John Keats writes in midsummer 1816

Around 21 June 1816 John Keats begins gathering ideas for his longest poem to date, ‘I stood tip-toe upon a little hill’:

Maybush beesC


A bush of May flowers with the bees about them;
Ah, sure no tasteful nook would be without them;
And let a lush laburnum oversweep them,
And let long grass grow round the roots to keep them
Moist, cool and green; and shade the violets,
That they may bind the moss in leafy nets.
A filbert hedge with wild briar overtwined,
And clumps of woodbine taking the soft wind
Upon their summer thrones; there too should be
The frequent chequer of a youngling tree,
That with a score of light green brethren shoots
From the quaint mossiness of agèd roots:
Round which is heard a spring-head of clear waters
Babbling so wildly of its lovely daughters
The spreading blue-bells—it may haply mourn
That such fair clusters should be rudely torn
From their fresh beds, and scattered thoughtlessly
By infant hands, left on the path to die.

(Lines 29-46).


At the time he began this, Keats was living two lives; medical student by day, and poetic groupie by night. His first poem had been published in The Examiner (see 5 May 1816), although he had yet to meet the magazine’s editor James Leigh Hunt. Twelve years later, Hunt recalled that the poem had been suggested ‘by a delightful summer-day, as he [Keats] stood beside the gate that leads from the Battery on Hampstead Heath into a field by Caen Wood.'[1]. Keats chose ‘I stood tip-toe upon a little hill’ to open his first collection Poems, by John Keats in 1817.

[1] James Leigh Hunt (1828) Lord Byron and Some of his Contemporaries (1976 reprint: New York, Georg Olms Verlag) p. 413. Caen Wood is now known as ‘Kenwood’.

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