Monday 28 November 2022

'Every error denoting a feverish attempt...'

 On this day in 1817, Keats completed the first draft of his 'trial' poem Endymion, writing at the foot of it, 'Burford Bridge Nov. 28 1817'. He was staying at what was then the Fox and Hounds inn, but is now the Burford Bridge hotel, the core of the building not much changed from the days when Keats stayed there, in a room overlooking the garden. As I've written elsewhere, the young poet was enchanted by Box Hill, a place that I, too, fondly remember from many a butterfly-hunting walk in those days – now fully two months distant – when I was a Surrey suburban southerner, before Mercia claimed me for its own. 
  When the final version of Endymion was published in April 1818, it carried a positively apologetic preface by Keats, who seemed already to have outgrown it. It begins:

'Knowing within myself the manner in which this Poem has been produced, it is not without a feeling of regret that I make it public.
What manner I mean, will be quite clear to the reader, who must soon perceive great inexperience, immaturity, and every error denoting a feverish attempt, rather than a deed accomplished.'

Later, he declares: 

'The imagination of a boy is healthy, and the mature imagination of a man is healthy; but there is a space of life between, in which the soul is in a ferment, the character undecided, the way of life uncertain, the ambition thick-sighted: thence proceeds mawkishness, and all the thousand bitters which those men I speak of must necessarily taste in going over the following pages.'

Oddly, I used that passage as the epigraph for my first and last attempt at a novel, a work that certainly showed how right Keats was... He concludes: 

'I hope I have not in too late a day touched the beautiful mythology of Greece, and dulled its brightness: for I wish to try once more, before I bid it farewell.'

Try he did, and with wonderful results.


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