“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).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *