“But this is human life”

Quick waterflies and gnats were sporting still,
And fish were dimpling, as if good nor ill
Had fallen out that hour. The wanderer,
Holding his forehead, to keep off the burr
Of smothering fancies, patiently sat down;
And, while beneath the evening’s sleepy frown
Glow-worms began to trim their starry lamps,
Thus breath’d he to himself: “Whoso encamps
To take a fancied city of delight,
O what a wretch is he! and when ’tis his,
After long toil and travailing, to miss
The kernel of his hopes, how more than vile:
Yet, for him there’s refreshment even in toil;
Another city doth he set about,
Free from the smallest pebble-bead of doubt
That he will seize on trickling honey-combs:
Alas, he finds them dry; and then he foams,
And onward to another city speeds.
But this is human life: the war, the deeds,
The disappointment, the anxiety,
Imagination’s struggles, far and nigh,
All human; bearing in themselves this good,
That they are still the air, the subtle food,
To make us feel existence, and to show
How quiet death is. Where soil is men grow,
Whether to weeds or flowers; but for me,
There is no depth to strike in.”

John Keats: ‘Endymion’ Book II lines 135-161, which he wrote during the summer of 1817. The passage shows the delight which he took in describing nature (‘the fish were dimpling’) and the struggle he had in finding acceptable rhymes in his very long poem (‘vile/toil’ and ‘anxiety/nigh’ seem rather strained).

On 26 July 1817, a renewed sales push started for ‘Poems by John Keats’

From The Times, Saturday 26 July 1817:

“Just published, in post 8vo, price 6s. boards,
POEMS. By JOHN KEATS.
“What more felicity can fall to creature
“Than to enjoy delight with Liberty!”
Spenser. –Fate of the Butterfly.
Also, price 1s., A Proposal for putting Reform to the Vote throughout the Kingdom. By the Hermit of Marlow.
Printed by C. and J. Ollier, Public Library, Welbeck-street, Cavendish-square.”

[The Hermit of Marlow was Shelley.]
Around this time Keats and John Hamilton Reynolds met and read Shakespeare together on Hampstead Heath.

200 years ago, Leigh Hunt continued his review of ‘Poems by John Keats’

On Sunday 6 July 1817, in the Examiner, Leigh Hunt continued his review of Poems by John Keats (which he had started five weeks earlier). In this part of the review he complained of Keats’s ‘tendency to notice everything too indiscriminately and without an eye to natural proportion and effect’. He was a fine one to talk.

200 years ago, Leigh Hunt wondered where “Junkets” was

On Tuesday 1 July 1817, Leigh Hunt wrote to Charles Cowden Clarke, wondering what had happened to “Junkets” (his nick-name for John Keats): ‘I suppose Queen Mab has eaten him.’
Leigh Hunt had returned to London on 25 June (after staying with Shelley in Marlow for four months). In fact, Keats was at Well Walk, Hampstead, working on Endymion.

200 years ago, ‘The Examiner’ printed the first part of its review of Keats’s first book

On Sunday 1 June 1817, ‘The Examiner’ printed the first part of the ‘review’ of ‘Poems by John Keats’. After an introduction, the article (by Keats’s friend and mentor Leigh Hunt) failed to mention either Keats or his poems.

200 years ago, Keats met Mrs Isabella Jones and ‘warmed with her’

On Sunday 25 May 1817 (Whit Sunday), Keats met Isabella Jones at Bo-Peep (now St Leonards-on-Sea). He would later tell his brothers that he had ‘warmed with her … and kissed her’. So this was more than just sitting in the sunshine together, as this poem (which is associated with her) suggests:

You say you love; but with a voice
Chaster than a nun’s, who singeth
The soft vespers to herself
While the chime-bell ringeth —
O love me truly!

You say you love; but with a smile
Cold as sunrise in September,
As you were Saint Cupid’s nun,
And kept his weeks of Ember.
O love me truly!

You say you love; but then your lips
Coral-tinted teach no blisses
More than coral in the sea —
They never pout for kisses —
O love me truly!

You say you love; but then your hand
No soft squeeze for squeeze returneth,
It is like a statue’s, dead —
While mine to passion burneth —
O love me truly!

O breathe a word or two of fire!
Smile, as if those words should burn me,
Squeeze as lovers should — O kiss
And in thy heart inurn me!
O love me truly!

200 years ago Keats gave his new publishers a progress report

On Friday 16 May 1817, Keats wrote to Taylor & Hessey, thanking them for sending him a £20 advance for his new poem ‘Endymion’:
“I went day by day at my Poem for a Month — at the end of which time the other day I found my Brain so overwrought that I had neither Rhyme nor reason in it…
“This Evening I go to Canterbury — having got tired of Margate… At Canty I hope the Remembrance of Chaucer will set me forward like a Billiard-Ball.”

200 years ago Keats wrote of the eighth deadly sin

200 years ago, on Sunday 11 May 1817, Keats wrote to Benjamin Robert Haydon:
‘I have a horrid Morbidity of Temperament which has shown itself at intervals – it is, I have no doubt the greatest Enemy and stumbling block I have to fear… There is no greater sin after the 7 deadly than to flatter oneself into an idea of being a great Poet.’