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Thursday, 1 October 2009

Birdsong (1820)


File:Rossinyol 03 (Luscinia megarhynchos).jpg

Teru, teru. Mimetic -- liquid and musical as the words
Well Walk, where he wandered with Hunt, saw
Poor Tom's ghost, broke down, that last awful
Suffocating August -- it is the wounding of Philomel
That produced the lyric, a wild quiet echoing
Of mortal tribulation that drowns in
The singer's voice, as the singer dies and
The pain that drives expression is extinguished
With the sudden curtailing of the song.

I am certain he has some spell that attaches them
To him, observed Fanny Brawne of the intense
Emotionality of Keats' friends' goodbyes.
The fussing over practicalities, guilty self-
Justifying and sentimental evasions
At last set aside, their hearts got caught
In their throats' cordage by London dock,
As he got ready to board the boat that
Would take him off to that classic land to die.

File:West India Docks Microcosm edited.jpg

Common nightingale (Luscinia megarhyncos)
: photo by insecta62, 2007
West India Docks: Augustus Pugin and Thomas Rowlandson, from Ackermann's Microcosm of London (1808-1811)

from TC: Junkets on a Sad Planet: Scenes from the Life of John Keats


Zephirine said...

For me, this is one of the most skilled of your Keats poems, Tom, in the way that it neatly contains so many of the elements of that sad biography without losing sight of the poetic legacy.

their hearts got caught
In their throats' cordage


TC said...


Yes, it's quite moving to consider the final farewells that must have transpired between Keats and the three of his longtime friends, Taylor, Woodhouse and Haslam, who, though others proved less faithful, showed their loyalty to him at the end by accompanying him and Severn to the dock, then coming aboard the brigantine and staying on until it reached Gravesend the next morning.