The Poetry Corner

Sleep And Poetry

By John Keats

As I lay in my bed slepe full unmete Was unto me, but why that I ne might Rest I ne wist, for there n'as erthly wight [As I suppose] had more of hertis ese Than I, for I n'ad sicknesse nor disese. - Chaucer What is more gentle than a wind in summer? What is more soothing than the pretty hummer That stays one moment in an open flower, And buzzes cheerily from bower to bower? What is more tranquil than a musk-rose blowing In a green island, far from all men's knowing? More healthful than the leafiness of dales? More secret than a nest of nightingales? More serene than Cordelia's countenance? More full of visions than a high romance? What, but thee Sleep? Soft closer of our eyes! Low murmurer of tender lullabies! Light hoverer around our happy pillows! Wreather of poppy buds, and weeping willows! Silent entangler of a beauty's tresses! Most happy listener! when the morning blesses Thee for enlivening all the cheerful eyes That glance so brightly at the new sun-rise. But what is higher beyond thought than thee? Fresher than berries of a mountain tree? More strange, more beautiful, more smooth, more regal, Than wings of swans, than doves, than dim-seen eagle? What is it? And to what shall I compare it? It has a glory, and naught else can share it: The thought thereof is awful, sweet, and holy, Chasing away all worldliness and folly; Coming sometimes like fearful claps of thunder, Or the low rumblings earth's regions under; And sometimes like a gentle whispering Of all the secrets of some wond'rous thing That breathes about us in the vacant air; So that we look around with prying stare, Perhaps to see shapes of light, aerial limning, And catch soft floatings from a faint-heard hymning; To see the laurel wreath, on high suspended, That is to crown our name when life is ended. Sometimes it gives a glory to the voice, And from the heart up-springs, rejoice! rejoice! Sounds which will reach the Framer of all things, And die away in ardent mutterings. No one who once the glorious sun has seen, And all the clouds, and felt his bosom clean For his great Maker's presence, but must know What 'tis I mean, and feel his being glow: Therefore no insult will I give his spirit, By telling what he sees from native merit. O Poesy! for thee I hold my pen That am not yet a glorious denizen Of thy wide heaven- Should I rather kneel Upon some mountain-top until I feel A glowing splendour round about me hung, And echo back the voice of thine own tongue? O Poesy! for thee I grasp my pen That am not yet a glorious denizen Of thy wide heaven; yet, to my ardent prayer, Yield from thy sanctuary some clear air, Smooth'd for intoxication by the breath Of flowering bays, that I may die a death Of luxury, and my young spirit follow The morning sun-beams to the great Apollo Like a fresh sacrifice; or, if I can bear The o'erwhelming sweets, 'twill bring to me the fair Visions of all places: a bowery nook Will be elysium- an eternal book Whence I may copy many a lovely saying About the leaves, and flowers- about the playing Of nymphs in woods, and fountains; and the shade Keeping a silence round a sleeping maid; And many a verse from so strange influence That we must ever wonder how, and whence It came. Also imaginings will hover Round my fire-side, and haply there discover Vistas of solemn beauty, where I'd wander In happy silence, like the clear Meander Through its lone vales; and where I found a spot Of awfuller shade, or an enchanted grot, Or a green hill o'erspread with chequer'd dress Of flowers, and fearful from its loveliness, Write on my tablets all that was permitted, All that was for our human senses fitted. Then the events of this wide world I'd seize Like a strong giant, and my spirit teaze Till at its shoulders it should proudly see Wings to find out an immortality. Stop and consider! life is but a day; A fragile dew-drop on its perilous way From a tree's summit; a poor Indian's sleep While his boat hastens to the monstrous steep Of Montmorenci. Why so sad a moan? Life is the rose's hope while yet unblown; The reading of an ever-changing tale; The light uplifting of a maiden's veil; A pigeon tumbling in clear summer air; A laughing school-boy, without grief or care, Riding the springy branches of an elm. O for ten years, that I may overwhelm Myself in poesy; so I may do the deed That my own soul has to itself decreed. Then will I pass the countries that I see In long perspective, and continually Taste their pure fountains. First the realm I'll pass Of Flora, and old Pan: sleep in the grass, Feed upon apples red, and strawberries, And choose each pleasure that my fancy sees; Catch the white-handed nymphs in shady places, To woo sweet kisses from averted faces,- Play with their fingers, touch their shoulders white Into a pretty shrinking with a bite As hard as lips can make it: till agreed, A lovely tale of human life we'll read. And one will teach a tame dove how it best May fan the cool air gently o'er my rest; Another, bending o'er her nimble tread, Will set a green robe floating round her head, And still will dance with ever varied ease, Smiling upon the flowers and the trees: Another will entice me on, and on Through almond blossoms and rich cinnamon; Till in the bosom of a leafy world We rest in silence, like two gems upcurl'd In the recesses of a pearly shell. And can I ever bid these joys farewell? Yes, I must pass them for a nobler life, Where I may find the agonies, the strife Of human hearts: for lo! I see afar, O'ersailing the blue cragginess, a car And steeds with streamy manes- the charioteer Looks out upon the winds with glorious fear: And now the numerous tramplings quiver lightly Along a huge cloud's ridge; and now with sprightly Wheel downward come they into fresher skies, Tipt round with silver from the sun's bright eyes. Still downward with capacious whirl they glide; And now I see them on the green-hill's side In breezy rest among the nodding stalks. The charioteer with wond'rous gesture talks To the trees and mountains; and there soon appear Shapes of delight, of mystery, and fear, Passing along before a dusky space Made by some mighty oaks: as they would chase Some ever-fleeting music on they sweep. Lo! how they murmur, laugh, and smile, and weep: Some with upholden hand and mouth severe; Some with their faces muffled to the ear Between their arms; some, clear in youthful bloom, Go glad and smilingly athwart the gloom; Some looking back, and some with upward gaze; Yes, thousands in a thousand different ways Flit onward- now a lovely wreath of girls Dancing their sleek hair into tangled curls; And now broad wings. Most awfully intent The driver of those steeds is forward bent, And seems to listen: O that I might know All that he writes with such a hurrying glow. The visions all are fled the car is fled Into the light of heaven, and in their stead A sense of real things comes doubly strong, And, like a muddy stream, would bear along My soul to nothingness: but I will strive Against all doubtings, and will keep alive The thought of that same chariot, and the strange Journey it went. Is there so small a range In the present strength of manhood, that the high Imagination cannot freely fly As she was wont of old? prepare her steeds, Paw up against the light, and do strange deeds Upon the clouds? Has she not shown us all? From the clear space of ether, to the small Breath of new buds unfolding? From the meaning Of Jove's large eye-brow, to the tender greening Of April meadows? Here her altar shone, E'en in this isle; and who could paragon The fervid choir that lifted up a noise Of harmony, to where it aye will poise Its mighty self of convoluting sound, Huge as a planet, and like that roll round, Eternally around a dizzy void? Ay, in those days the Muses were nigh cloy'd With honors; nor had any other care Than to sing out and sooth their wavy hair. Could all this be forgotten? Yes, a schism Nurtured by foppery and barbarism, Made great Apollo blush for this his land. Men were thought wise who could not understand His glories: with a puling infant's force They sway'd about upon a rocking horse, And thought it Pegasus. Ah dismal soul'd! The winds of heaven blew, the ocean roll'd Its gathering waves- ye felt it not. The blue Bared its eternal bosom, and the dew Of summer nights collected still to make The morning precious: beauty was awake! Why were ye not awake? But ye were dead To things ye knew not of,- were closely wed To musty laws lined out with wretched rule And compass vile: so that ye taught a school Of dolts to smooth, inlay, and clip, and fit, Till, like the certain wands of Jacob's wit, Their verses tallied. Easy was the task: A thousand handicraftsmen wore the mask Of Poesy. Ill-fated, impious race! That blasphemed the bright Lyrist to his face, And did not know it,- no, they went about, Holding a poor, decrepid standard out Mark'd with most flimsy mottos, and in large The name of one Boileau! O ye whose charge It is to hover round our pleasant hills! Whose congregated majesty so fills My boundly reverence, that I cannot trace Your hallowed names, in this unholy place, So near those common folk; did not their shames Affright you? Did our old lamenting Thames Delight you? Did ye never cluster round Delicious Avon, with a mournful sound, And weep? Or did ye wholly bid adieu To regions where no more the laurel grew? Or did ye stay to give a welcoming To some lone spirits who could proudly sing Their youth away, and die? 'Twas even so: But let me think away those times of woe: Now 'tis a fairer season; ye have breathed Rich benedictions o'er us; ye have wreathed Fresh garlands: for sweet music has been heard In many places;- some has been upstirr'd From out its crystal dwelling in a lake, By a swan's ebon bill; from a thick brake, Nested and quiet in a valley mild, Bubbles a pipe; fine sounds are floating wild About the earth: happy are ye and glad. These things are doubtless: yet in truth we've had Strange thunders from the potency of song; Mingled indeed with what is sweet and strong, From majesty: but in clear truth the themes Are ugly clubs, the Poets' Polyphemes Disturbing the grand sea. A drainless shower Of light is poesy; 'tis the supreme of power; 'Tis might half slumb'ring on its own right arm. The very archings of her eye-lids charm A thousand willing agents to obey, And still she governs with the mildest sway: But strength alone though of the Muses born Is like a fallen angel: trees uptorn, Darkness, and worms, and shrouds, and sepulchres Delight it; for it feeds upon the burrs, And thorns of life; forgetting the great end Of poesy, that it should be a friend To sooth the cares, and lift the thoughts of man. Yet I rejoice: a myrtle fairer than E'er grew in Paphos, from the bitter weeds Lifts its sweet head into the air, and feeds A silent space with ever sprouting green. All tenderest birds there find a pleasant screen, Creep through the shade with jaunty fluttering, Nibble the little cupped flowers and sing. Then let us clear away the choking thorns From round its gentle stem; let the young fawns, Yeaned in after times, when we are flown, Find a fresh sward beneath it, overgrown With simple flowers: let there nothing be More boisterous than a lover's bended knee; Nought more ungentle than the placid look Of one who leans upon a closed book; Nought more untranquil than the grassy slopes Between two hills. All hail delightful hopes! As she was wont, th' imagination Into most lovely labyrinths will be gone, And they shall be accounted poet kings Who simply tell the most heart-easing things. O may these joys be ripe before I die. Will not some say that I presumptuously Have spoken? that from hastening disgrace 'Twere better far to hide my foolish face? That whining boyhood should with reverence bow Ere the dread thunderbolt could reach? How! If I do hide myself, it sure shall be In the very fane, the light of Poesy: If I do fall, at least I will be laid Beneath the silence of a poplar shade; And over me the grass shall be smooth shaven; And there shall be a kind memorial graven. But off Despondence! miserable bane! They should not know thee, who athirst to gain A noble end, are thirsty every hour. What though I am not wealthy in the dower Of spanning wisdom; though I do not know The shiftings of the mighty winds that blow Hither and thither all the changing thoughts Of man: though no great minist'ring reason sorts Out the dark mysteries of human souls To clear conceiving: yet there ever rolls A vast idea before me, and I glean Therefrom my liberty; thence too I've seen The end and aim of Poesy. 'Tis clear As anything most true; as that the year Is made of the four seasons- manifest As a large cross, some old cathedral's crest, Lifted to the white clouds. Therefore should I Be but the essence of deformity, A coward, did my very eye-lids wink At speaking out what I have dared to think. Ah! rather let me like a madman run Over some precipice; let the hot sun Melt my Dedalian wings, and drive me down Convuls'd and headlong! Stay! an inward frown Of conscience bids me be more calm awhile. An ocean dim, sprinkled with many an isle, Spreads awfully before me. How much toil! How many days! what desperate turmoil! Ere I can have explored its widenesses. Ah, what a task! upon my bended knees, I could unsay those- no, impossible! Impossible! For sweet relief I'll dwell On humbler thoughts, and let this strange assay Begun in gentleness die so away. E'en now all tumult from my bosom fades: I turn full hearted to the friendly aids That smooth the path of honour; brotherhood, And friendliness the nurse of mutual good. The hearty grasp that sends a pleasant sonnet Into the brain ere one can think upon it; The silence when some rhymes are coming out; And when they're come, the very pleasant rout: The message certain to be done to-morrow. 'Tis perhaps as well that it should be to borrow Some precious book from out its snug retreat, To cluster round it when we next shall meet. Scarce can I scribble on; for lovely airs Are fluttering round the room like doves in pairs; Many delights of that glad day recalling, When first my senses caught their tender falling. And with these airs come forms of elegance Stooping their shoulders o'er a horse's prance, Careless, and grand-fingers soft and round Parting luxuriant curls;- and the swift bound Of Bacchus from his chariot, when his eye Made Ariadne's cheek look blushingly. Thus I remember all the pleasant flow Of words at opening a portfolio. Things such as these are ever harbingers To trains of peaceful images: the stirs Of a swan's neck unseen among the rushes: A linnet starting all about the bushes: A butterfly, with golden wings broad parted, Nestling a rose, convuls'd as though it smarted With over pleasure- many, many more, Might I indulge at large in all my store Of luxuries: yet I must not forget Sleep, quiet with his poppy coronet: For what there may be worthy in these rhymes I partly owe to him: and thus, the chimes Of friendly voices had just given place To as sweet a silence, when I 'gan retrace The pleasant day, upon a couch at ease. It was a poet's house who keeps the keys Of pleasure's temple. Round about were hung The glorious features of the bards who sung In other ages- cold and sacred busts Smiled at each other. Happy he who trusts To clear Futurity his darling fame! Then there were fauns and satyrs taking aim At swelling apples with a frisky leap And reaching fingers, 'mid a luscious heap Of vine-leaves. Then there rose to view a fane Of liny marble, and thereto a train Of nymphs approaching fairly o'er the sward: One, loveliest, holding her white hand toward The dazzling sun-rise: two sisters sweet Bending their graceful figures till they meet Over the trippings of a little child: And some are hearing, eagerly, the wild Thrilling liquidity of dewy piping. See, in another picture, nymphs are wiping Cherishingly Diana's timorous limbs;- A fold of lawny mantle dabbling swims At the bath's edge, and keeps a gentle motion With the subsiding crystal: as when ocean Heaves calmly its broad swelling smoothness o'er Its rocky marge, and balances once more The patient weeds; that now unshent by foam Feel all about their undulating home. Sappho's meek head was there half smiling down At nothing; just as though the earnest frown Of over thinking had that moment gone From off her brow, and left her all alone. Great Alfred's too, with anxious, pitying eyes, As if he always listened to the sighs Of the goaded world; and Kosciusko's worn By horrid suffrance- mightily forlorn. Petrarch, outstepping from the shady green, Starts at the sight of Laura; nor can wean His eyes from her sweet face. Most happy they! For over them was seen a free display Of out-spread wings, and from between them shone The face of Poesy: from off her throne She overlook'd things that I scarce could tell. The very sense of where I was might well Keep Sleep aloof: but more than that there came Thought after thought to nourish up the flame Within my breast; so that the morning light Surprised me even from a sleepless night; And up I rose refresh'd, and glad, and gay, Resolving to begin that very day These lines; and howsoever they be done, I leave them as a father does his son.