John Keats on a fair summer’s eve in June 1816

Around the 18th June 1816 Keats writes a sonnet:

O! how I love, on a fair summer’s eve,
When streams of light pour down the golden west,
And on the balmy zephyrs tranquil rest
The silver clouds, far—far away to leave
All meaner thoughts, and take a sweet reprieve
From little cares; to find, with an easy quest,
A fragrant wild, with Nature’s beauty dressed,
And there into delight my soul deceive.
There warm my breast with patriotic lore,
Musing on Milton’s fate— on Sidney’s bier—
Till their stern forms before my mind arise:
Perhaps on the wing of Poesy upsoar,
Full often dropping a delicious tear,
When some melodious sorrow spells mine eyes.

Charles Cowden Clarke, the son of Keats’s former school-teacher, recalled:
‘In one of our conversations, about this period, I alluded to his position at St. Thomas’s Hospital, coasting and reconnoitring, as it were, for the purpose of discovering what progress he was making in his profession… and with that transparent candour which formed the mainspring of his rule of conduct, he at once made no secret of his inability to sympathize with the science of anatomy, as a main pursuit in life… He said, in illustration of his argument, “The other day, for instance, during the lecture, there came a sunbeam into the room, and with it a whole troop of creatures floating in the ray; and I was off with them to Oberon and fairyland.”’

Charles and Mary Cowden Clarke Recollections of Writers (1878; Fontwell: Centaur Press 1969) 131-2

John Keats on Sunday 5 May 1816

The first of John Keats’s poems to be published appeared in The Examiner 200 years ago today.


O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell,
Let it not be among the jumbled heap
Of murky buildings; climb with me the steep —
Nature’s observatory — whence the dell,
Its flowery slopes, its river’s crystal swell,
May seem a span; let me thy vigils keep
’Mong boughs pavilioned, where the deer’s swift leap,
Startles the wild bee from the foxglove bell.
But though I’ll gladly trace these scenes with thee,
Yet the sweet converse of an innocent mind,
Whose words are images of thoughts refined,
Is my soul’s pleasure; and it sure must be
Among the highest bliss of human-kind,
When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee.

Keats had written this sonnet in the autumn of 1815, when he was a medical student, living in digs at 28 St Thomas’s Street, where the ‘murky buildings’ make him yearn for the countryside around Enfield where he went to school. It was at this school (Clarke’s Academy) that he was encouraged to read The Examiner which he admired for its poetry and its radical politics. He had sent the sonnet to the magazine’s editor James Leigh Hunt on spec. It would be five months before Keats would meet him — or any professional writers.

John Keats on Saturday 2 June 1816

Around this time John Keats writes a sonnet:

Buttercups and dandelion clocks

To one who has been long in city pent,
’Tis very sweet to look into the fair
And open face of heaven — to breathe a prayer
Full in the smile of the blue firmament.
Who is more happy, when, with heart’s content,
Fatigued he sinks into some pleasant lair
Of wavy grass, and reads a debonair
And gentle tale of love and languishment?
Returning home at evening, with an ear
Catching the notes of Philomel — an eye
Watching the sailing cloudlet’s bright career,
He mourns that day so soon has glided by:
E’en like the passage of an angel’s tear
That falls through the clear ether silently.

In the transcript which his sister-in-law Georgiana Keats (née Wylie) made, she noted that this was `Written in the fields, June 1816′. This would have been during a day off from his medical studies at Guy’s Hospital. He had spent the previous ten months living in Southwark, sharing lodgings with other medical students at 28 St Thomas’s Street.