Week One: Isn’t it Romantic?
Welcome to Poetry Month with the Reader’s Den! Instead of the normal online book discussion this month, each Wednesday we'll post a poem for consideration and discussion. Feel free to use the questions below the poem as a springboard. Post your insights and impressions in the comments, and be sure to check back later in the week to see what others thought.
We begin with a poem by John Keats, composed in the year 1818.
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charact'ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think,
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.
- What are the narrator’s strongest fears?
- Grain, stars, clouds, shadows, shore… why all the nature imagery?
- How would you interpret the concluding lines?
Continue exploring this poem with a glossary and more:
glean’d (from the verb to glean): To gather or pick up ears of corn which have been left by the reapers.
teeming: Abundantly productive; fertile, prolific; abounding; swarming; crowded.
charact’try: Expression of thought by symbols or characters; the characters or symbols collectively.
garner: A storehouse for corn, granary.
relish: A taste or flavour; the distinctive taste of anything.
faery: Of or belonging to ‘faerie’, resembling fairyland, beautiful and unsubstantial, visionary, unreal.
Definitions printed from Oxford English Dictionary Online, copyright © Oxford University Press, 2009.
I’m all for diving right into discussion when it comes to poetry, but for those who’d like a sliver of context, Columbia Granger’s World of Poetry Online defines Keats’s era of Romantic poetry this way: “Formed by the ideals of liberty and equality which inspired the French and American revolutions, Romanticism sought a return to nature and the goodness of man, the rediscovery of the artist as the supremely individual creator, the development of nationalistic pride, and the exaltation of the senses and emotion over reason and the intellect.”
Want to relish more in the faery power of Romantic poets and poetry? The web holds rich garners of Romanticism resources:
Romantic Circles is a website that provides scholarly resources for the study of Romantic-period literature and culture.
RaVoN: Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net
North American Society for the Study of Romanticism
Happy National Poetry Month from the Reader’s Den. Join us again next Wednesday!