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Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Keatsiana: Melancholy Watch, the Downs (September 1820); with a selection from Deep Keats Scrolls


Jetty: Margate: Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), 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.

Melancholy Watch, the Downs (September 1820), from Tom Clark: Junkets on a Sad Planet: Scenes from the Life of John Keats, 1994

Landscape with a River and a Bay in the Background: Joseph Mallord William Turner, c.1842, oil on canvas, 91 x 122 cm (Musée du Louvre, Paris)

Deep Keats Scrolls: A Selection

I . Negative Capability


II . Want of an Object


III . On First Looking into Chapman's Homer


IV . Byron on Keats


The Deep Keats Scrolls (four of the full set of twenty-nine are exhibited here) were composed over a period of some twenty years (1987-2007) for the benefit of students in lectures on Keats given in our home, where they were displayed on a large easel. The inscriptions cover the verso sides of recycled 48" x 36" sheets of architectural drawing paper. (Given Keats's early calling to the medical profession, it's perhaps appropriate -- or ironic? -- that the unseen front sides of the sheets contain plans for the construction of a major urban hospital.)


Wooden Boy said...

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

Animals shaking off that Adamic spell, flight from the order of the same, from category.

Momently: a word with some Sun heat/stillness in it.

TC said...

The flight from category into particularization may be involuntary, as in the case of someone losing the verbal outlines of things yet at the same time (and perhaps in consequence of that loss) feeling an intensification of the experience of the things themselves.

This is here imagined to have been the state of things for the weakened and dying Keats, aboard the Maria Crowther, becalmed off the South Downs on that slow, agonizing final passage from England to Italy.

(Incidentally, the concussive blow to the parietal lobe from impact with a speeding automobile had a somewhat similar effect for me: in the days and weeks following the accident and indeed intermittently ever since, there is the odd and often frustrating gap between the thing thought of or seen, and its name; with the resultant recognition that while a useful temporary convenience, having command of the names of things offers a tempting shortcut way round the necessarily more complicated, yet often much richer actual experience of them as they are; much like walking through a museum which has no tags attached to the displayed works, so that one cannot simply move past on the moving ramp of a prior "knowing", but must stop, pause, look, and let what is seen sink in, without the convenient dismissal of a pigeonholing...)

Nora said...

This is an amazing poem, and particularly resonant now that I spend so many crepuscular hours on the water.

And it's wonderful to see the Keats scrolls again! I feel like I'm back in your front room, in the chair with the pink cushion (which I grew oddly territorial over), my back to the darkening window.

TC said...


A lovely memory that, for us too... not much has changed here, though the encroaching redwood branches out the window have grown, as the shades of evening come down... though of course the shades ought to be retreating, as tomorrow is the advent of Spring.

But today the small rain doth fall.

Marcia said...

I love your poem and seeing the scrolls again. Nora mentioned claiming one particular chair in the room. I usually sat in the one to the left, just inside the door, close to the scrolls.

TC said...

A virtual class reunion -- wonderful!

Anonymous said...

beautiful images...and the watercolor...!

tpw said...

I, on the other hand, have never seen nor heard of the Deep Keats Scrolls. Fucking brilliant!

TC said...

Many thanks, peeps.

Ah, those were the days of frigging the imagination harmlessly!

Marie W said...

Tom!! Those are amazing!! Wow wow wow.... I have an idea now. Will write more about it....

Lord Charlie said...

I love the scrolls. DL

TC said...

Many thanks, David.