His praise of ‘Hyperion’ confirmed Keats’s view of it: he did not want to write a poem ‘that might have been written by John Milton, but one that was unmistakeably written by no other than John Keats.’*

A year later, Severn would be Keats’s companion on his fateful voyage to Italy.


  • William Sharp The Life and Letters of Joseph Severn (London 1892) 40-1

200 years ago Keats was making preparations for his new career

On Friday 1 October 1819 Keats wrote to his family friend Charles Wentworth Dilke:

My dear Dilke,                                                Winchester Friday Octr 1st
For sundry reasons, which I will explain to you when I come to Town, I have to request you will do me a great favour as I must call it knowing how great a Bore it is. That your imagination may not have time to take too great an alarm I state immediately that I want you to hire me a *couple of rooms in Westminster. Quietness and cheapness are the essentials: but as I shall with Brown be returned by next Friday you cannot in that space have sufficient time to make any choice selection, and need not be very particular as I can when on the spot suit myself at leisure. Brown bids me remind you not to send the Examiners after the third. Tell Mrs. D. I am obliged to her for the late ones which I see are directed in her hand. Excuse this mere business letter for I assure you I have not a syllable at hand on any subject in the world.
Your sincere friend,
John Keats.
* A Sitting Room and bed room for myself alone.

[Presumably the footnote was added to forestall any idea Dilke might have that Keats planned to elope with Fanny Brawne.]