Chance Promise

Todd Osborne
University of Southern Mississippi

Re: Keats’s 31 December 1817 letter to Benjamin Robert Haydon

So difficult, making engagements,
arranging things just so—the universe
tends toward dissolution in all things,

even plans made with friends. If
thoughtlessly is a word that can be applied
here, so is unerringly. Who can stop

the world from its course? There are stars
and sun—which one can be out in all day—
there are words to be said, meetings

missed and made, and yet even so
there are chance encounters, a walk
on a heath, intentional or not, can

become a conversation with a friend,
can become an all-day affair, or merely
something to be mentioned at the end

of a missive. A tossed-off fact about
the days that have passed. A way
to excuse one’s behavior, an apology.

Letter #38: To Benjamin Robert Haydon, 31 December 1817

The negative capability letter may have felt like a fitting conclusion to 1817/2017, and indeed it was! But it turns out there is one other letter Keats wrote before the year was quite out. The KLP prefers the showmanship of going out on a high note, so we’ve waited until a few days after the calendar has turned to get to the 31 Dec 1817 letter to Haydon. No, it was definitely NOT because holiday festivities took precedence over our being timely. Not a chance.

In any case we present to you the final letter of 1817 a few days into 2018. For Keats the final day of the year 1817 was perhaps a bit less exciting than the evening of 28 December, when he attended the so-called “Immortal Dinner.” But there is one small detail in today’s short note which deserves some notice: Keats tells Haydon, “I met Wordsworth on Hampstead Heath this Morning.” If Keats were living in 2017, one imagines he might have followed up with “NBD.” The thought of those two great spirits sojourning separately and just happening to bump into one another… it does put us out of breath.

The chance meeting with Wordsworth is part of the subject of our response to this letter: a poem from Todd Osborne. After reading the brief letter below, head over to the next post to enjoy the poem!

Keats’s 31 Dec 1817 letter to Haydon.