The first of John Keats’s poems to be published appeared in200 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 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.