Sunday, 31 October 2010


'The fact was I left Town on Wednesday - determined to be in a hurry. You don't eat travelling - you're wrong - beef - beef - I like the look of a sign. The Coachman's face says eat, eat, eat. I never feel more contemptible than when I am sitting by a goodlooking coachman. One is nothing - Perhaps I eat to persuade myself I am somebody. You must be when slice after slice - but it wont do - the Coachman nibbles a bit of bread - he's favour'd - he's had a Call - a Hercules Methodist - Does he live by bread alone? O that I were a Stage Manager - perhaps that's as old as 'doubling the Cape'. "How are ye old 'un? hey! why don't 'e speak?' O that I had so sweet a Breast to sing as the Coachman hath! I'd give a penny for his Whistle - and bow to the Girls on the road - Bow - nonsense - 'tis a nameless graceful slang action. Its effect on the women suited to it must be delightful. It touches 'em in the ribs - en passant - very off hand - very fine - Sed thongum formosa vale vale inquit Heigh ho la! You like Poetry better - so you shall have some I was going to give Reynolds.
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom friend of the maturing sun...

That's the joy - one of the joys - of Keats's letters. You never know what's coming next, as he slides and swerves from sense to nonsense, from his inner to his outer life, from cod Latin to a few dismissive words that suddenly introduce, in this case, his last great poem, the Ode to Autumn. There's an added frisson here, as his throwaway remarks on bowing foreshadow that heartbreaking last farewell, a little over a year later: 'I can scarcely bid you good bye even in a letter. I always made an awkward bow...'
The Ode to Autumn, in manuscript and (much revised) finished form can be found, with much else, on this fine website devoted to Keats, great poet and great man, born on this day in 1795.


  1. Keats lovers should note that Patrick Kurp is marking the day too -

  2. Cor blimey! A bit of Cockney patter or what? Astonishing, the way he moves from that into Ode to Autumn!

  3. I was suprised to discover that Keats was a student at Guys Hospital between 1815 and 16, when he became an apothecary...

  4. Yes Susan - a medical man, like Chekhov. But of course a very short career...

  5. Wow. I think I like the letters even better than the poetry - brilliant.

    "I always made an awkward bow" - that is a singularly heartbreaking line, isn't it - the sounds of the words as well as the sense.