"P for I" installments

The life of John Keats the man: his family, his friends, and his contemporaries.

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"P for I" installments

Postby Ennis » Wed Nov 10, 2010 7:48 pm

Fellow Keatsians,

Cooperman's opening poem, and thanks in advance to Mr. Cooperman!!

"John Keats, Fourteen, Attends His Mother, Fanny Keats Rawlings, on Her Deathbed"

I read to her in a choirboy voive
so unlike my usual shouting at play,
that at times she looks at me --
when she can open her eyes --
as if at an officious divinity student.
I try to interest her in cards,
but she can barely hold them.

In my mind I stalk William Rawlings
and beat him for smashing Mother's life
like a cracked teacup, for her money.
When she sleeps -- rasping as if strangled --
I clench the wings of my chair
to keep from searching out the brute.

No matter that I'm just a boy,
I'd kick him until his skull split
like a caved-in gourd.
It's worth a jig upon the gallows
to gloat at his shattered carcass
just before he's dragged to Hell.

What any good Cockney lad would do
for his poor, shattered Mother.


I like the closing 2 verses (I'd call them a couplet if they were truly one, but . . .) -- I can really hear these lines spoken with that Cockney accent!! I can just imagine Keats, with that terrier doggedness he was noted for, saying this!!
"But if you will fully love me, though there may be some fire, 'twill not be more than we can bear when moistened and bedewed with Pleasures." JK to FB 08.07.1819
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Re: "P for I" installments

Postby Raphael » Wed Nov 10, 2010 11:50 pm

It's interesting- but the words don't have the feel of him to me- the smashing in of skulls sounds too brutal for him.
John....you did not live to see-
who we are because of what you left,
what it is we are in what we make of you.

Peter Sanson, 1995.
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Re: "P for I" installments

Postby Ennis » Fri Nov 12, 2010 2:22 pm

Raphael wrote:It's interesting- but the words don't have the feel of him to me- the smashing in of skulls sounds too brutal for him.


I disagree, Raphael! Don't forget that pugnacious spirit of his! -- how he was a "man of fits and starts"! Remember how George said many times Keats would get so angry (when still at school) that he would have to hold him down until he cooled off, how quickly he would fight on behalf of his brothers and friends, how he supposedly beat up that butcher's boy for mistreating a kitten, how much he loved and despaired for his mother. Actually, I can see Keats doing this very thing (at 14 years old!). But, may be his sense of descriptive language is already beginning to unfold in the adolescent Keats -- his sense of hyperbole for effect!!
"But if you will fully love me, though there may be some fire, 'twill not be more than we can bear when moistened and bedewed with Pleasures." JK to FB 08.07.1819
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Re: "P for I" installments

Postby Ennis » Fri Nov 12, 2010 9:24 pm

Fellow Keatsians,

Installment 2 (again, my thanks to Mr. Cooperman!!):

"John Clarke, Keats's Schoolmaster at Enfield, After the Poet's Mother's Death"

Barely fourteen, and his nights spent
enticing her with a sip of broth,
a sopped crust, a game of cards.
When her spasms eased, he read to her
in a voice so soft you'd not know
it was the same boy who loved a fight,
even if his rival towered a head taller.

I called him "Bull Roarer,"
for his love of bellowing at games.
After she died, he'd cringe under my desk
when other boys gamboled outdoors.
I never tried to coax him out,
a wolf cub you love
for its fierce, aloof eyes.

I let him sleep on my sofa,
take his meals in my room.
I thought if anything tragic befell me,
he'd howl grief and die:
father, mother, schoolmaster all gone --
and two brothers, a sister to tend,
to break him with a weight of care --
when he should br free
to run in the sun of youth.


Installment 3:

"The Medical Student John Keats Observes Astley Cooper Operate on a Young Boy, Guy's Hospital"

The boy smiled through his fear --
brave as only the innocent can be --
while we students crowded,
the amphitheatre hot as the blood
soon to babtize the scalpel.
I'd set bones before, patients sweating,
fainting when the shards snapped back
after that scorching instant.

Now I stood opposite Dr. Cooper,
who had operated scores of times.
But when that lad smiled
as if at Father Christmas,
tears trickled down the surgeon's cheeks.
I saw, for a moment,
my own small brother Tom
squirming on the table,
and wanted to escape
with him riding my back --
the jockey of our childhood races.

Cooper turned away, wiped his face,
and when he turned back
the eyes of a stooping hawk.
At the first incision,
the power of the possessed
levitated that betrayed torso,
but not a scream from lips clamped
in tooth-shattering trust.

"Blame God," Cooper muttered,
"for making flesh fail,
the need for such an insult as this
to thin, pale tissue,
frail enough without the blade."
"But if you will fully love me, though there may be some fire, 'twill not be more than we can bear when moistened and bedewed with Pleasures." JK to FB 08.07.1819
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Re: "P for I" installments

Postby Raphael » Fri Nov 12, 2010 11:48 pm

Ennis wrote:
Raphael wrote:It's interesting- but the words don't have the feel of him to me- the smashing in of skulls sounds too brutal for him.


I disagree, Raphael! Don't forget that pugnacious spirit of his! -- how he was a "man of fits and starts"! Remember how George said many times Keats would get so angry (when still at school) that he would have to hold him down until he cooled off, how quickly he would fight on behalf of his brothers and friends, how he supposedly beat up that butcher's boy for mistreating a kitten, how much he loved and despaired for his mother. Actually, I can see Keats doing this very thing (at 14 years old!). But, may be his sense of descriptive language is already beginning to unfold in the adolescent Keats -- his sense of hyperbole for effect!!


Hmmmm...maybe- when he was 14..but he wasn't fighting much (physically) when he got in his 20's- except for the kitten incident.

I really liked the medical poem. These lines:

Blame God," Cooper muttered,
"for making flesh fail,
the need for such an insult as this
to thin, pale tissue,
frail enough without the blade."


Made me think- been going to the vet's with a friend who had a sick guinea pig and it had pain killing injections, antibiotics, a general anaesthetic etc and I was saying to her how good it is that even animals get all this today when people didn't even have all this available to them in the 1800's. Makes you think doesn't it when veteinary care is better than what people had in the 1800's.
(Sadly the creature was to ill to be saved and had euthenesia today).
John....you did not live to see-
who we are because of what you left,
what it is we are in what we make of you.

Peter Sanson, 1995.
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Re: "P for I" installments

Postby Ennis » Mon Nov 15, 2010 9:16 pm

"P for I" Installment 4 (thank you, Mr. Cooperman):

"Henry Stephens Remembers John Keats from Their Days at Guy's Hospital"

Why he ever attended a lecture
I'll never know: Poetry his shining Lady;
surgery, a sepent he handled
with thick gloves.

His opinion of his place in the pantheon
was huge as the stone dragon sculpting
the boundary of Old London.
His verses were no better
than my own green efforts,
but he barely let his eye rest
on the odes I showed him;
he yawned, "Stick to surgery,"
as if saving lives were no better
than stuffing sausages.

He died young, ignored.
I could gloat at my own success
as a saviour among the sick.
Still, when I read the thin volume
his friends conspired to publish,
I'm amazed by the brilliance:

A soaring above his early doggerel,
when he should have been tracing
the course blood makes,
the harbours of inner organs,
whose names flew from his brain
when he was made to rise, face red
as the cross of Spenser's knight,
the rest of us laughing
when the lecturer dismissed him with,

"Take your seat, Mr. Keats,
if you can recall where you left it."
"But if you will fully love me, though there may be some fire, 'twill not be more than we can bear when moistened and bedewed with Pleasures." JK to FB 08.07.1819
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Re: "P for I" installments

Postby Raphael » Mon Nov 15, 2010 10:09 pm

Great imagery- one could almost believe it was written by Henry himself- has a real immediacy to it.
John....you did not live to see-
who we are because of what you left,
what it is we are in what we make of you.

Peter Sanson, 1995.
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Re: "P for I" installments

Postby Ennis » Thu Nov 18, 2010 9:30 pm

"P for I" installment 5 (thanks, Mr. Cooperman):

"John Keats Lies Awake in His Rented Room, at Margate, 1816"

The sea -- the more varied in its monotony
than all my feeble attempts at verse --
laughs at my reams of unmarked foolscap,
the ink drying from disuse in its well,
my quill mourning the fowl
it was plucked from to make a pen
for a dullard like me, useless to myself,
my brothers, sister, the indifferent world
I'd soothe with song, if only
the aloof Muse would whisper something.

I clamp myself to the desk,
then give up and tramp the shore
feeling guilty pleasure as I slide
down the silting cliffs to the beach,
hear daughters of tea merchants laugh
as waves rush like fawning hounds;
their mothers stare at me
as if a Cockney murderer.

Does the surf care if one more madman
tacks into the hurricane of Poetry?
Of course not, so why bother? I ask myself.
Just put blinders on, take up the scalpel,
and make something useful of your life.

But rhymes flutter about my head --
butterflies I can never grasp.
I sit on the sand, open my Spenser
and despair, beat my head and try
to toss the volume into the sea,
but an old voice calls, "Join us,
Little Sir John, if you dare!"
"But if you will fully love me, though there may be some fire, 'twill not be more than we can bear when moistened and bedewed with Pleasures." JK to FB 08.07.1819
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Re: "P for I" installments

Postby Ennis » Tue Nov 23, 2010 9:04 pm

"P for I" installment 6 (thanks to Mr. Cooperman):

"Mrs. Emma Cook of Carrisbrooke, Isle of Wight, 24 April 1817"

When Mr. Keats leapt up my stairs,
more chamois than man, he stopped
before the painting of Shakespeare
another lodger had left in lieu of rent:
lowering himself with bedding
into a stolen dinghy, various items missing,
girls growing plump as pears months later.

I insisted Mr. Keats pay in advance,
but when he saw that portrait,
I thought he'd fall into heathen worship.
I let him keep it in his room,
heard him ask it advice, weep
when nothing of his own verse came,
until I tired of listening at his door.

Then yesterday, after days of scribbling
notes to his brothers and friends,
of crumbling papers empty
but for a crossed-out word
to waste good packing, he aanounces,
"It's Shakespeare's birthday; I must leave!"
his hair as if he'd spent a night
in our ruined castle's haunted dungeons.

He begged me for the portrait,
strange, raving boy, in need of a trade
and a sweet wife, like my niece,
but there's plenty of steady local gentlemen
for her to choose from, all in good time.
"But if you will fully love me, though there may be some fire, 'twill not be more than we can bear when moistened and bedewed with Pleasures." JK to FB 08.07.1819
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Re: "P for I" installments

Postby jesleeall » Thu Nov 25, 2010 7:12 pm

I love all of these, Ennis...thank you!
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Re: "P for I" installments

Postby Ennis » Thu Dec 09, 2010 9:30 pm

"P for I" installment 7 (as always, thanks to Mr. Cooperman):

John Keats Remembers His First Meeting with Leigh Hunt

A paradise to listen to Hunt,
to whom I should bend a vassal's knee
for his prison martyrdom: hounded
by the Prince Regent for censuring
in print that licentious bully.

Hunt laughed away his sentence --
was allowed wife, children,
to paper his cell walls
into a Park Lane drawing room,
kept a library so laden with volumes
that bowed shelves threatened greater harm
than the Prince's brute minions,
entertained the best minds in England.

Then Hunt turned to my pitiful verses,
praised my Chapman sonnet as if Spenser
had laboured years to perfect an epic;
I blushed to confess --
and he gasped astonishment --
to my dashing it off in a footrace
with my feeble memory:

"'Silent upon a peak in Darien,'"
he breathed. "That is fine!"
too courteous in proclaiming
the line a pure, fiery gem.

On my way out, I barked a shin
on a piece of furniture,
and waved away his wife and daughters,
who would have mummified me in bandages
had I not insisted the skin was unbroken.

When I reached my slum lodgings, noise
and filth hit me like kicks from a carthorse.
"But if you will fully love me, though there may be some fire, 'twill not be more than we can bear when moistened and bedewed with Pleasures." JK to FB 08.07.1819
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Re: "P for I" installments

Postby Ennis » Fri Dec 10, 2010 9:50 pm

Today, 10th December marks the 190th "anniversary" of Keats's relapse in Rome, culminating in almost a week of continual hemorrhaging.
Here's "P for I" installment 8: in memory --

Early December, 1820: Keats Hemorrhages for Eight Days

"Damn you, Severn," I whisper,
"for hiding everything sharp."
Better one final bloodletting
than these hemorrhages
that mean to drain me slowly.

Had I the strength,
I'd fling myself from the window,
food for the curs and rats
that haunt the piazza.

"Bring me Fanny," I cough.
"Send me to Tom!"
Tar-dark blood soils the sheets.
Severn, sobbing, dabs, terrified.

"Kill me," I rasp;
he bites his lip and spoons me
weak broth I can't keep down.
"Fanny!" I shriek,
"must you fornicate
with all the world but me?"

Can't eat, can't sleep, can't die:
Tithonus of the Spanish Stairs,
cursing my love, my brother, friends,
Severn: he'll desert me
on this bed soggy with blood --
too much of it still inside me.
"But if you will fully love me, though there may be some fire, 'twill not be more than we can bear when moistened and bedewed with Pleasures." JK to FB 08.07.1819
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