Written in Disgust of Vulgar Superstition
The church bells toll a melancholy round,
Calling the people to some other prayers,
Some other gloominess, more dreadful cares,
More harkening to the sermon’s horrid sound.
Surely the mind of man is closely bound
In some black spell; seeing that each one tears
Himself from fireside joys, and Lydian airs,
And converse high of those with glory crown’d
Still, still they too, and I should feel a damp,—
A chill as from a tomb, did I not know
That they are dying like an outburnt lamp;
That ’tis their sighing, wailing ere they go
Into oblivion; — that fresh flowers will grow,
And many glories of immortal stamp.
Charles Cowden Clarke (son of Keats’s former Headmaster) described how Keats wrote this “one Sunday morning as I stood by his side”. This unseasonal sonnet shows that Christmas meant rather less to Keats than it does to many of us today.
Source of quotation:
Letter from Charles Cowden Clarke to Richard Monckton Milnes (Keats’s first biographer) 17 March 1846. In H. E. Rollins (editor) Letters and Papers of the Keats Circle (Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press 1948) II, 154