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Thursday, 9 April 2009

Melancholy Watch, the Downs (September 1820)


A Jetty: Margate: Joseph Mallord William Mallord Turner, 1840s, watercolour over graphite pencil on paper, 23 x 32.8 cm (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

My melancholy watch, mid-quarter-deck,
Drifting: I follow the play of gulls.
The sun is long gone down, the east darkling,
The ship drifts. In the west, some brightness remains.
Momently there are two flights of gulls moving
One to the east into the dark and one
Out of the west, in the last rays of the sun,
Left and right so entirely dissimilar
That the name gull quite falls from them
As I watch, and the chiaroscuro
Of the evening is torn open, altering
Everything: so that now everything is
Only itself: the gulls, myself closer
In nature than if I still knew their name,
Yet at the same time moving farther out,
Sinking deeper into a fading sky
Which soaks them up like ink accepting water,
Coaxing darkness out of reluctant night,
Bringing on the abolition of that false
Identity which made naming possible.

From Junkets on a Sad Planet: Scenes from the Life of John Keats by Tom Clark (1994)


Anonymous said...

A true observer of nature.

TC said...

And nature has no name for itself.

Mariana Soffer said...

Beautifull acuarell illustrating the poem of the marvelous mr keats

TC said...


The grand watercolour is definitely by Turner, but the words here are not Keats's, just my imagining my way inside his mind as he departed England for what he knew would be the last time. There is a further post on this dark passage to Italy (with another Turner, and a Monet):

Keats on Shipboard

Mariana Soffer said...

Ups I must have been really distracted, sorry tom, I have no excuse cause your poetry sounds nothing like keats, but I can tell you that poem is a really good darkish style one, the kind I like.