200 years ago Keats wrote to his sister

Around Tuesday 26 October 1819 Keats wrote his sister for the first time in almost two months:
My dear Fanny,
My Conscience is always reproaching me for neglecting you for so long a time. I have been returned from Winchester this fortnight and as yet I have not seen you. I have no excuse to offer… I shall expect to see you the next time I call on Mr. A. about George’s affairs which perplex me a great deal…
I have left off animal food that my brains may never henceforth be in a greater mist than is theirs by nature—I took lodgings in Westminster for the purpose of being in the reach of Books, but am now returned to Hampstead being induced to it by the habit I have acquired in this room I am now in and also from the pleasure of being free from paying any petty attentions to a diminutive house-keeping. Mr. Brown has been my great friend for some time —without him I should have been in, perhaps, personal distress—as I know you love me though I do not deserve it, I am sure you will take pleasure in being a friend to Mr. Brown even before you know him.—My lodgings for two or three days were close in the neighbourhood of Mrs. Dilke who never sees me but she enquires after you—I have had letters from George lately which do not contain, as I think I told you in my last, the best news… It is better you should not be teased with the particulars… his mercantile speculations have not had success in consequence of the general depression of trade in the whole province of Kentucky… I have a couple of shells for you you will call pretty.
Your affectionate Brother John ——

200 years ago Keats read ‘Lamia’ to Joseph Severn

On Sunday 24 October 1819 Keats (living in Wentworth Place again) had a visit from Joseph Severn, who heard him read ‘Lamia’.

She was a gordian shape of dazzling hue,
Vermilion-spotted, golden, green, and blue;
Striped like a zebra, freckled like a pard,
Eyed like a peacock, and all crimson barr’d;
And full of silver moons, that, as she breathed,
Dissolv’d, or brighter shone, or interwreathed
Their lustres with the gloomier tapestries—
So rainbow-sided, touch’d with miseries,
She seem’d, at once, some penanced lady elf,
Some demon’s mistress, or the demon’s self.
Upon her crest she wore a wannish fire
Sprinkled with stars, like Ariadne’s tiar
Her head was serpent, but, ah, bitter-sweet!
She had a woman’s mouth with all its pearls complete:
And for her eyes: what could such eyes do there
But weep, and weep, that they were born so fair?
As Proserpine still weeps for her Sicilian air.
Her throat was serpent, but the words she spake
Came, as through bubbling honey, for Love’s sake,
And thus; while Hermes on his pinions lay,
Like a stoop’d falcon ere he takes his prey.

‘Lamia’ Book i, lines 47-67

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!’]