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Three poems on a theme -- To the Nile

PostPosted: Fri Sep 01, 2006 3:21 am
by AhDistinctly
Keats wrote:To the Nile
Son of the old Moon-mountains African!
Chief of the Pyramid and Crocodile!
We call thee fruitful, and that very while
A desert fills our seeing's inward span:
Nurse of swart nations since the world began,
Art thou so fruitful? or dost thou beguile
Such men to honour thee, who, worn with toil,
Rest for a space 'twixt Cairo and Decan?
O may dark fancies err! They surely do;
'Tis ignorance that makes a barren waste
Of all beyond itself. Thou dost bedew
Green rushes like our rivers, and dost taste
The pleasant sunrise. Green isles hast thou too,
And to the sea as happily dost haste.


Hunt wrote:The Nile
It flows through old hushed Egypt and its sands,
Like some grave mighty thought threading a dream,
And times and things, as in that vision, seem
Keeping along it their eternal stands,--
Caves, pillars, pyramids, the shepherd bands
That roamed through the young world, the glory extreme
Of high Sesostris, and that southern beam,
The laughing queen that caught the world's great hands.
Then comes a mightier silence, stern and strong,
As of a world left empty of its throng,
And the void weighs on us; and then we wake,
And hear the fruitful stream lapsing along
'Twixt villages, and think how we shall take
Our own calm journey on for human sake.


Shelley wrote:Ozymandias
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said:—Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

PostPosted: Fri Sep 01, 2006 3:23 am
by AhDistinctly
I find the subject of Egypt to be fascinating. There is mystery and knowledge and a surprising vein of life flowing through that sea of sand. I can’t help but think of the fascination Egypt held in the early 1800s. What a time of exploration!

I was delighted to find Egypt -- or more specifically the Nile River, the subject of a Keats poem. There was a notation in my anthology indicating To the Nile was written in a competition with Shelley and Hunt. (I was surprised to find that Shelley’s Ozymandias was also a product of that competition!)

If anyone has read some interesting accounts of these types of competitions, I’d love to hear about them. I’m particularly interested in hearing commentary about how the “competition” format may have influenced Keats piece. (I.e., did he feel confident, as among equals; was he trying to impress a mentor; was it just a lark.)

PostPosted: Fri Sep 01, 2006 5:34 am
by Malia
AhDistinctly wrote:If anyone has read some interesting accounts of these types of competitions, I’d love to hear about them. I’m particularly interested in hearing commentary about how the “competition” format may have influenced Keats piece. (I.e., did he feel confident, as among equals; was he trying to impress a mentor; was it just a lark.)


I'm pretty sure that Endymion was begun out of a competition with Shelley. I forget which poem Shelley wrote for his part of the competition, but I think Shelley was able to publish his first and he got some readership out of it whereas Endymion was not as well received at first and took longer to finish than Keats had planned.

Does anyone know the complete/true story behind this??

PostPosted: Fri Sep 01, 2006 11:01 am
by Saturn
Malia wrote:
AhDistinctly wrote:If anyone has read some interesting accounts of these types of competitions, I’d love to hear about them. I’m particularly interested in hearing commentary about how the “competition” format may have influenced Keats piece. (I.e., did he feel confident, as among equals; was he trying to impress a mentor; was it just a lark.)


I'm pretty sure that Endymion was begun out of a competition with Shelley. I forget which poem Shelley wrote for his part of the competition, but I think Shelley was able to publish his first and he got some readership out of it whereas Endymion was not as well received at first and took longer to finish than Keats had planned.

Does anyone know the complete/true story behind this??


I don't think there was any 'competition' as such there Malia, but Shelley was writing his 'Laon and Cythna' [later re-titled and bowlderized as 'The Revolt Of Islam'] at the same time as Keats was writing his Endymion.

If you get the chance to read Sheley's poem you will see how very different it is to Endymion. Shelley's [as very often with his work] is a radical call to arms, a revolution in parable. It even has a very much Byronic tone, very fiery and full of forbidden passion, grand political statements etc. whereas Endymion has that dreamy mythological, descriptive mode which Keats excelled at.
This was later to come to full fruition of course in The Fall Of Hyperion.

PostPosted: Mon Sep 04, 2006 4:25 am
by Credo Buffa
Wasn't "On the Grasshopper and the Cricket" a product of a contest? Well, maybe not so much a "contest," but Keats and someone else choosing to write on the same general subject.

I feel like there was another contest-type sonnet from Keats, but I can't think of what.

PostPosted: Tue Sep 05, 2006 2:56 pm
by greymouse
Wasn't "On the Grasshopper and the Cricket" a product of a contest?


Yes, I read that Leigh Hunt suggested the contest and that they each had 15 minutes. Supposedly, Hunt conceded defeat immediately upon reading Keats' poem.

This is Hunt's sonnet:

"Green little vaulter in the sunny grass,
Catching your heart up at the feel of June,
Sole voice that's heard amidst the lazy noon,
When even the bees lag at the summoning brass,
And you, warm little housekeeper, who class
With those who think the candles come too soon,
Loving the fire, and with your tricksome tune
Nick the glad silent moments as they pass;
Oh sweet and tiny cousins, that belong,
One to the fields, the other to the hearth,
Both have your sunshine; both, though small, are strong
At your clear hearts; and both seem given to earth
To ring in thoughtful ears this natural song --
In doors and out, summer and winter, mirth."

In my opinion, Hunt was much too gracious. I think his take is even better!