BrokenLyre finally gets to Keats Room

Discussion on the works of John Keats.

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BrokenLyre finally gets to Keats Room

Postby BrokenLyre » Fri Jul 08, 2011 10:11 pm

Well, I couldn't believe that after going to the Boston Library and seeing the 1818 and 1820 Keats volumes, I was heading to Harvard the next day to see their books and MAYBE the "Keats Room" in the Houghton Library. While I was on the computer, the librarian just asked me if I wanted to see the Keats Room - which they never show on Thursdays. I tried to contain my excitement, of course!

So I followed her upstairs, to the Keats Room. It was dimly lit, about 23 feet by 23 feet square. Ceilings were about 10 feet high. Directly across the entrance was carved in a Mahogany oval, "John Keats, 1795-1821." All three walls were lined with Mahogany cabinets with glass doors that were locked. In one cabinet to the left, was three shelves - one shelf with his 1817 "Poems" - they had about 7 copies. Beneath that was another shelf with his 1818 "Endymion" (about 9 copies), and beneath that was the third shelf with the 1820 "Lamia" book (about 8 copies).
They were in special book cases that resembled old books with thick ribs on the spine. In gold lettering on the spine was written the contents of the book contained within. These cases would separate into top and bottom so they were divided horizontally. Once pulled apart, you would see a thin cardboard covering for the actual Keats book. On the spine was written things like:

Poems, 1817
With autobiographical notes
To J.H. Reynolds

Next to these books on the shelf, was a gold chain that Keats owned. Tightly wound braided chain.
(Description follows from the Harvard site):

{Gold bracelet, [before 1821]. 1 item : gold link metal chain with clasp ; 19 cm. (length) x .5 cm (width).
In wooden case, with satin cushion.
Bracelet made from a portion of a gold chain originally given to Keats by an unidentified admirer. Keats gave it to his sister-in-law Georgiana, who thought it too long and shortened it by making one or more bracelets of the excess. Georgiana gave this bracelet to her daughter, Ella (Keats) Peay, who passed it along to her daughter, Mildred (Peay) Whiting, mother of the donors.
Acquisition Information: Gift of Ella Keats Whiting, Mrs. C. Randolph Myer, Jr., and John K. Whiting, Jr. 1929, c/o Ella Keats Whiting 17 Cottage Street, Wellesley, Massachusetts 02181; received: 1976 May.}

In another Cabinet was the original drawing of Keats by Joseph Severn. I said to the librarian, "That's not a copy, is it?" She said, "No, that's the original." Awesome. I tried concealing my enthusiasm somewhat. Didn't want to scare her!

Next to that, was another Cabinet containing Keats's own books from his personal library. I saw his 8 volume Shakespeare set, his Spenser, etc... I read about his books many times - and here they were! Right in front of me! So surreal and strange in that dim light. In that cabinet was a seal with some gold around it. It belonged to Keats of course.

On the other walls were old books on his life - original biographies from the 1800's and well as letters I believe. All behind the mahogany cabinets.In front of the cabinets were glass displays that are used to show his original letters, poems etc...but on this day they were showing Emily Dickinson's work (she's from Amherst Massachusetts). Her room is to the left of Keats - and smaller too by the way!

Out of the blue, the librarian walked me over to the first cabinet with Keats's 3 books, and she suddenly unlocked the glass door! Then she starts to pull off an Endymion volume, pulls the case apart, opens the cardboard, and opens this beautiful volume of Endymion with Keats's writing in it with pencil! I couldn't believe she's doing this for me - I wasn't even supposed to be here! I saw the inscription that Keats wrote. I can't remember to whom, my head was dizzy. I just didn't expect this - and I was trying to be scholarly, so I curtailed my excitement! She leafed through the book, I touched the page where Keats wrote - she wouldn't let me hold the book. Then she put it back and pulled out another book - the 1820 volume and we looked at it. Then she pulled out the 1817 volume and showed it to me. She pulled a fourth book out to show me Keats's writing within - the whole thing was just unreal!! I knew I only had 10 minutes, so it was hard to take it all in!!

All this time we were both standing directly in front of the cabinet..... And then I saw it! The gold chain just sitting there on the shelf with the glass door wide open!! So I went for it!

As she was holding one of the books and leafing through it, I reached out and touched the gold chain that Keats owned!! I really couldn't believe this now! I was as close to my friend as I could be. Just touching that chain was wonderful. She never saw me as she was looking down at her book. I felt I was doing something illegal, and I was a bit afraid, but I just HAD to do it! Compulsion. Obsession. Whatever. I did it! I crossed the time boundary and touched something that John Keats held, and his sister-in-law held. Besides, I'm family.

We walked out and I tried to savor the moments there. I was stunned by what happened and what I saw. I needed more time. I may never get to the Keats House in London, but this was great too. Then my wife and I went to lunch in a Thai restaurant nearby. What a day.

For all of you, I touched Keats's gold chain.

Thanks for reading along and joining me a bit. I wish you were all with me!

When I returned home - I got my emails. (Remember that before I left for Boston I had to make a special request to see the Keats Room, but I never heard from them?) One email was from Harvard Library. It said that THEY WERE SORRY that I WOULD NOT be able to see the Keats Room. Ha ha ha ha ha ha - I touched the gold chain! Awesome.
"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 finally gets to Keats Room

Postby Cybele » Sat Jul 09, 2011 4:39 am

Broken Lyre, this is way cool! I'm very happy for you. (Jealous, too! :) )

When looking at facsimiles of the original manuscripts, I've loved seeing how our guy "built" his poems, how he would park a phrase in a margin to be inserted later in a work or changed a word that worked and sounded better. I've marveled at the young man's precise and tidy handwriting -- more legible today than many of my friends'. I've also felt an unexpected connection to the writer, as though this were something he had written to me, a direct and personal communication, so I can completely understand how you felt the poet's presence. In my opinion, seeing a note a written in a book to one of his friends -- you came this close to being in the presence of Mr. Keats, himself. A thought flowed directly from his brain, through his hand and onto that page in front of you! -- That's pretty close to greatness, I'd say.

And that gold chain? Given the chance I would have touched it, too.
"The philosopher proves that the philosopher exists. The poet merely enjoys existence."
Wallace Stevens
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Re: BrokenLyre finally gets to Keats Room

Postby jesleeall » Sun Jul 10, 2011 11:40 pm

BrokenLyre, You brought tears to my eyes with your wonderful description of your experience. I'm so glad you got to see everything and to touch that chain. And thank you for describing it so vividly for us.
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Re: BrokenLyre finally gets to Keats Room

Postby Ennis » Sun Aug 14, 2011 8:45 pm

[quote="jesleeall"]BrokenLyre, You brought tears to my eyes with your wonderful description of your experience. I'm so glad you got to see everything and to

My gosh, Broken Lyre! How wonderful! Cambridge, Harvard, here I come! At this immediate stage in my life, a trip to Cambridge is more practical/financially feasible than returning to London and Rome (that's planned for 2016, with the intention of staying [forever] in London; to paraphrase: "O, to be buried near where he lived(d) [it's difficult for me to think of Keats in the past tense; his poetry and letters are so immediate that I feel as though he, too, is immediate to us, that he is all around us).
"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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