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.

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 12.59.00 PM

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.