From the Oggie we turn to a darker and broodier image of Keats.
This was written by the acclaimed American poet, Amy Clampitt. She became one of the most highly regarded poets in America, on the publication of her first collection, The Kingfisher, at the age of sixty-three (so there’s hope for me yet ….. just need to nurture the right mix of Keats, Hopkins, Pound and Yeats!).
Keats was one of the poets she most revered and prompted a series of poems about him and a book “A Homage to John Keats” published in 1984. To quote Amy Clampitt herself: “what attracted me immediately to the poems of Keats, and later of Hopkins, is the way they draw on and evoke physical sensation in all its luscious variety”.
Keats at Teignmouth
Even in mild Devon, that spring, the lung-
destroying English climate was one long
dank rampage: high winds, trees falling
onto the roads, stagecoaches overturning,
day upon day of drumming, streaming rain
swollen to weeks, the sun a half-believed-in
pagan god above the azure of the Mediterranean.
At night he’d lie in bed (he wrote) and listen
to it with a sense of being drowned and rotted
like a grain of wheat. He very nearly hated
Tom because he coughed so; then his raw mood
froze as he saw his brother cough up blood.
His writing plodded. By now Endymion bored him.
His letters joked of waterspouts and rattraps. Rhyme,
that light-fingered habit, ran down and went grim:
beyond an untumultuous fringe of foam,
he’d seen, once the weather eased, into a maw
of rot, a predatory core of dying Melodrama
mildewed the sources of romance; the basil grew
rank from her dead lover’s skull for Isabella.
What might still flower out of that initiation
to the sodden underside of things – those Eleusinian
passageways that seem (he wrote) only to darken
as the doors of new and vaster chambers open –
he could no more than guess at. On may day
he looked from the window of a single stanza
leaning toward Theocritus and the blue Bay
of Baiae (read Naples). Not yet twenty-three,
he’d presently begin to resurrect, to all but
deify the issue of his own wretched climate –
primroses, cress and water-mint, great wet-
globed peonies, the grape against the palate:
an annus mirabilis of odes before the season
of the oozing of the ciderpress, the harvest done,
wheatfields blood-spattered once with poppies gone
to stubble now, the swallows fretting to begin
their windborne flight toward a Mediterranean
that turned to marble as the mists closed in
on the imagination’s yet untrodden region –
the coal-damps, the foul winter dark of London.
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