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Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Empathy (Keats, Fall 1818)


File:Vinca major (Barlovento) 01.jpg

Troubled by this foolish complication of feeling --
Warmed by a Platonic empathy with the other half
Of my created fate, an identity to complete me,
Following my enigmatic encounter with
The possibly interesting Mrs. Jones --

To pass completely out of oneself, as if
One had no character at all -- to throw
Away one's personality as if a too tight suit of clothes --
On the retreating shore of one's lost hopes
To strike out naked into the elusive wave --

As the full moon of autumn spins its way through
The equivocal night-flowering phases --

File:Lunar libration with phase Oct 2007.gif

Vinca major (Greater Periwinkle), Barlovento, Las Palmas, Canary Islands: photo by Frank Vincentz, 2008
Lunar libration with phase, October 2007: image animation by Tomruen (2007)

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


human being said...

"an identity to complete me"

hmmm... so this is the motivation behind, eh?

"Away one's personality as if a too tight suit of clothes"

this is it! i loved this image... fully illustrates empathy...

dear friend Tom... your choice of pics is always great... i love to relate them to the poem and find new things...

also thanks for your poetic and deep reflections on my recent post... really appreciate it when friends share their wisdom with me...

you're absolutely right! messages do come in stages...



TC said...


So happy to hear from you!

Your empathic contact as ever a blessing.

Even in our silent stages I think we're on the same page.

(Gratefully picking up echoes of your messages...)

You are seeing the images this time round, by the way? -- that's good news.

Peace to you and take care in the air and on the ground.

Delia Psyche said...

I like the way it segues from the Symposium thing about looking for your lost other half (I don't know if K. ever alluded to Plato while describing his tête-à-têtes with Mrs. J., but no doubt he would've thought of something like that)to Negative Capability--empathizing to the point of doffing your body and imaginatively inhabiting someone else's. "[L]ost hopes" conveys the desperation with which some of K.'s writing--e.g., his love letters--is imbued. And yet the harvest moon--intimating, as it does, not only the receptivity of the poet but also fulfillment of desire (reaping what you've sown, planting a passionate kiss on Mrs. J.'s mouth)--seems to mitigate the despair. "Seems" because the poem remains, at least for me, appropriately enigmatic, elusive, equivocal. (A little.) But I'm content to be in my uncertainties.

TC said...


This is a very sensitive reading. As with a number of these Keats poems, in transporting them from the book, which has a literary, historical/biographical base, to the blog, which is necessarily directed to an audience with less specifically referential interests, I've been forced to try to discover exactly what the poems are about, qua poems (as vs. qua history). With this one, in addition to various other small revisions, I left out a third stanza which went into Keats's nursing of his terminally ill brother Tom, and also into his concurrent composition of Hyperion. The result was a honing of the poem which produced a concentration on the uncertainty/equivocation thematic, as you have brought it out so well.