The whole fate drama hoving into view
Before dawn under the lyric stars...
Young Master Keats was an ostler's son born within earshot of Bow Bells. This tiny Cockney lad bore the social mark of the stables upon him, and the brand of class so deeply habituated into his speech that he would, as he rose in the world, take to self-mockingly imitating his own social awkwardness by abbreviating his name to "Junkets" when in the relaxed company of certain friends. Yet he determined early on--despite the enormity of the ambition, considering his mean class status--to make a name for himself in time to come as among "the English Poets."
At play among the minor magnitudes as a child
Above the Swan and Hoop Keats toys with stars,
Sky bodies dance like tops in agile
Imaginings of his small street boxer's hands.
Rising over London Wall, anchoring the Summer Triangle,
Vega, a bluish white star of major magnitude in Lyra,
Is conspicuous in its passage from the south
Over the smoky fogbound eighteenth century town.
We hear in the Mythologies John Keats read at school--the "light classics" versions of Greek and Latin poets' tales, providing an underprivileged child's tenuous grasp upon infinitely desirable "Realms of Gold"--that Hermes found an empty tortoise shell on the beach and strung seven strings through the holes, and that light shimmered then upon the strings, which when plucked delivered heavenly sounds.
Losing himself into the moment of his studenthood,
Prosing the Aeneid, learning Lemprière by heart,
Scanning, while downstairs Cowden Clarke practised Mozart,
The night sky anatomy of a mythic
Pre-world with its promise of high morning heroism and its
Even higher paradigms of expanding darkness--
Already by some poet instinct knowing that here in the universe
The evening is young, there are still not enough stars...
Hermes swapped this instrument to Apollo for a magic healing staff entwined with snakes. The staff also possessed the ability to render its owner airborne. But Apollo did not feel cheated in the exchange, for he now possessed the divine power of song.
Apollo passed on the power of song to his son, Orpheus, but not without warning him about the special concealed defect of this wonderful gift. Though it was a very strong power, it left you in many ways defenseless, because you could not do harm with it. And the defect concealed in this gift? You might well die for the possessing of it....
All through that aching starlit spring
At a literal and historical level, the astronomical Lyra is a sky-sign under which Keats was born. In his life story the poet's lyre appears as a figure of poetic gift--meanwhile also distantly beckoning overhead, through the smoke and gaslight and fog, as that remote constellation in the London night sky.
After a night of whisk and brag and gin and water
At Rice's cardplaying club on Poland Street,
Coming out before dawn under the lyric stars,
Vega conspicuous at the point of the Lyre
At five o'clock of a summer morning encompassing
286 degrees of the London Arabic sky,
The whole fate drama hoving into view,
While the slow making of souls overshadows