On “the Ripening of the Intellectual Powers”

Marc Palmieri
Mercy College

Re: Keats’s 23/24 January 1818 letter to George and Tom Keats

I find this to be a most uplifting letter, one for a “writer for the stage,” (written by a poet) as it reflects on two activities I often look to in pitched battle with my own “addiction to passiveness.” First, Keats mentions a distaste for being “uninterested or unemployed,” states which happen to be two persistent companions to me in regards to “finding” a new play to write. One cannot be engaged in the making without first being struck by the idea that enthralls him – and the “change in intellect” that (hopefully) comes with it. In times of drought, and there are many, attending, reading, or teaching a Shakespeare play in my classes has often rescued me from these states – temporarily, of course, but sometimes long enough to ripen the intellectual powers to eventually grind out a new first draft.

In my experience, there is a great distance between two familiar states of a playwright – the first being life when there is no working draft, and life when there is. When in the latter, happier state, those colorful catastrophes Keats describes from his visit to the theatre’s bowels exist as longed-for agents of the play’s eventual realization, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. In life without a working draft under the arm, that kind of visit, for the playwright, can be a painful and lonely one. A little world of dreams and shadows where he had been a leading light, has no use for him now.

One might expect that reading the work of an immortal literary titan might just push a writer further into that passiveness he was seeking to escape. After all, what’s the point of me giving it a go now that THIS has been accomplished? Keats touched on this in his “Spenser! a jealous honourer of thine” where upon being asked to write a Spenserian poem, he declines out of flattening humility:

                …’tis impossible
For an inhabitant of wintry earth
To rise like Phoebus with a golden quell,
Fire-winged, and make a morning in his mirth.

But by sonnet’s end he’s up for it, at least once the weather improves:

Be with me in the summer days and I
Will for thine honour and his pleasure try.

Passiveness overcome.

It’s been three years since my last play premiered. I’ve tried, but can’t get past an opening scene. Now in my 48th winter, I’ve grown so much more accustomed to the idea of  my own death that I may not have chosen to sit down today with my copy of the great tragedy of old age for activating inspiration, but Mr. Keats has once again shown me how that Prince of Darkness can prove a gentleman.


Marc Palmieri is a fulltime core faculty member at Mercy College’s School of Liberal Arts in Dobbs Ferry, NY, where he teaches courses in Theatre, Film and Speech. He has taught dramatic writing since 2010 at The City College of New York’s MFA Creative Writing Program. Since 2006 he has taught Shakespeare, Modern & Post-Modern Drama, World Humanities and Dramatic and Creative Writing in CCNY’s undergraduate English Department. Publications include the plays: The Groundling, Levittown (NY Times Critic’s Pick), Carl the Second and Poor Fellas (all by Dramatists Play Service, Inc.). Marc has published fiction in Fiction Magazine, and portions of his plays in the anthologies 10 Minute Plays for Kids (Applause Books), The Best Stage Scenes (of 2002 and 2007 by Smith & Kraus Inc.), The Best Stage Monologues for Men (2002, 2007 and 2015 by Smith & Kraus, Inc.). He is also the author of the screenplays Telling You (Miramax, 1999), and The Thing (web series). www.marcpalmieri.com

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