BrokenLyre goes to Harvard to see Keats...

Discussion on the works of John Keats.

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BrokenLyre goes to Harvard to see Keats...

Postby BrokenLyre » Thu Jul 07, 2011 6:28 am

OK - I made it to Harvard. I went to the Houghton Library where all the Keats material is housed. Ten days prior to my visit I went online to Register onto the Harvard Library. Glad I did that! While I was online I had to make a Special Request from the Library to see the famous "Keats Room." (It's only shown on Fridays at 3 pm and I would be there only on Thursday - bummer!!) But I never heard back from the Library - so I just left for Boston and figured I would see what happens.....

After all the administrative details and getting my picture taken at the Widener Library etc... I finally got to see the Houghton Library Special Collections area. I logged onto the computer, frantically trying to find an original 1817 book with Keats's writing in it. I did! I saw the following:

Title: Poems / by John Keats.
Published: London : Printed for C. & J. Ollier, 1817.
Description: 121 p. ; 18 cm.

It was inscribed, "To J.H. Reynold's from his Friend J. Keats." I couldn't believe what I was holding! I ran my finger across the writing - no gloves were given. As I leafed through his first book of poetry, I couldn't believe what I saw next:

There were two sonnets in Keats's autograph - ("On Receiving a Laurel Crown from Leigh Hunt", and "To the Ladies Who Saw Me Crown'd"). I just stared at these sonnets that were written in ink, (in Keats's handwriting) on one blank page (p. 78).

At the end of the book - on the very last page (p. 122), two more poems were written in Keats's handwriting, also in ink: "To Haydon with a Sonnet Written on Seeing the Elgin Marbles" and "On Seeing the Elgin Marbles". It literally took my breath away. I saw a correction Keats had made in one of the lines too. Just remarkable.

Please know that these four poems were not published in book form until many years later! "On Receiving a Laurel Crown" and "To the Ladies" were not published until May 1914 (according to Stillinger's Complete Poems, p. 427). "To Haydon" and 'Elgin Marbles" were first published in the Examiner in March 1817. I think Keats just added them to his Poems book for Reynolds.

But what I found really fascinating was in the middle of the book - his "Chapman's Homer" poem. To the left of the title, in Keats's own handwriting in pencil, he wrote, "My First!"

Wow! I never knew he wrote such a comment on this famous poem. Yes - Keats really included the exclamation point too. Again, I was just stunned! I felt like Keats was so close - so alive at that moment. It was like he had just written it and was looking over my shoulder. The immediacy of the situation was overwhelming. How come I never heard that comment mentioned by any of the scholars I have on my shelves?? What did Keats mean??

I think he was just telling Reynolds that this poem was his first really great poem. What do you all think it means? The exclamation point was such a lovely touch - it's exuberance seemed so evident to me - so real and the typical comment from a young poet on his first published book! I can't really explain how it felt - it seemed so appropriate for someone in his state of mind at the time I think.

By the way, how do I know the four poems were in Keats's handwriting? Because the library record states it clearly in the catalog! (You can see the description on the book at the Harvard Library web site - under John Keats - Poems 1817).

As I was looking on the computer in the library, a ridiculously amazing thing happened! A librarian came over and helped me a bit. Knowing my interest and knowledge of Keats, she said, "Would you like to see the Keats Room?" I couldn't believe what she was asking! Yes, of course!
I would love to finish this story but it's 1:20 am and I have to go to work tomorrow!

Part two - I will finish tomorrow. Sorry - I really don't want to be dramatic about this, but my eyes are hurting, I'm exhausted and it seems like a good place to stop. Blessings to all.
"Come... dry your eyes, for you are life, rarer than a quark and unpredictable beyond the dreams of Heisenberg; the clay in which the forces that shape all things leave their fingerprints most clearly. Dry your eyes... and let's go home."
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Re: BrokenLyre goes to Harvard to see Keats...

Postby Saturn » Thu Jul 07, 2011 7:24 am

I think you're right; Keats meant that it was the first poem he had written that felt like 'real' poetry, the first sign of his genius and the first promise of the greatness to come.

Before that he'd written trifles, juvenilia, 'On first reading...' was his first masterpiece.
"Oh what a misery it is to have an intellect in splints".
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Re: BrokenLyre goes to Harvard to see Keats...

Postby Raphael » Thu Jul 07, 2011 6:14 pm

It was inscribed, "To J.H. Reynold's from his Friend J. Keats." I couldn't believe what I was holding! I ran my finger across the writing - no gloves were given.



Wow!!!!!! You touched the page he wrote on! I'm so envious!


As I leafed through his first book of poetry, I couldn't believe what I saw next:

]There were two sonnets in Keats's autograph - ("On Receiving a Laurel Crown from Leigh Hunt", and "To the Ladies Who Saw Me Crown'd"). I just stared at these sonnets that were written in ink, (in Keats's handwriting) on one blank page (p. 78).

At the end of the book - on the very last page (p. 122), two more poems were written in Keats's handwriting, also in ink: "To Haydon with a Sonnet Written on Seeing the Elgin Marbles" and "On Seeing the Elgin Marbles". It literally took my breath away. I saw a correction Keats had made in one of the lines too. Just remarkable.



Wow again! How I'd love to see all this!


But what I found really fascinating was in the middle of the book - his "Chapman's Homer" poem. To the left of the title, in Keats's own handwriting in pencil, he wrote, "My First!"

Wow! I never knew he wrote such a comment on this famous poem. Yes - Keats really included the exclamation point too. Again, I was just stunned! I felt like Keats was so close - so alive at that moment. It was like he had just written it and was looking over my shoulder. The immediacy of the situation was overwhelming. How come I never heard that comment mentioned by any of the scholars I have on my shelves??



I feel very moved reading this account Broken Lyre-I have butterflies imagining being there and holding his book and reading his own handwriting at a point in his life when he was pleased with Chapman’s Homer. Perhaps the scholars haven't seen this original edition?



What did Keats mean??

I think he was just telling Reynolds that this poem was his first really great poem. What do you all think it means? The exclamation point was such a lovely touch - it's exuberance seemed so evident to me - so real and the typical comment from a young poet on his first published book! I can't really explain how it felt - it seemed so appropriate for someone in his state of mind at the time I think.



I think you are right there Broken Lyre- a moment of fulfilment in his poetic powers. :D



As I was looking on the computer in the library, a ridiculously amazing thing happened! A librarian came over and helped me a bit. Knowing my interest and knowledge of Keats, she said, "Would you like to see the Keats Room?" I couldn't believe what she was asking! Yes, of course!



How nice! I bet you had a wonderful time- look forward to hearing more!
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: BrokenLyre goes to Harvard to see Keats...

Postby jesleeall » Fri Jul 08, 2011 3:58 pm

Pretty exciting, Broken Lyre! I'm having vicarious chills! I can't wait to read the rest. I'm so happy for you!
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