Towards John Keats’s Third Collection of Poetry by Byron Beynon
Two hundred years ago in July 1820, John Keats’s third book of poems “Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St Agnes and Other Poems” was published by Taylor and Hessey, of Fleet Street, London.
His two previous collections “Poems” (1817), and “Endymion” (1818), had either been ignored or reviewed with savage scorn. This third collection contained most of the major work and is rightly considered his greatest collection.
The eighteen months or so leading up to the book’s publication had been for Keats a rollercoaster of different emotions, with the death of his brother Tom from TB, anxiety over money, personal illness, interspersed with periods of calm, inspiration, and fresh landscapes. However, he managed to create in a relatively short time (between January and September 1819) a body of work which challenged comparison with those of John Milton in his maturity.
This outpouring of major poetry in 1819 produced “The Eve of St Agnes”, “Ode to a Nightingale”, “Ode on Melancholy”, “Ode to Psyche”, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, “La Belle Dans sans Merci”, “Lamia”, and “To Autumn”. Poetry full of atmosphere, with wonderful delicacy and reserve. It was also a time when his older brother George had already left England and emigrated to America, he’d also met the love of his life Fanny Brawne, not forgetting he had to catch up on and digest several scathing reviews of his previous collections.
These reviews, as John Barnard points out in his book on Keats, were the product of “snobbery and class-consciousness….”. He also noted that “Keats’s aspirations had touched a nerve. Keats represented a threat.” Undaunted Keats would have the strength of mind to continue with his writing.
In his journal letter to his brother George and his sister-in-law Georgina written during December/January 1818/1819 Keats recalled:
“The last days of poor Tom were of the most distressing nature; but his last moments were not so painful, and his very last was without a pang – I will not enter into any parsonic comments on death – yet the common observations of the commonest people on death are as true as their proverbs. I have scarce a doubt of immortality of some nature o (r) other- neither had Tom….. Sometimes I fancy an immense separation, and sometimes, as at present, a direct communication of spirit with you.”
George had sailed in June 1818 from Liverpool to Philadelphia, onto Pittsburgh, then to Illinois territory, and the frontier settlement of Henderson in western Kentucky. After several years he eventually moved to Louisville. By the early 1830s, with a successful lumber mill and flour mill, he prospered, and built a large house in Louisville in 1835.
Keats, after the death of his brother Tom on 1st December 1818, moved into Wentworth Place, (now called Keats House), Hampstead with his friend Charles Brown. He had been writing and working on the poem “Hyperion” but put it to one side as the year drew to a close due the stress of his brother’s illness and death.
It was also in his journal letter to George on the 16th December 1818 that Keats first mentions Fanny Brawne:
“Mrs Brawne who took Brown’s house for the summer, still resides in Hampstead – she is a very nice woman – and her daughter senior is I think beautiful and elegant, graceful, silly, fashionable and strange – we have a little tiff now and then- and she behaves a little better, or I must have sheered off.”
Two days later, on the 18th he wrote “shall I give you Miss Brawne? She is about my height- with a fine style of countenance of the lenghthen’d sort – she wants sentiment in every feature-she manages to make her hair look well- her nostrils are fine- ……her full-face which indeed not full but pale and thin without showing any bone – Her shape is very graceful and so are her movements….”
Through the encouragement of friends like Charles and Maria Dilke, Keats decided that a change of scene might do him good, and by mid January 1819 he travelled and stayed in Chichester, and then onto Bedhampton, to the old Mill House, where he wrote “The Eve of St Agnes” (January/early February 1819). It was another friend, Isabella Jones, who probably suggested to Keats that he should write this poem, a short romance, based on a legend. He had also been working again on the poem “Hyperion”, but the going was slow, and he finally abandoned it before or during April 1819. In mid February he began something new, the unfinished “The Eve of St Mark” where he pictures a cathedral town on a Sunday evening. At the time he worked on this poem he was suffering from a sore throat and was confined to his rooms.
He was now heading towards a golden period when the great odes of late April and early May would come. Back in London, on 11th April Keats took a walk across Hampstead Heath and met Mr Green an acquaintance from Guy’s Hospital in conversation with Coleridge, he joined them on their walk and as Keats said “In those two miles he (C) broached a thousand things……Nightingales, Poetry, – on Practical Sensation- Metaphysics- Different genera and species of Dreams….”
Soon after he wrote “Fancy”, and then on 21st April the ballad “La Belle dame sans Merci” (not included in his third volume). Within another nine days he had completed “To Sleep”, two sonnets “On Fame” and then “Ode to Psyche” the first of the great odes which was written by 30th April. “Ode to Psyche” proved to be a valuable springboard, within two or three weeks all the five remaining odes except “To Autumn” were written. His mind open and restored again with a fluency of purpose after a period of uncertainty and anxiety.
His friend Charles Brown wrote that “Ode to a Nightingale” was written soon after “Ode to Psyche” and composed in a single morning, he described the time of composition as lasting “two or three hours”. Brown also wrote:
“In the spring of 1819 a nightingale had built her nest near my house. Keats felt a tranquil and continued joy in her song; and one morning he took his chair from the breakfast table to the grass-plot under a plum-tree, where he sat for two or three hours. When he came into the house, I perceived he had some scraps of papers in his hand, and these he was quietly thrusting behind the books. On inquiry, I found those scraps, four or five in number, contained his poetic feeling on the song of our nightingale.”
Richard Holmes in his essay on Keats reflects on the poet’s survival in popular imagination via the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites and how in the twentieth century “Scott Fitzgerald revealed a lifelong obsession with Keats, which produced not only the theme and title of “Tender is the Night” (1934), but also inspired his late pedagogic attempt to become a literature professor, as movingly recounted in Sheilah Graham’s “College of One” (1967), which began when Fitzgerald started reciting Keats to her as they drove back from a Hollywood film premier in his ancient Ford.”
Between July and September 1819 Keats stayed in Shanklin on the Isle of Wight, he would also move to Winchester, working on the play “Otho the Great”, and the poems “Lamia” and “The Fall of Hyperion”. That July, Keats who was by then engaged to Fanny Brawne, wrote to her from Shanklin:
“My Sweet Girl,
Your letter gave me more delight, than any thing in the world but yourself could do; indeed I am almost astonished that any absent one should have that luxurious power over my senses which I feel. Even when I am not thinking of you I receive your influence and a tenderer nature steeling upon me. All my thoughts, my unhappiest days and nights have I find not at all cured me of my love of Beauty, but made it so intense that I am miserable that you are not with me: or rather breathe in that dull sort of patience that cannot be called Life. I never knew before, what such a love as you have made me feel, was; I did not believe it it, …I love you the more in that I believe you have liked me for my own sake and for nothing else – I have met with women whom I really think would like to be married to a Poem and to be given away by a Novel.”
At Winchester, in September he wrote the sensuous and richly powerful “To Autumn”, and on the 19th he wrote to his friend John Hamilton Reynolds and mentioned:
“How beautiful the season is now- How fine the air. A temperate sharpness about it…I never lik’d stubble fields so much as now- Aye better than the chilly green of the spring. Somehow a stubble plain looks warm- this struck me so much in my Sunday’s walk that I composed upon it.”
During the winter of 1819/1820 and back in Hampstead, Keats became unwell. His increasing ill health would continue throughout 1820, and his doctor ordered him to go to Italy, hoping that a warmer climate would aid his recovery. In July his third book, after revisions, was published by Taylor and Hessey. With an intuition for sound Keats had produced a body of work unmatched by a poet who had not quite reached the age of twenty-four. As RS White stated in his “John Keats – A Literary Life” the poet did have the “satisfaction of seeing into print a new volume of his poems, containing mainly the fruit of his astonishing creative output in 1819, its title emphasising the romances:”. White further adds that “the 1820 volume is a sublime artistic success, comparable to Lyrical Ballads by Wordsworth and Coleridge in its significance for literary history.”
By September, along with Joseph Severn, Keats set sail for Italy on the Maria Crowther. There in Rome, on the 23rd February 1821, the 25 year old poet died from TB. Joseph Severn later reflected “Nothing seemed to escape him, the song of a bird and the undernote of response from covert or hedge, the rustle of some animal, the changing of the green and brown lights and furtive shadows, the motions of the wind.”
When I lived in London I took advantage of visiting the restored house in Hampstead where Keats once lived and wrote several of his poems and letters. On display inside were first editions of his three books of poetry. These books were once owned by his good friend Charles Brown, and they bear his signature. They were originally issued in drab grey paper covers but Brown had them re-bound in leather to match other books in his library. All three volumes went out of print and they were not available again until 1840. However pirated editions appeared in Paris in 1829 and also in Philadelphia in 1837.
For further reading and sources on John Keats:
John Keats: The Complete Poems edited by John Bernard Penguin Books 2006
Letters of John Keats: A selection edited by Robert Gittings Oxford UP 1986
John Keats by Walter Jackson Bate Harvard UP 1963
John Keats by Robert Gittings Penguin Books 1979
John Keats by Nicholas Roe Yale UP 2012
This Long Pursuit by Richard Holmes William Collins 2016
Keats and his Circle – An Album of Portraits compiled & presented by Joanna Richardson
published by Cassell London 1980
John Keats A Literary Life by RS White Palgrave/MacMillan 2012
Byron Beynon lives in Swansea, Wales. His work has appeared in several publications including North of Oxford, Poetry Wales, The London Magazine, San Pedro River Review, Poetry Salzburg, Agenda and the anthology Moments of Vision (Seren). Collections include Cuffs (Rack Press) and the Echoing Coastline (Agenda Editions)
by Byron Beynon
Montpellier is where Paul Gaugin brought Vincent van Gogh in an attempt to cheer-up the fading spirits of the Dutchman. Late in 1888 both men travelled by train from Arles to spend the day in this southern French city, they came especially to see the works of Gustave Courbet and Eugene Delacroix inside the Musée Fabre. Vincent would soon write a letter to his brother Theo about the visit in the second half of December 1888.
“Gaugin and I went yesterday to Montpellier to see the museum there and especially the Brias room. There are a lot of portraits of Brias, by Delacroix, Ricard, Courbet, Cabanel, Couture, Verdier, Tassaert, and others. Then there are pictures by Delacroix, Courbet, Giotto, Paul Potter,
Botticelli, Th. Rousseau, very fine. Brias was a benefactor of artists, I shall say no more to you than that. In the portrait by Delacroix he is a gentleman with red beard and hair, confoundedly like you or me…..” In the same letter he goes on to say that “ Gaugin and I talked a lot about Delacroix, Rembrandt etc. Our arguments are terribly electric, we come out of them sometimes with our heads as exhausted as an electric battery after it has run down.”
Alfred Bruyas was indeed a benefactor of the arts and friend to artists, and his narcissism for having dozens of portraits of himself commissioned was defended by Vincent. After the trip, tensions grew between the two artists.
Today visitors still enter the gallery, which houses paintings, drawings, sculptures, video library, and a fine selection of books and magazines. The building is settled near a wide esplanade with plane trees and fountains, in the heart of the city. During the seventeenth century it was a Jesuit college, then a mansion before being enlarged when Francois Xavier Fabre (1766-1837), a former pupil of David, donated in 1825 his collection of paintings to his native city, and by doing so gave his name to this tall, wise building. Inside there are paintings by Rubens, Berthe Morisot, and Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870), who was born into an affluent Montpellier family of wine-growers, but who was tragically killed in the 1870 Franco-Prussian war. He began a career in medicine before turning to painting. He was, by all accounts, very well liked. He helped his impoverished artists friends, and in 1868 Bazille moved to a studio in Paris which he shared with Renoir.
Sadly he was killed during an attack on Beaune-la-Rolande. His father made the journey there to find the body of his son. For ten days he dug in the snow-covered battleground, eventually he found the body and hauled it back to Montpellier himself, on a peasant’s cart.
You can also see the portrait of CharlesBaudelaire painted in 1847 by Courbet, the poet with his black hair cut short, smokes a pipe, concentrating his mind on the pages of a book which rests on a table.
My first visit to France’s seventh largest city was in 1991, the following year I lived there for six months. I arrived by train, on the ultra-rapid TGV, to one of the country’s oldest protected stations,built in 1844. With a cosmopolitan population of over 270,000, a healthy mix of European youth, North African, American (there is an American library), many are students studying at the university, and the faculty of medicine, the oldest stillopen in the world. A papal bull, dated 26th of October 1289, announced the creation of the University of Montpellier, together with the medical, law, and arts faculties. Here the old, historical areas, with their narrow, shaded, antique streets exist in relative harmony with modern developments despite the angry graffiti and polluting traffic.
Since the 1960s which saw an increase in population, the council, led by Georges Freche decided to create a new neighbourhood called l’Antigone, a living area to provide accommodation and housing with relatively low rents for the people, it was the task of the Catalan architect, Ricardo Bofill, to extend this area of the city. Close by is the Polygone, a shopping centre with cafés, restaurants, and a plethora of shops.
One view of the city can be taken from the top of the Corum, a complex used for conventions and opera. To the north you can see the cathedral of St.Pierre, its twin, cylindrical towers stand like rockets about to be launched, also the orange-tiled roofs of the old quarter where on summer evenings, a young medical student named Felix Platter used to sit, playing his lute. He once wrote in his diary “I can see the town, spread out, as far as the sea, which I can sometimes hear in the wind”. If the Corum offered me a good view , the most popular meeting place for locals and visitors alike is the Place de la Comédie, with its fountain of the Three Graces. The three smiling girls embrace, gazing at people of all ages, passing by with their thoughts and with purpose.
Montpellier was first mentioned as far back as 985. By the year 1204 the crown of Aragon belonged to the city, eventually it was bought back by the French. It has witnessed the coming of Arab and Jewish scholars, a garrison, the French Revolution, the wine industry, a university, trams, underground parking and the new technology, pharmaceutical and research laboratories.
To get away from the centre I used to walk to the Peyrou with its eighteenth-century water tower, and the St.Clement aquaduct, the Arceaux, which brought water to the city. The cool air is reviving along with the panoramic views of the Mediterranean sea to the south and the mountains of the Pic Saint Loup to the north.
Nearby is the statue of Louis XIV, the Sun King, made of bronze it almost sank in Bordeaux harbour before arriving in Montpellier in 1718. There is also a botanical garden within easy walking distance from the Peyrou, created during the reign of Henry IV in 1593, with its exotic, ancient trees and plants. It is an oasis of green in the city. The poet Paul Valéry who had married the niece of the painter Berthe Morisot, enjoyed the peace here and wrote “we are going where you would go, if you were here, to the ancient garden where……all those people who meditate, worry or who talk to themselves go, as water goes to a river, and of course they meet up.”
In these gardens, one October afternoon, I met some students from the Netherlands. They were visiting Montpellier for a couple of weeks in order to improve their French, and were also doing a survey, asking questions about their homeland, the first question they asked me was to name at least one Dutch artist! “Vincent van Gogh “ I answered, “who came here by train with his friend and brother-in-art Paul Gaugin.”
Sources and books for further reading
The Letters of van Gogh edited by Mark Roskill (Fontana edition 1979)
The Private Lives of the Impressionists by Sue Roe (Chatto&Windus 2006)
Impressionism by Tamsin Pickeral (Flame Tree Publishing 2007)
Byron Beynon lives in Swansea, Wales. Collections include Cuffs (Rack Press) and The Echoing Coastline (Agenda Editions). His selected poems appeared in 2018 (Bilingual: English/Romanian – published by Bibliotecha Universalis/Collectiile/ Revistei “Orizont Literar Contemporan”, translations by Dr Monica Manolachi, University of Bucharest)
It sits quietly in my closet the third closet the one I don’t really use coiled into itself clasped tightly. Perfect for the house of a cat or small dog. It served a short purpose on a small stage in a filthy corner of the City one time a long time ago — suburban suffocation and impassable boundaries and whatnot — but like my old soccer cleats (which I also still have for some reason) there it sits coiled like a calcified snake, waiting.
I remain certain.
Certain that it will someday uncoil again come back to life and reattach itself to a small dance presentation which balloons like a frog’s bellows to become a large dance production spilling out beyond the confines of the little picket fence patiently waiting in the closet that I almost never use.
(Dust seeping. Time creeping. Forget.)
There are extra pillows and blankets in there, as well (wrapped tight in plastic) for the guests who almost never come and pile upon pile of bubble wrap waiting patiently to wrap paintings which are sold or given away or sent to an exhibit. They never go anywhere — they sit stolidly on the walls their impastoed crevices capturing the falling motes and the bubble wrap unmoved waits on the shelf dowager above the floor where the little picket fence sits corkscrew.
I can’t place it.
This happens: things arrive with great purpose and some fanfare and suddenly they are but another piece of dusty infrastructure undergirding a life which is not uncoiling as it was certainly meant to.
I went out last night — without my picket fence — and time slowed almost to a standstill and I moved syrup through the East Village evening and entered an empty North African restaurant and sat at the blue-tiled bar all alone in the careening interior empty tables hopefully set and waiting and I listened and reflected and listened and sat and then I asked the bartender how long the song had been playing — it was by the French producer St. Germain.
I was certain that he and the empty restaurant and the world had joined my wave and that he would say “seventeen hours” or “forever and forever,” but he looked into his phone and said: “seven minutes and twenty four seconds.”
I nodded, as if I understood.
See, this is why we need picket fences: small or large or simply metaphorical. To contain the endless possibilities which might take us too far away, beyond the point of no return. The picket fence — dumb, solid, familiar —tells us what is “ours” and what isn’t; what is “here” and what is there.
Without the picket fence?
Well — a tiny grain of pepper in the vast stew of existence.
(New Jersey. A state filled with picket fences which is itself a picket fence.
A place so mundane so absolutely solid that it becomes a container to hold the necessary — and properly exclude the unnecessary.
A garden state enclosed and encompassing.
A place where biographies are written which move with certainty from birth though life to death.
A mystical metaphor hiding buried within an innocuous land mass
By Stephen Page
Laurence M. Lasater’s The Lasater Philosophy of Cattle Ranching is progressive and full of common sense. Old cattle ranching methods are becoming extinct or decimating the ranchers. Just few examples of Lasater’s new ideas are: selecting cows and bulls by size and productive characteristics, not just coat color; keeping animals only if they are productive (examples, if a bull is not working or a cow aborts, sell the animals, don’t wait for next year as they are just eating grass that could be used for productive animals); and don’t use whips, cattle prods or screams to move animals, in open range just move behind them on your horse, and in the corral use a white flag on a pole (they will move forward)—this stresses less stress the animals, reduces the possibility of them injuring themselves or an employee, and they are easier to handle. If they are on the way to the butcher, calm animals are higher in weight and have better quality meat—animals when stressed hours before they are butchered have tougher, darker colored meat, that is why sometimes you will see cuts in a butcher shop that are almost black (not always because the meat is old or exposed to air, but often because the animal was stressed out before it reached the butcher. I read the book as research for my poem project and to improve myself as a rancher.
You can find the book here:
More on Lasater:
Stephen Page is the author of “A Ranch Bordering the Salt River.”. He can be found at
Exhortations By Tom Block
Submissions to North of Oxford are open on a rolling basis. We accept submissions of poetry, reviews, essays and commentary. Our complete guidelines are here: https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/about/
Stephen Page is the author of “A Ranch Bordering the Salt River.”. He can be found at