Visit to Keats House

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Visit to Keats House

Postby Malia » Fri Nov 27, 2009 7:31 pm

Hi Everyone! Well, I've just returned to my hotel from my visit to the newly refurbished Keats House. As I am on a public computer, I won't have too much time to go into the details tonight (details *will* be coming, though! ;) ) but I want to give you my first impressions while they are fresh in my mind. First, the house almost looks brand new--in a *good* way. It's clean and beautiful--no hint of the water stains and peeling wallpaper I saw last time I was there. The rooms seemed a little bare of artifacts, though, and I noticed there were no letters on display as there had been on my last visit. I asked the lady at the front desk about this and she said that the letters had been on display for so long (and had been improperly preserved) that they were starting to deteriorate and were too fragile to keep out. Many other artifacts were facimilies of originals. There were several costumes on display from the Bright Star movie and it was neat to see them up close. (The costumes were out--not behind glass or anything.) I was most affected by two rooms this time around; Keats's sitting room and his bedroom. The sitting room struck my heart very much--especially his bookcases and the print of Shakespeare--one of the few things he owned that is still around and on display. I looked closely into the eyes of that Shakespeare and I could imagine Keats drawing inspiration from that gaze--I imagined him writing to his brother George with his back to that fireplace, his foot somewhat elevated and the other foot "askew" on the rug. On the mantlepiece was a laminated page with Ode to a Nightingale on it and I read the poem standing near the fireplace.
I have SO much more to say, but I need to go--someone is waiting to use the computer. I'll write more when I get home. I fly back to the States tomorrow :)

More later!
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Re: Visit to Keats House

Postby BrokenLyre » Sat Nov 28, 2009 4:10 am

Malia,
I have waited so eagerly to hear of your impressions of Keats House. Thank you so much for taking the time to write us all with your thoughtful reflections. It's sad to hear that the house doesn't have his letters on display. But I dearly loved hearing your sensitive thoughts about the fireplace and Shakespeare and imagining Keats in that very room.

You wrote:
"On the mantlepiece was a laminated page with Ode to a Nightingale on it and I read the poem standing near the fireplace."


Oh my heart. I don't think I could pull away from seeing that. I tried to extract all the feeling I could from your words. Thanks for sharing with us. I do look forward to hearing more from you.

Many thanks Malia. Have a safe trip home.
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Re: Visit to Keats House

Postby Raphael » Sat Nov 28, 2009 3:58 pm

I loved your account Malia- thanks so much. Do you know if the fireplaces are the original ones by the way? Are the bookcases original? I bet the room had real atmosphere- I get a tingle just looking at the photo of it on the website.
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.

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Re: Visit to Keats House

Postby Malia » Tue Dec 01, 2009 3:27 pm

Hi again. After a few days getting my body clock readjusted to Pacific Coast Time, I find my brain is awake enough to finish telling you my experience of Keats House. I'll start from the very beginning and provide as much detail as I can. As I said earlier, we visited Keats House on Friday afternoon. The house is only open to the general public from 1-4PM Friday-Monday, I believe. (The rest of the week, it is open only to booked tours and school groups.) My friend Connie and I took the tube to Hampstead and arrived at about 12:30pm. As we emerged from the Hampstead station, I realized I had little clue about which way to turn to get to the house. I remembered when I was there 14 years before, that after I got off the tube, I climbed a hill and turned right onto Keats Grove. Unfortunately, I also remembered getting properly lost before finding it! Just like last time, I got lost again.

At the top of the hill, thankfully, there was a map that showed us that Keats House was to the right and all the way at the *bottom* of the hill. This made sense to me, when I saw the map, as I remember in Aileen Ward's biography she told of how, when Keats left Hunt's house after receiving the letter from Fanny with the broken seal, he had planned to climb the long hill to Well Walk but was compelled, instead, to turn the corner that led to Wentworth Place. As Connie and I waked down the long hill, I saw the turn off to the Vale of Health, where Hunt once lived and a little further on, I saw Well Walk--very near the top of the hill. It was interesting to walk this hill and imagine Keats turning onto Well Walk and into the house where he'd lived with his brothers and where Tom had died--the house where he had started Hyperion and written some memorable letters. It was hard to imagine it, now that the place was all built up and there were cars out on the street; but I did sense a little of Keats's history there.

We walked along down the hill, and finally, at the *very* bottom, we saw the sign that led us down Keats Grove. I noticed at the corner of Keats Grove there was a hairdresser's shop and it seemed odd to me that Keats House would be on the same street. We walked about half a block past Keats Close and then found the house sitting silently on the left side of the street. The gates were still closed--we had about 15 minutes before opening time--but we took a few pictures over the gate and then decided to spend some time walking along the heath, which was only just across the street from Keats Grove.

It was a beautiful, sunny day--although a bit brisk. I walked slowly along the path near one of the large open spaces on the heath and contemplated what it might have been like for Keats to walk here. It was somewhat difficult to reconcile the bustling Hampstead of 2009 with the pastoral countryside Keats must have been acquainted with. Yet, as we turned off the main path and onto an unpaved trail leading into a wood, I felt the echo of Keats's spirit in the trees and in the earth beneath my feet. I could begin to imagine how he could become inspired by such a place. Even in crowded and busy London, where everybody walks with a grim, sharpened sense of purpose and a body posture that compels a visitor to keep pace or step out of the way--even here with the rush of traffic and the blaring of car horns, there is still "a bower quiet for us / Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing". It echoes Keats like a far off ripple in a pond that continues to vibrate long after the stone that started it all has sunk to the bottom.

We took a few pictures of the Heath and then headed back to the house, knowing by now it was past one o'clock. The two green entrance gates were open now, and we walked through the first gate and onto the grounds. As we reached the front door, I saw that--just like the last time I was there--all I had to do to gain entrance was turn the knob and walk in through the front door as if I was visiting a good friend. There was no need for locks or buzzers or doorbells here. As I walked through, I noticed that the layout of the house was the same--still an entry hall to the right and a narrow staircase to the left. However, it looked fresh and clean and beautifully new--as if it were 1815 and the house had just been built. I walked into the Brawne's drawing room and dining area (the dining area was now the reception area and gift shop). The drawing room still held a display case with Brawne-related artifacts; the "Apoloesque" bust of Keats still stood in the corner of the room near the front window. I remember last time I saw it, I rolled my eyes imagining that if *Keats* had seen such a Grecian and idealized view of his "visage" he would have been embarrassed in the extreme by its look of physical perfection.

Peering into the case, I saw that the top shelf contained actual artifacts--Fanny's sewing sheers, a few bracelets, some spectacles, a copy of her photograph (I wondered why they didn't display the real thing, as they had last time I was there), and of course, the inexpensive garnet engagement ring--prominently displayed as one of the richest treasures of the Keats House collection. The bottom shelf contained props from the Bright Star movie including the Valentine from Brown, a small note of "goodnight" from Fanny, and two larger letters from Keats folded to show the address to "Miss Brawne".

I continued to walk through the house, trying to take it all in and really *experience* the place, since it had been so long since my last visit. I felt a little rushed because I knew that Connie was probably bored to death and here I was, desiring to just take a seat in Keats's parlor and let all the history, the vibrations, the experience of him in the room, just soak into my bones.

Two rooms in particular spoke to me on this trip; Keats's parlor--especially his bookcases and print of Shakespeare--and his bedroom, which now contained a copy of his death mask displayed in a kind of lighted glass tube, so it seemed suspended in mid-air. The bedroom also contained a larger copy of Severn's deathbed portrait and a Regency-period commode on loan from another museum.

I spent much time in Keats's sitting room. It was small, but it didn't feel cramped. Rather, I could sense how Keats--always uprooted from place to place and parted from his family--would feel safe and secure in such a room. I could sense him relaxing--writing a letter to his brother George with his back to the fire (and today, the actual fireplace Keats used is still there), sitting on the floor with one foot slightly elevated and the other somewhat askew on the rug.

As I said before, I felt drawn to his bookshelves and the print of Shakespeare. I ran my gaze over each book in both bookcases and recognized several titles. I was interested to see books on things like astronomy and other sciences. Keats was a widely read person. There was a note near the bookcases that stated that the books on display are ones Keats would have read, though few of them actually belonged to him. That comment reminded me of how few possessions Keats had. In Brown's bedroom, it was noted that a table in the corner had belonged to Brown, but that Keats, himself, owned no furniture. In a display box in Keats's sitting room, there was a grand-looking brass inkwell with two cut-glass inkpots and a bust of Shakespeare sitting in between them. A note said that people had thought that Keats used this inkset, himself. But on analysis it was discovered that it dated from a later time and most likely belonged to George, not John. I imagine Keats had only a box or two of belongings when he moved from Well Walk to Wentworth Place. His precious, but I'm sure small, collection of books; some papers; his writing implements and clothing . . . a hairbrush. . .nothing too remarkable or grand. I felt an indescribable sensation wash through me as I considered this. Keats really had very little and no place to settle down . . .always adrift in some way or another. That sensation made the peaceful, tiny little room overlooking the back garden something extremely special to me.

Well, I've gone on for an age here, and I'm not even done describing Keats's sitting room! I'll have to stop for now, though, as I have to get ready for work. I'll pick up again a little later and give you the rest of the story :)
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Re: Visit to Keats House

Postby Raphael » Wed Dec 02, 2009 5:03 pm

Malia, thanks so much for your account- it was very well written- atmospheric and moving.

It was somewhat difficult to reconcile the bustling Hampstead of 2009 with the pastoral countryside Keats must have been acquainted with. Yet, as we turned off the main path and onto an unpaved trail leading into a wood, I felt the echo of Keats's spirit in the trees and in the earth beneath my feet. I could begin to imagine how he could become inspired by such a place. Even in crowded and busy London, where everybody walks with a grim, sharpened sense of purpose and a body posture that compels a visitor to keep pace or step out of the way--even here with the rush of traffic and the blaring of car horns, there is still "a bower quiet for us / Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing". It echoes Keats like a far off ripple in a pond that continues to vibrate long after the stone that started it all has sunk to the bottom.


I loved the above description! How wonderful to walk where he once walked and to connect with the sense of place- that reminds me of his poem about the highlands of Scotland; looking at place and imagining who walked there before you and the sense of time. I read it last night and was delighted by the mood and feeling of it. I love to be in places and evoke the past. I cannot wait to walk up that wood you mention!


I spent much time in Keats's sitting room. It was small, but it didn't feel cramped. Rather, I could sense how Keats--always uprooted from place to place and parted from his family--would feel safe and secure in such a room. I could sense him relaxing--writing a letter to his brother George with his back to the fire (and today, the actual fireplace Keats used is still there), sitting on the floor with one foot slightly elevated and the other somewhat askew on the rug.


The actual fireplace! Did you touch it? I know I would! :D I bet his room has a lovely feel to it.


I felt an indescribable sensation wash through me as I considered this. Keats really had very little and no place to settle down . . .always adrift in some way or another. That sensation made the peaceful, tiny little room overlooking the back garden something extremely special to me.


I find that very interesting…it seems it was both circumstances and his poetic soul that kept him moving. Can you see any trees in the garden from his window?
Thanks so much again Malia! I’ll be going there myself in the Spring/Summer.
Best wishes
R.
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.

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Re: Visit to Keats House

Postby BrokenLyre » Wed Dec 02, 2009 9:56 pm

Raphael shares my sentiments Malia! I read and slowly absorbed your delightfully descriptive experience at Keats House. I love the tone and feeling and reflections you bring to your observations - especially for those of us who have never gone. I am indebted to your thoughtful observations as well. As I read, I felt like I was walking to the House with you. I am copying your email for my files. I really look forward to hearing about the rest of your tour at the House. Thank you so very much for your time and effort in doing this.
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Re: Visit to Keats House

Postby Saturn » Wed Dec 02, 2009 10:38 pm

I agree, a very well written account Malia, I wish I had been able to write so vividly of my own visit.
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Re: Visit to Keats House

Postby Malia » Sat Dec 05, 2009 8:37 pm

Hi again. Now that it is Saturday and I have a little leisure time, I thought I'd quickly finish my impressions of Keats House. As I said earlier, I spent much time in Keats's sitting room. After I examined his bookcases, I turned my attention to the print of Shakespeare. It hung in exactly the same spot as in Severn's picture of Keats Reading at Wentworth Place (in fact, the whole room was set up to reflect the look of the painting, a copy of which hung over the mantelpiece). I felt myself drawn to the print--perhaps because it was one of the few items at Keats House that actually belonged to Keats. I walked up to the print until my face was only a few inches away from Shakespeare's. I knew the story of how he was obtained--knew it from Keats's own vivid account to his brothers. He had just arrived in his lodgings in Shanklin, ready to begin the challenge of writing his epic poem, Endymion--the poem that might launch his career as a serious poet. After arranging his books in his room, he decided to "dispose" of a print of a French Ambassador and replace him with the Shakespeare he'd found in a hallway. Shakespeare would preside over his books, and indeed, his headlong leap into the poetical ocean. He hung him just above his "three in a row". He'd sounded so enthusiastic and energetic in his letter--young and full of life and the future. It was hard to believe that less than five years later, his life and focus would be so different--a "failed" poet, poverty-stricken and dying in a strange bed in a coffin-sized room--an exile in Rome, hoping that his name would be forgotten.

I looked deep into that Shakespeare's eyes, searching for any connection to Keats's spirit that might still remain. To me, he didn't look much like Shakespeare--but there was something in his expression that acted almost as a medium between Keats and myself. The expression was a kind of sidelong glance, but with eyes wide open and intense with intelligence. It seemed almost as if Shakepseare was flirting with the viewer--in a kind of literary way--trying to coax you over to have a conversation about one of his characters--or one of yours. I could imagine Keats's imagination connecting with the great mind of Shakespeare through that print. I could see him padding through the house late at night, unable to sleep--taking his candle and raising it up to the print and staring into Shakespeare's eyes as the flame flickered and cast deep shadows along the wall, turning to Shakespeare as his literary father figure when doubts struck him during the silent midnight hours. He would connect with Shakespeare's knowing gaze and remember Shanklin, and his early hopes and dreams--remembering he was called to literature, just as Shakespeare had been called. And he would once again find the courage he needed to continue writing--against all the odds.

As I stared at the print, words flashed through my head from a letter Keats wrote to Haydon: "I remember you saying that you had notions of a good Genius presiding over you--I have of late had the same thought. . .Is it too daring to fancy Shakespeare this Presider?"

I spent a few minutes standing near the fireplace, facing the back garden window, reading a copy of Ode to a Nightingale off a laminated piece of paper that the House provided--my little homage to Keats and his Shakespeare.
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Re: Visit to Keats House

Postby Malia » Sat Dec 05, 2009 8:38 pm

I walked upstairs and through both Brown's and Keats's bedrooms. Last time, I was unable to walk inside Keats's room--it had been corded off. I believe that was done because the upstairs level was unstable--water damage was rotting out the house's framework and so the room couldn't support visitors walking through it. As part of the renovation, they reinforced the floor with steel, so it was once again safe. This time, two rooms in the Brawne's side of the house were also open--a kind of landing area, where they had three costumes from Bright Star on display (two of Fanny's and one of Keats's (that Ben Whishsaw is a *skinny* dude!) and also Fanny's bedroom, which contained a replica dress made from one of her fashion plates. Just outside Fanny's bedroom was a small closet, which my friend Connie opened to show me a metal basin with a tap. A card placed inside the closet stated that this would have been used to collect rainwater that the women of the house would have used as part of a beauty regimen--rainwater was considered a beauty aid. Connie teased me about it. "Look, this is something that Keats would have touched. Touch the tap, Mary--touch the tap that Keats touched!" I laughed along with her and then got all literal and said, "this was on the Brawne's side of the house--and was for women to use. I doubt Keats touched it." But it was fun to think he might have, anyway!

Getting back to Keats's bedroom--I felt a definite stirring within me as I walked through the room and around the bed. It's hard to describe, but it was a quiet, whispering kind of melancholy mixed with a bitter-sweet peace. I should say here that, while Connie and I visited the house in the early afternoon and left after about an hour, I cajoled her into going back for "one more look" at about 4:30--a half an hour before closing time. By 4:30 it was dark out and the house had a deeper, more meditative warmth to it. I revisited Keats's bedroom, and after dark that emotion I described earlier was even more pronounced. The glass tube that displayed Keats's death mask revealed more light and shade after dark and I examined the face for a long time. The shadows cast by the lighting mechanism seemed deeper than when I'd looked at them in the afternoon visit; the room was quieter, the movement of time seemed to slow significantly. The room, istelf, had a fresh and Spring-like appearance--a light salmon pink covered the walls and the bed curtains were a sage green adorned with a small circular print. The bed linens were a crisp white. I had heard that, during the renovation, it had been discovered that the walls in this room were originally this color--this would have been the color Keats saw. It seemed strange--and strangely Keatsian, actually--to think of Keats dying in a room that was so fresh and youthful. Death and life together in one space--light and shade bound together in an ironic, sad, and yet strangely beautiful way.

I walked through the house for about an hour that afternoon, although it seemed like 5 minutes. And I spent another 15 or so minutes there at night. At the end of my first visit, I had a little conversation with the volunteer at the front desk. She was a 20-something Keats lover. I half envied her ability to volunteer at Keats House (what I'd give to be able to do the same!). I asked her how things had been going since the remodel. She said it had been busy! Just the other day--in the *off*season, mind you--they had 200 guests walk through the house. That had been practically unheard of before the remodel. Of course the renovation and the movie together were responsible for such numbers. I was happy to hear it; it's great to think that there are others who might discover his life and work and really feel moved to visit the house. The volunteer and I also spoke about the movie. I said I liked it, but that I would have loved to have seen a little more masculine energy from Keats. OK, actually I said: "I would have liked to have seen him beat somebody up!" She responded enthusiastically, saying that she and her Keatsian friends thought much the same thing when they saw the movie. She stated that she would have liked to have at least seen him taken by his friends to a bare-knuckled boxing fight like the one they took him to in real life, when Tom died.

I also spoke with her about my observation that there were very few--in fact *no*--actual manuscripts on display. Last time I was here, the Chester room (added after Keats's death) was filled with manuscripts. She said that unfortunately, they had been improperly displayed for so long that they were now too fragile to display at all. That saddened me a bit because seeing Keats's actual handwriting on his actual letters had made a great impact on me last time I was there. It was hard walking through the house and seeing so few items--it was a "bare bones" experience, albeit still moving.

Outside the grounds of Keats House, as I walked through Hampstead with Connie, I found myself walking up Pond Street (marveling that so many of the street names had remained the same since Keats's day). I imagined Keats getting off the coach on this street in the middle of winter, staggering to Wentworth Place--which would have been a bit of a walk for someone in as great distress as Keats. It felt so strange to be walking the same patch of earth that Keats walked--however much it has changed in nearly 200 years.
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Re: Visit to Keats House

Postby BrokenLyre » Sun Dec 06, 2009 3:59 am

Thank you Malia! I read as though I was there. And yes, I am sorry that they do not have original writings from Keats there. But still, I really enjoyed your description of the experience.
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Re: Visit to Keats House

Postby Raphael » Mon Dec 07, 2009 2:03 pm

Malia- you write with such atmosphere! Thanks so much for your wonderful accounts of Keats House! I'm pining to go now! I especially loved your description of the Shakespeare print and the candle light.

As I stared at the print, words flashed through my head from a letter Keats wrote to Haydon: "I remember you saying that you had notions of a good Genius presiding over you--I have of late had the same thought. . .Is it too daring to fancy Shakespeare this Presider?"


I think he could well have been right.. :D
And how many aspiring writers now will look at prints of John and feel the same? He'd never have imagined that he would become another's inspiration..but he is all the same.
John....you did not live to see-
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what it is we are in what we make of you.

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Re: Visit to Keats House

Postby Malia » Wed Dec 16, 2009 3:09 am

Hi Again :)
I've finally downloaded my pictures from Keats House--and a few others from Keats-related sites. (There will probably be more to come.)

I'll post my pictures from Keats House and Hampstead Heath first. Of course, I only got a chance to take pictures of the outside of the House (they're not allowed inside); Connie and I also took several pictures of the Heath--it is hard to believe, from some of these pictures, that they were taken on a cold day in late November!

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A picture of the house taken from outside the gate--which was locked, as the house didn't open for another 15 minutes.

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Gathering a little of Keats's spirit on Hampstead Heath before visiting the house.

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Couldn't you just imagine Keats and Fanny taking a stroll down this path?
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Re: Visit to Keats House

Postby Malia » Wed Dec 16, 2009 3:13 am

A few more pictures . . .

Sumptuous Hampstead Heath. . .
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Image

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Here I am, BEYOND excited to enter the house again after a 14 year absence!

Image
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Re: Visit to Keats House

Postby Malia » Wed Dec 16, 2009 3:17 am

Here I am standing in the back garden in front of Keats's Sitting Room Window
Image


Image
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Re: Visit to Keats House

Postby Malia » Wed Dec 16, 2009 3:25 am

A few Keats-related pictures for you now--I was on a bit of a Keats Pilgrimage on my trip.

I think we can all recognize one of Keats's inspirations . . .
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Here it is without a gawking Keatsian standing in front!
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Ben Nevis in the distance. . .
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The Magical Scottish Highlands all in a Mist
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