The Poet’s Poet: Poems Written to, for, and about Keats

A few day ago the KLP published a list of some nineteenth-century tribute poems written to Keats, mostly with a focus on poems featuring Keats’s grave. Today we have another list! This one features some more recent examples (across the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, but with an emphasis on the last few decades).

Although the Wikipedia entry for “Poet of the Poets” does not list Keats as an example of one who’s been called “the poet’s poet,” we nonetheless make the assertion here. Perhaps the is too strong—no need to have just one. But surely Keats remains a poet’s poet. Without having undertaken any sort of systematic quantitative analysis of the question, we can nonetheless affirm that it certainly feels like Keats receives more love from other contemporary(ish) poets than do many other nineteenth-century writers. Not too many recent poems about Robert Southey out there–sorry, Bob!

As with our previous list, this one is not meant to be comprehensive. There are plenty of other examples, for sure! We also include here primarily examples of poems that have a central or significant relationship to Keats. The list could easily plump and swell more, and still more, if we included poems that engage with Keats in more brief or minor ways. That said, we’re hoping to expand the list further with updates, so send us more examples via Twitter (@KeatsLetters) or email (

And if you want to explore the topic of Keats and modern/contemporary poetry further, you might begin by consulting a few of these sources:

  • Jeffrey Robinson’s book Reception and Poetics in Keats: My Ended Poet. Includes an appendix featuring many poems written to/for Keats between 1821 and 1994.
  • Two essays by Eric Eisner: “Disaster Poetics: Keats and Contemporary American Poetry,” in Wordsworth Circle (2013), and “Drag Keats: Mark Doty’s Cockney Poetics,” in European Romantic Review (2017).
  • Several chapters from Keats’s Negative Capability: New Origins and Afterlives, edited by the KLP’s own Brian Rejack and Michael Theune (Liverpool UP, 2019). Thomas Gardner writes on Jorie Graham; Arsevi Seyran on Elizabeth Bishop; and Robert Archambeau and Eric Eisner each write chapters on negative capability’s place in twentieth-century American poetry and poetics more broadly.
  • The KLP’s series “Contemporary Poets on Negatively Capable Poems,” Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. Featuring commentary from Virginia Bell, Katy Didden, Jerry Harp, Matt Hart, Gary Hawkins, Anna Leahy, Shara McCallum, Jennifer Militello, and Murat Nemet-Nejat. On poems by Amiri Baraka, E. E. Cummings, Vievee Francis, Kenneth Koch, John Milton, Sylvia Plath, Erika L. Sánchez, Anna Swir, and Orhan Veli.

And now, the list! Not all poems have links, and not all links will take you to the full text. But you can at least start on your journey with the info we provide here.

Some Recent-ish Poems Written to/for/about Keats

Kaveh Akbar, “The Palace,” New Yorker, April 2019

[Anonymous], “A Brown Aesthete Speaks,” (often misattributed to Mae V. Cowdery–published in The Crisis, September 1928)

David Baker, “Posthumous Man,” Southern Review, Spring 2007

Hera Lindsay Bird, “Keats is dead so fuck me from behind,” The Spinoff, November 2016

Marianne Boruch, “Keats is Coughing,Poetry, April 2017

John Ciardi, “A Trenta-Sei of the Pleasure We Take in the Early Death of Keats,Poetry, 1986

Julio Cortazar, Imagen de John Keats [ok, not poetry, but such a fascinating text—see recent articles by Olivia Loksing Moy and Marco Ramírez Rojas, who also published the English translation linked above]

Amy Clampitt, Voyages: A Homage to John Keats, 1984

Tom Clark, Junkets on a Sad Planet, 1994

Eileen Cleary, “Life Mask, John Keats” and “Death Mask, John Keats,Nixes Mate, spring 2019 [also the collection 2 a.m. with Keats, forthcoming from Nixes Mate]

Cid Corman, “After Reading Keats’ Letters,Poetry, June 1956

Countee Cullen, “To John Keats, Poet. At Spring Time,” Color, 1925

The first stanza of Countee Cullen’s poem, from the collection Color, via Google Books

Carrie Etter, “Almandine,” The Liberal, Autumn 2007

Albert Goldbarth, “Keats’s Phrase,” Poetry, Feb 2012 [the “phrase” is negative capability]

Jorie Graham, “Scirocco,” Erosion (1983)

The first five stanzas of Jorie Graham’s “Scirocco,” from Erosion, via Google Books.

Debora Greger, “The Rome of Keats,” Poetry, October 1984

Tony Harrison, “A Kumquat for John Keats,” 1981

Garrett Hongo, “A Garland of Light,” Sewanee Review, Summer 2019 [In an interview for the Sewanee Review, Hongo talks about this poem and the interrelated poetic legacies it weaves between Keats, Robert Hayden, and Hongo:]

Jane Kenyon, “At the Spanish Steps in Rome,” New Criterion, 1989

James Kimbrell, “To Keats in October,” Poetry, September 2000

David Kirby, “This living hand,” Rattle, March 2017

Denise Levertov, “Memories of John Keats

Mark Levine, “John Keats,” Enola Gay (2000)

Philip Levine, “Keats in California,” Poetry, Oct/Nov 1987

Philip Levine’s poem “Keats in California,” via JSTOR.

John Logan, “On the Death of Keats: Lines for Those Who Drown Twice,” Poetry, October 1966

Corey Marks, “For Keats, After Keats,Paris Review, Summer 1999

Edgar Lee Masters, “Keats to Fanny Brawne,” Poetry, January 1921

Jack Mathews, “The World’s Oldest Authority on Keats,” Poetry (Nov 1980):

Stanley Plumly, “Posthumous Keats,” Poetry, June 1983 [**And there are many more by Plumly! Including, “Constable’s Clouds, For Keats,” “Keats in Burns Country,” “Keatsian,” “Early Nineteenth-Century Poetry Walks,” “My Noir,” “To Autumn”**]

Adrienne Rich, “In Memoriam: D. K.,” Time’s Power (1989) [an elegy written for David Kalstone in 1986, in which Rich invokes Keats—a many-layered assemblage of literary remembrances]

Rainer Maria Rilke, “John Keats, Drawn in Death [Zu der Zeichnung, John Keats imTode darstellund],” 1914

Joyelle McSweeney, “Toxic Sonnets: A Crown for John Keats,” Toxicon and Arachne (2020).

Frank O’Hara, “Again, John Keats, or the Pot of Basil,” 1963.

O’Hara’s enigmatic short poem, via Google Books

Surazeus Simon Seamount, “Keats Writing Odes in the Garden,” “Idol of Their Personality,” and “Vision of Endymion,” 2018.

Patty Seyburn, “Ode to My Grecian Urns,” San Diego Reader, 2018; “Ode to Ode to Psyche,” Hotel Amerika 17.1; “Reverie of Gratitude,” The Florida Review

Karl Shapiro, “A Room in Rome,” Poetry, April 1988

Angelos Sikelianos, “Yannis Keats,” (1915) translated from Modern Greek by A. E. Stallings, Poetry, June 2011

Louise Morgan Sill, “To Keats,” In Sun or Shade (1906)

Anne Spencer, “Dunbar,” 1922

Anne Spencer’s “Dunbar” (1922), via Poetry Foundation.

Frederic Will, “After Keats,” Poetry, November 1965

Robert Wrigley, “Nightingale Capability,” Shenandoah, Fall 2012

Dean Young, “I See a Lily on Thy Brow,” Skid (2002)

Not Just Adonais: Some Other Nineteenth-Century Tribute Poems for Keats

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Adonais certainly takes the elegiac cake when it comes to the most famous and influential of poems written to/in remembrance of Keats. But lots of other examples exist, too! As we near the bicentennial of Keats’s death, and the KLP’s virtual event featuring a collaborative reading of Adonais, let’s look at some of the other elegies for Keats.

First, a caveat: these are not all strictly elegies. In the spirit of plenitude that Keats himself so adored, we figured why not include a wide variety of poetic flowers in this gathering of tributes? Some poems elegize Keats in the elegiac mode as such; others simply concern Keats, his poetry, and his legacy in one way or another.

“Go thou to Rome”
So Shelley counsels mourners in Adonais (he even provides a description of how to find Keats’s grave next to the Pyramid of Caius Cestius). It turns out that many friends of Keats took that advice from early on, and writing a poem while at Keats’s grave became a ritual of sorts for many 19th-century poets. Here are some examples of the mini-genre:

  • Maria Lowell, “The Grave of Keats” (written March 1851, published 1853). Lowell found the spot uninspiring, and unworthy of one she esteemed as highly as she did Keats: “O Mother Earth, what hast thou brought / This tender frame that loved thee well? / Harsh grass and weeds alone are wrought / On his low grave’s uneven swell.”
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes, “After a Lecture on Keats” (1853). Not only a jurist—also a fan of Keats!
  • Sarah Helen Whitman, “A Pansy from the Grave of Keats” (1859). The gathering of a flower from Keats’s grave is a common practice and an often featured trope in poems about the grave.
  • Alexander Anderson, “John Keats” (1873). Anderson also has a sonnet sequence called “In Rome,” and it features several that are about Keats’s and Shelley’s graves.
  • William Bell Scott, “On the Inscription, Keats’ Tombstone,” (1875). Scott’s poem is preceded by an image of Keats’s grave that he produced in June 1873.

William Bell Scott’s drawing of “Keats’ Grave,” from June 1873.

  • Richard Watson Gilder, “An Inscription in Rome (Piazza di Spagna),” (1873). Ok, this one isn’t about the grave, but it is of particular interest for its reference to the Keats-Shelley House several decades before that building was purchased by the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association in 1906.
  • Christopher Pearse Cranch, “At the Grave of Keats. To G. W. C.” (written 1883, first published 1885). Fascinating for both its temporal shifts (looking back at a visit to the grave nearly 40 years earlier), and for its affective bonds constructed between and among Cranch, Keats, and George William Curtis (the dedicatee). The visit to the grave in 1846 also included Cranch’s wife Elizabeth (née DeWindt—a great-granddaughter of John and Abigail Adams), but she remains conspicuously absent in the recollection.
  • Thomas Hardy, “Rome; At the Pyramid of Cestius Near the Graves of Shelley and Keats,” (1887). Hardy revises Cestius’ legacy such that the Roman tribune now owes whatever remains of his fame to the “matchless singers” now buried nearby.

One other fascinating detail about Hardy’s poem and its composition: although no flowers feature in the text, Hardy did indeed pluck some from the site when he and his wife Emma visited on 31 March 1887. Emma noted in her diary, “Gathered violets off graves of Shelley & Keats.” And her husband sent some specimens in a letter to the literary critic Edmund Gosse: “I send you a violet or two which I gathered from Keats’s [grave]—He is covered with violets in full bloom just now, & thousands of daisies stud the grass around.” That letter is now in the British Library, along with the flowers it contained, which have since been enclosed in plastic. The scrap of paper in which Hardy placed and pressed the flowers remains archived with the letter and the botanical materials, and one can trace the outline of the organic material which was transferred from the flowers to the paper by their long placement together. The violet petals are not particularly prominent any longer, but the leaves—still preserved in plastic alongside the stems from which they at some point separated—feature veins which remain strikingly distinct. These flowers—gathered from Keats’s grave over a century ago—still, still weep for Adonais.

For more examples of nineteenth-century (and later) poets writing about Keats, a good place to start is Jeffrey Robinson’s Reception and Poetics in Keats: My Ended Poet (1998). The book includes an appendix featuring a collection of poems written about Keats spanning from 1821–1994.

As our bicentennial coverage continues, the KLP will also post a list of some notable 20th- and 21st-century tribute poems written to/about Keats. So stay tuned.

Upcoming Events and Resources on the Bicentennial of Keats’s Death

One week from today marks 200 years since John Keats died in the arms of his friend Joseph Severn. On the occasion of this bicentennial, there are many things to read, to listen to, to watch, and to attend (at least virtually). While by no means an exhaustive list, the KLP has gathered here a collection of some of these bicentennial resources.

Events on 23 February

  • [On the day before, 22 Feb] “Keats: A Bicentennial Talk,” with Rob Shakespeare, Principal Curator (Keats House). 22 Feb, 12:30 pm GMT, 7:30 am EST.
  • Flowers and Poems for Keats at the Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome. The Director of the Non-Catholic Cemetery and the Curator of the Keats-Shelley House will lay flowers at Keats’s grave, and poems will be read. Watch via live stream on the Keats-Shelley House Facebook page. 10 am CET, 9 am GMT, 4 am EST. If you’re in the US, stay up late, or get up early!
  • Performance of Angus Graham-Campbell’s play “Writ in Water,” airing on BBC Radio 4 at 2:15 pm GMT, 9:15 am EST.
  • Premiere of “The Death of Keats,” an immersive video story from the Keats-Shelley House, narrated by Bob Geldof. 6:30 pm CET (Rome), 5:30 GMT, 12:30 EST. Get your VR headsets ready! You can also schedule a live virtual tour of the Keats-Shelley House starting on February 23.
  • “On the Shore of the Wide World: Keats, 200 years on.” Poetry Society event (via Zoom), featuring several poets and Keats scholars. 7-9 pm GMT, 2-4 pm EST.
  • Performance of Pele Cox’s play Lift me up for I am dying. Collaboration between the British School in Rome, the Keats-Shelley House, and the British Institute of Florence. Performed by actors over FaceTime from various locations. Available to watch via the BSR’s YouTube page. 10:30 pm CET, 9:30 pm GMT, 4:30 pm EST.
  • And don’t forget about us! The KLP is hosting “Weep for Adonais: A Collaborative Reading of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Elegy for John Keats,” 11 pm CET (Rome), 10 pm GMT, 5 pm EST. Pre-register here–more details via the poster below.

Join the KLP to weep for Adonais as February 23rd draws to a close

  • And one more before the day is done in the US (European night-owls are welcome to join as well): the KLP’s own Michael Theune has organized the second session of his “Zoomanities!” series, focused on “Why Keats Now?“, with special guest Eric G. Wilson, author of How to Make a Soul: The Wisdom of John Keats. 23 February, 8 pm EST.

New Books on Keats
If you have a yearning to read more about Keats as the bicentennial approaches, you are in luck. Several books have just come out in the last few months!

  • Bright Star, Green Light: The Beautiful and Damned Lives of John Keats and F. Scott Fitzgerald, by Jonathan Bate. From HarperCollins UK.
  • Keats: A Brief Life in Nine Poems and One Epitaph, by Lucasta Miller. From Penguin UK.
  • John Keats: A Book of Days, by Peter Phillps. For a daily dose of Keats’s writing!

What else to read

What to watch

  • Need to brush up on your odes? Head over to the Keats Foundation and you can watch all six of them being performed by Matthew Coulton–as Keats, and filmed at Keats House! Or just stick here and get a taste of mellow fruitfulness with “To Autumn”
  • Take a tour of the Keats-Shelley House in Rome narrated by Bob Geldof. And while you’re there, check out their other youtube videos, including a lovely reading of some of Keats’s and Shelley’s poems by Julian Sands.
  • And to get in the proper mood for Adonais, who better to help than Robert Smith?

What to listen to (in addition to The Cure)

If you have more items you think we should add to this list, let us know on Twitter (@KeatsLetters) or via email (

Keep on Keatsin’ on; or, Punny Keats

Editor’s Note: As part of the KLP’s ongoing pedagogy initiatives, one of the KLP co-founders, Brian Rejack, has been working with some of the students in his undergraduate romanticism course this semester to have students produce posts for the site. Today’s post is the last in that series. You can read previous ones here and here and here and here.

Spencer Hopkins (Illinois State University)

I’m Spencer (or SPUNcer, as some call me) Hopkins and I am a senior in ISU’s English program. Dr. Rejack’s romanticism class provided a way for me to combine my love of punning and my love of Keats. Throughout the semester I wrote Keats-centered puns on the board in class (and eventually graduated to other kinds of puns). When Dr. Rejack mentioned that I could compile a list of Keats’s puns for the KLP, it was a big boost to my Psyche. No need to write an ode on melancholy, because you’ll find a wealth of Keats’s puns listed below!

  • “The little Gentleman that sometimes lurks in a gossips bowl ought to have come in very likeness of a coasted crab and choaked me outright for not having answered your Letter ere this”—10 May 1817 to Leigh Hunt. Punning on a reference to Midsummer Night’s Dream (“roasted crab”) because Keats was then staying at Margate (on the coast).
  • “I will get over the first part of this (unsaid) Letter as soon as possible”—22 November 1817 to Benjamin Bailey. Playing on “said” meaning something referred to previously.
  • “remember me to each of our Card playing Club–when you die you will all be turned into Dice, and be put in pawn with the Devil–for Cards they crumple up like any King”—22 November 1817 to John Hamilton Reynolds. Playing with terms from cards and chess.
  • “I will not deceive myself that Man should be equal with jove–but think himself very well off as a sort of scullion-Mercury or even a humble Bee”—19 February 1818 to John Hamilton Reynolds. Playing on humility and the bumble-bee (whose name derives from the earlier term, “humble-bee,” which comes from the association with the bee’s humming).
  • “I am your debtor—I must ever remain so—nor do I wish to be clear of my rational debt”—25 May 1818 to Benjamin Bailey. Playing on “national debt” (and indicated with the underlined “r”).
  • “my head is sometimes in such a whirl in considering the million likings and antipathies of our moments—that I can get into no settle strain in my Letters—My Wig! Burns and sentimentality coming across you and frank Floodgate in the office—O scenery that thou shouldst be crush’d between two Puns–I hope Brown does not put them punctually in his journal –If he does I must sit on the cutty-stool all next winter”—13 July 1818 to John Hamilton Reynolds. Lots going on here!
  • “there are many like Sir F. Burdett who like to sit at the head of political dinners—but there are none prepared to suffer in obscurity for their Country … A man now entitlerd Chancellor has the same honour paid to him whether he be a Hog or a Lord Bacon”—14 October 1818 to George and Georgiana Keats.
  • Basically all of the co-written letter (with Charles Brown) to Charles Dilke from 24 January 1819, including:

“not call Mat Snook a relation to Matt-rass”
“This is grown to a conclusion—I had excellent puns in my head but one bad one from Brown has quite upset me”
“N.B. I beg leaf to withdraw all my Puns—they are all a wash, an base uns—”
“*erratum—a large B   *a Bumble B” (referring to Brown)

  • “She is bon a side a thin young—’Oman”—Feb-May 1819 to George and Georgiana Keats. Describing a “Miss H.” who would eventually marry Georgiana’s brother, Henry Wylie.
  • And several from the long journal letter to George and Georgiana Keats in September 1819:

“attitude is every thing as Fusili said when he took up his leg like a Musket to shoot a Swallow just darting behind his shoulder”— Playing on Fusili’s name and a term for a musket (a fusil).
“As for Pun-making I wish it was as good a trade as pin-making—there is very little business of that sort going on now.”
“No more will notes you will say—but notes are different things—though they make together a Pun mote—as the term goes.”
“for I have discovered that a little girl in the house was the Rappee–I assure you she has nearly make me sneeze.” Playing on a variety of snuff (Rappee) and a girl who had been knocking on the wall in the house where Keats was staying.

Leigh Hunt’s ‘Young Poets’ Essay – 1 Dec 1816

By the KLP Editors

Two hundred years ago today was an auspicious day for young John Keats. As we’ve seen while chronicling the beginnings of his epistolary career over the last few months, Keats was quickly gaining confidence in his poetic abilities. What a treat it must have been to appear as one subject of Leigh Hunt’s essay, “Young Poets,” published on this day in The Examiner. The other two poets Hunt praises didn’t fare so badly either: Percy Bysshe Shelley is remembered by a few people now and then, and John Hamilton Reynolds turned out to be rather prescient when he told his friend Keats, “Do you get Fame,–and I shall have it in being your affectionate and steady friend.” He certainly was affectionate and steady as Keats’s friend, as we’ll see come spring 2017 and well into 2018, when we’ll commemorate many letters written to Reynolds, some of which are among Keats’s most lively and loving. Your humble editors personally cannot wait for the airy pigs and archangelical acorns of Feb 2018.

But, as happens so often here at the KLP, we do get ahead of ourselves. Today we’re celebrating Hunt’s celebration of Keats. And we’re doing so even though Hunt just had to get in a little critique of his mentee, noting as he does of the Chapman’s Homer sonnet that it contains “one incorrect rhyme” and “a little vagueness in calling the regions of poetry ‘the realms of gold.'” Come on, Hunt! How about just saying some nice things? I suppose this is why disputes in the periodicals led to duels. Good thing we’ve figured out how to make public discourse kinder via the internet! Hunt does offer particular praise of the last six lines, and he notes, “The word swims is complete.” Agreed.

So enjoy Hunt’s tribute to the young members of this “new school of poetry,” a school which Hunt himself had a hand in constructing.* In addition to the “Young Poets” essay marking the first publication of Keats’s Champan’s Homer sonnet, it also went a long way toward solidifying Keats’s association with Hunt, an association that would affect Keats’s reception for a long time to come. One imagines John Gibson Lockhart reading the “Young Poets” essay and scheming about how he could turn this “new school” against itself. It’s worth remembering that the “Cockney School” attacks launched in fall 1817 were not only ideologically reactionary, but also simply reactions to the sense that there really was a dangerous school forming around Hunt and his pals. The KLP will sit in that classroom any day. Today is a special one, though, since Keats’s presence in The Examiner on 1 December 1816 was a crucial part of his ongoing education, and Hunt will continue as a significant figure as we follow Keats’s epistolary work these next few years.



Page 1 of “Young Poets,” by Leigh Hunt. From The Examiner, 1 Dec 1816. Courtesy British Periodicals Database. Click image for full size.


Page 2 of “Young Poets,” by Leigh Hunt. From The Examiner, 1 Dec 1816. Courtesy British Periodicals Database. Click image for full size.


*Bonus points to those readers who know that the pointing index figure symbol (called sometimes just an “index,” alternatively a “manicule”) was Hunt’s mark for essays in The Examiner which he himself authored. You can see one at the end of the “Young Poets” essay above. The trouble-makers over at Blackwood’s make a joke about Hunt’s “hebdomadal hand” in Cockney School No. III.

A Savage Journey to the Heart of Chapman’s Homer

Brian Rejack (Illinois State University)
Michael Theune (Illinois Wesleyan)

We know from Charles Cowden Clarke’s affectionate memoir of Keats that after they each moved to London in the fall of 1816 the pair enjoyed a “symposium” or two–basically, raucous nights spent reading poetry, just like 21-year-olds today are so notorious for doing. On one of these occasions, sometime in October 1816, Clarke and Keats pulled an all-nighter reading what the former called “a beautiful copy of the folio edition of Chapman’s translation of Homer” (128). The evening produced Keats’s sonnet, “On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer,” the manuscript of which he sent to Clarke just a few hours after they parted company at dawn. To commemorate this occasion, two of the KLP founders recently embarked on a trip to look into Chapman’s Homer themselves.

The voyage crossed the corn and soy fields of central Illinois. Alongside Intrepid Adventurer Mike and Intrepid Adventurer Brian, Intrepid Adventurer Keats (in mask form) had a comfortable ride, glancing out every now and then at the unseasonably warm stubble fields.

Keats in mirror are closer than they appear

Keats in mirror are closer than they appear.

We arrived at the University of Illinois, and after a Monstrous lunch, made our way to the library. Keats requested that we stop outside and document his presence there. We did our best to oblige.

These hedgerows, hardly hedgerows, did nonetheless impede Keats's access to the library sign.

The hedgerows, hardly hedgerows, did nonetheless impede Keats’s access to the library sign.

The real rifts of ore we were after, though, lay inside. Upon ascending not quite Ben Nevis, but some challenging flights of stairs, we three intrepid adventurers arrived at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. We were greeted by extremely accommodating staff members, who graciously allowed us to bring Keats himself into the reading room, even though he lacked the proper ID (such a cameleon poet, that one).

Upon entering the reading room, we met with the 1616 folio edition of Chapman’s translation of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. It seemed somewhat diminutive in size, all three of us having encountered larger folios before. Thanks to the assistance of curator Adam Doskey, the mystery was solved. It was indeed a folio. Just a diminutive one. Clearly we needed to be more comfortable with being in uncertainties. WAY too much reaching after fact and reason.

But Keats got us back on track, and away we went, seeking out passages from Chapman’s translation mentioned by Clarke, including a final one that produced “one of [Keats’s] delighted stares.” The first appears in Book Three of The Iliad, and Brian and Mike each agreed that the line “And words that flew about our ears like drifts of winter’s snow” felt perfectly Keatsian. Keats was silent on the matter, but we could tell from his look of wild surmise that he concurred.

Delighted stares from all three readers of Chapman's Homer

Delighted stares from all three readers of Chapman’s Homer

Next up we turned to the “prodigious description of Neptune’s passage to the Achive ships, in the thirteenth book” (Clarke 129). Here, Intrepid Adventurer Mike in particular sensed in these lines a sort of prophecy of the titanic language of Keats’s Hyperion: “The woods and all the great hills near trembled beneath the weight / Of his immortal-moving feet. Three steps only he took, / Before he far-off Aegas reach’d, but with the fourth, it shook / With his dread entry” (Clarke 129).

And now we came to the vital moment. The passage that Clarke singles out as the “scene I could not fail to introduce to him” details Odysseus emerging from the sea after being shipwrecked in Book Five:

Then forth came, his both knees falt’ring; both
His strong hands hanging downe; and all with froth
His cheeks and nosthrils flowing. Voice and breath
Spent to all use; and downe he sunke to Death.
The sea had soakt his heart through: all his vaines,
His toiles had rackt, t’a labouring womans paines.
Dead wearie was he. (84)

Clarke points to the phrase “the sea had soakt his heart through” as one of particular interest (he italicizes it). Although we should note that Clarke is likely quoting from one of Richard Hooper’s reprintings of Chapman’s translation, which appeared in a number of different editions across the 1850s and 60s (Clarke mentions in a note to his essay, “With what joy would Keats have welcomed Mr. Richard Hooper’s admirable edition of our old version” (130)). Hooper regularizes the spellings, and alters much of the punctuation. So after “falt’ring” in Clarke (following Hooper) is a comma instead of a semicolon, and “soakt” is changed to “soak’d.” But here is what Keats and Clarke encountered in 1816:

Keats looks into the "old version" of Chapman's Homer once again.

Keats looks into the “old version” of Chapman’s Homer once again.

At this point Intrepid Adventurer Brian remarked upon how often Chapman breaks from end-stopped heroic couplets. No wonder, then, that Keats–who claimed the Augustan poets “sway’d about upon a rocking horse / And thought it Pegasus”–experienced Chapman’s Homer as a “loud and bold” poetic utterance far surpassing that of Pope’s translation. The sublime cragginess of Chapman’s verse was the Parnassus that Keats would venture to ascend, even if his critics would find in Endymion‘s “cockney couplets” an unforgivable transgression of proper poetic decorum.

Lastly, we had to bring Keats’s sonnet to the table. Lucky for us, the U of I owns copies of all of Keats’s published volumes. So with the 1817 volume delivered to us, we brought Homer, Chapman, Clarke, and Keats back together for a bicentennial reunion.

Homer, Chapman, Clarke, and Keats--reuinted and it feels so good.

Homer, Chapman, Clarke, and Keats–reunited and it feels so good.

Keats then decided he wanted to spend some time sitting down to read his first book once again. With Clarke by his side, of course.

Keats admiring his first book.

Keats admiring his first book–that whole Cockney thing worked out all right.

So concluded our day’s adventure in bicentennial commemoration. Well, there was actually an epilogue. No claret, but still…

Keats earned this drink. A day in the archive calls for a tasty beverage.

Keats earned this drink. A day in the archive calls for a tasty beverage.

While at times we may “fancy an immense separation” between ourselves and the loved objects of our critical inquiry, there exist also experiences like ours from today, when we feel “a direct communication of spirit” (Letters II, 5). We hope that endeavors such as these and others featured on the KLP can help establish a channel of communication for all of you as well.

Our sincere thanks to the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois, and especially to all the gracious staff members who helped make our visit an enjoyable and edifying one.


Works Cited

Clarke, Charles Cowden and Mary Cowden Clarke. Recollections of Writers. 1878. Fontwell, Sussex: Centaur Press, 1969.

Homer. The Whole Works of Homer, Prince of Poetts: in his Iliads, and Odysses. Trans. George Chapman. London: [Richard Field and William Jaggard], [1616].

Keats, John. The Letters of John Keats. Ed. Hyder Edward Rollins. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1958.

Keats Passes Examination at Apothecaries’ Hall, 25 July 1816

On 25 July 1816, Keats made his way to Apothecaries’ Hall to sit for the examination which would allow him to practice as a licensed apothecary (according to the recently passed Apothecaries Act of 1815). The route he might have taken from his lodgings near Guy’s Hospital, at 28 St. Thomas Street, would have looked something like this:

Keats passed the exam. His success was attributed, by his friend and fellow student Henry Stephens, to Keats’s facility with Latin, but Stephens was recollecting these events thirty years after the fact (in a letter written to Richard Monckton Milnes to assist with Milnes’ 1848 biography of the poet). Other commentators and scholars have since made persuasive claims that Keats was in fact a talented pupil, even if he was then coming to realize that his future would lie in poetry rather than in plasters and pills. His examiners, in any case, granted Keats a “Certificate to Practise as an Apothecary,” as noted in the Register of Apothecaries’ Hall.

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From Donald Goellnicht’s The Poet-Physician: Keats and Medical Science. Courtesy of Google Books.

Keats’s name was also listed among the 71 newly-licensed apothecaries in The London Medical Repository, Monthly Journal, and Review at the end of 1816. Congrats, Keats!


From Volume VI of The London Medical Repository, Monthly Journal, and Review (1816). Courtesy of Google Books.