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.]

200 years ago Keats received another desperate letter from his brother George

On Monday 27 September 1819 Keats wrote to George in America:
“it is in consequence of Mrs Jennings threatening a Chancery suit that you have been kept from the receipt of monies and myself deprived of any help from Abbey — I am glad you say you keep up your spirits — I hope you make a true statement on that score — Still keep them up — for we are all young — I can only repeat here that you shall hear from me again immediately. Notwithstanding this bad intelligence I have experienced some pleasure in receiving so correctly two Letters from you, as it gives me if I may so say a distant idea of Proximity. This last improves upon my little niece — Kiss her for me. Do not fret yourself about the delay of money on account of any immediate opportunity being lost: for in a new country whoever has money must have an opportunity of employing it in many ways.”

[Mrs Jennings = long-lost aunt of John, George and Fanny Keats who was threatening to sue them for a share of Tom Keats’s estate]
[Abbey = Richard Abbey, the Keats’s Guardian]

200 years ago Keats wrote about political duty

On Friday 24 September 1819 Keats wrote to his brother George:
“the first political duty a Man ought to have a Mind to is the happiness of his friends. I wrote Brown a comment on the subject, wherein I explained what I thought of Dilke’s Character, which resolved itself into this conclusion. That Dilke was a Man who cannot feel he has a personal identity unless he has made up his Mind about everything. The only means of strengthening one’s intellect is to make up one’s mind about nothing — to let the mind be a thoroughfare for all thoughts. Not a select party. The genus is not scarce in population. All the stubborn arguers you meet with are of the same brood — They never begin upon a subject they have not preresolved on. They want to hammer their nail into you and if you turn the point, still they think you wrong.”

[Brown = Charles Armitage Brown, Keats’s friend and landlord]
[Dilke = Charles Wentworth Dilke, friend of the Keats family]

200 years ago Keats explained his decision to give up writing poetry

On Wednesday 22 September 1819 Keats wrote to Charles Brown (the co-author of the tragedy ‘Otho the Great’):
“It is quite time I should set myself doing something, and live no longer upon hopes. I have never yet exerted myself. I am getting into an idle-minded, vicious way of life, almost content to live upon others. In no period of my life have I acted with any self-will, but in throwing up the apothecary profession. That I do not repent of…
“I will write, on the liberal side of the question, for whoever will pay me. I have not known yet what it is to be diligent. I purpose living in town in a cheap lodging, and endeavouring, for a beginning, to get the theatricals of some paper. When I can afford to compose deliberate poems, I will…
“Suppose the tragedy should succeed,—there will be no harm done. And here I will take an opportunity of making a remark or two on our friendship, and all your good offices to me…”

The following day Thursday 23 September, he wrote to him again:
“It is quite time I should set myself doing something, and live no longer upon hopes. I have never yet exerted myself. I am getting into an idle-minded, vicious way of life, almost content to live upon others. In no period of my life have I acted with any self-will, but in throwing up the apothecary profession. That I do not repent of.”