Notwithstanding your Happiness and your recommendation I hope I shall never marry. […] The roaring of the wind is my wife, and the Stars through the window pane are my Children.
—To George and Georgiana Keats, October 1818
He’s married to an autumn wind that roars
through clashing branches of the sycamores
and scatters their last leaves across the sky.
And like the wind among the sycamore boughs,
a roaring wife can strain a husband’s vows
to breaking point. But every wind will die
away. When he’s delivered from the storm
the poet is at liberty to form
new unions that seem brief and yet defy
the centuries; for when a poet binds
himself in words he also binds our minds
to his. And he is freely bound to try
wife after wife: a man who has been kissed
by poetry is a constant bigamist.
Except in that near-equinoctial light
of an autumn evening or late afternoon
when we might see the zodiacal arc
of stars and planets, sun and crescent moon,
we cannot see the stars until the night
is all around us and the skies are dark.
Children, Keats called them, because their domain
was also his: he stared at the night skies
and found a way of looking through the pane
as if the universe flowed from his eyes.
We come from stardust; stardust’s in our veins
and in the microcosm of our brain.
And when a star burns out it shines for years,
light-years, before its starlight disappears.
I want to compose without this fever. I hope one day I shall.
—To George and Georgiana Keats, September 1819
Fever was fervour. It was no disease
of mind but that condition—sure, perplexed—
of falling unconditionally in love
day after day with poems he had to write.
He was be-mused, and nothing can appease
a poet’s need, not this poem or the next
or next again. He knew he had to prove
his love by ordeal, imagination’s white
hot fire. But could he by time’s slow degrees
have cooled his fever and kept his intellect’s
pure flame intact? Whatever power drove
his fevered mind to visionary sight—
a power the other fever couldn’t sieze—
is still in force. We read him by its light.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 22 Number 3, on page 35
Copyright © 2019 The New Criterion | www.newcriterion.com