On Saturday 11 July 1818 Keats and Brown had breakfast at Kirkoswald, then visited the remains of Crossraguel Abbey and Baltersan Castle. They spent the night at Ayr, where Keats wrote a sonnet in Burns’s cottage.
“One song of Burns’s is of more worth to you than all I could think for a whole year in his native country. His Misery is a dead weight upon the nimbleness of one’s quill — I tried to forget it — to drink Toddy without any Care — to write a merry sonnet — it won’t do — he talked with Bitches — he drank with Blackguards, he was miserable — We can see horribly clear, in the works of such a Man his whole life, as if we were God’s spies.”
This mortal body of a thousand days
Now fills, O Burns, a space in thine own room,
Where thou didst dream alone on budded bays,
Happy and thoughtless of thy day of doom!
My pulse is warm with thine own barley-bree,
My head is light with pledging a great soul,
My eyes are wandering, and I cannot see,
Fancy is dead and drunken at its goal:
Yet can I stamp my foot upon thy floor,
Yet can I ope thy window-sash to find
The meadow thou hast tramped o’er and o’er,
Yet can I think of thee till thought is blind,
Yet can I gulp a bumper to thy name —
O smile among the shades, for this is fame!
[A thousand days takes us back to 7 April 1815, which was around the time it’s believed that Keats wrote ‘O Solitude, if I must with thee dwell’ – which would be his first published poem.]