It’s been unusually warm here, in the 60s and clear, and this morning all I can hear are a few birds and the cat snoring. This seems like an appropriate poem for such a moment, showing Keats not at all high-flown – contemplative rather, slowing down the lines almost as far as they will go in the service of letting the syllables wash over the reader, one by one. Even the twist at the very end doesn’t break the mood – it’s regenerative, rather, beginning the cycle again.
After dark vapours have oppressed our plains (John Keats)
After dark vapours have oppressed our plains
For a long dreary season, comes a day
Born of the gentle south, and clears away
From the sick heavens all unseemly stains.
The anxious mouth, relieved from its pains,
Takes as a long-lost right the feel of May,
The eyelids with the passing coolness play,
Like rose leaves with the drip of summer rains.
And calmest thoughts come round us – as of leaves
Budding – fruit ripening in stillness – autumn suns
Smiling at eve upon the quiet sheaves –
Sweet Sappho’s cheek – a sleeping infant’s breath –
The gradual sand that through an hourglass runs –
A woodland rivulet – a poet’s death.
I found this poem in the slight edition of Fugitive Poems from Hesperus Press pictured above, which I picked up in 2005 at the Anglo-American Book Co. on Via delle Vite in Rome moments after visiting the house where Keats died, having read little of his poetry but feeling in that room the strange sense, the pressure of something important having come to pass there.