Poetry Review: “Endymion (Stanza 1)” by John Keats


John Keats by William Holton

Of the five major poets of the Romantic period (I am not counting Blake as a Romantic), Keats is the most beloved. His poems… and lines from his poems…  are also the most universally recognizable. This famous first stanza from “Endymion” is evidence of this. These lines of heroic couplets(paired rhymes of iambic pentameter) are as familiar to us as any lines of poetry ever written.

Keats, of course, only lived to the age of 26. Though age, like everything else, is relative, 26 seems younger and younger to me with each passing year. And with each passing year his poetic accomplishments seem more and more staggering.

It is said that true prodigies only exists in three areas… math, music, and chess. In all other disciplines and endeavors, what we call genius comes from the perfect and serendipitous marriage of intellect, ability, effort, and experience: Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Picasso…. That all those things could come together so quickly in Keats is more than serendipitious.

I am thinking now of other short lived artists who had their stars burn brightly but quickly… most are musicians, prodigies: Mozart (dead at 35), Schubert (dead at 30), Hank Williams, Sr. (dead at 29), Jimi Hendrix (dead at 28).

Beauty is Keat’s theme. And what better day to think about beauty than a bright spring day in May.


Endymion (Stanza 1)

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways::
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
‘Gainst the hot season; the mid forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.

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