Tag Archives: John Keats

I’m Like a Eunuch, Or Mute Castrato — Stanza 10

The Baptism Of The Eunuch, by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1626

The Baptism Of The Eunuch, by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1626

Res Publica, Book One, Prologue

10.

A proverb: Man can’t single-handedly
clap – or catch it.10 We can’t give birth
without seducing a publisher first.
As Mary said so candidly,
I’m like a eunuch, or mute castrato;
I’ve better chances winning the Lotto
than making art! My sheets are clean.
And may they always stay pristine;
and on death’s bed remain still pure,
for death can be the virgin’s cure
and leave its sperm on poets’ sheets.
Just look at Dickinson, or Keats.11

10‘Can’t catch it’ – in other words, this editor assumes, can’t catch the clap, a more vulgar term for gonorrhea. The reference is in keeping with the previous stanza, in which art is presented as a kind of disease.
11Poets Emily Dickinson (1830–1886) and John Keats (1795–1821) both received recognition for their work posthumously.

Zireaux’s comments on this stanza
Not just ‘publishers’ (however one defines that term these days) but the general concept of ‘just who are you’ — see dedication — will almost certainly carry over to the medium in which you, reader, are now engaged.

Take, for example, Wikipedia. In order for a book to appear on Wikipedia, it — or its author — must be considered ‘notable.’ Is Res Publica notable? Could it be considered otherwise? And yet Res Publica has no presence on Wikipedia. So it’s not notable? Or is it, perhaps, too notable? Too strange? Most important, do any of the discussions about its notability involve the book itself?

Here is a discussion about the entry “Zireaux” on Wikipedia (with yours truly contributing the last line):

Zireaux
Zireaux (edit|talk|history|links|watch|logs) – (View log)
(Find sources: “Zireaux” – news · books · scholar · free images)

* 11:26, 21 July 2008 FisherQueen (talk | contribs) deleted “Zireaux” ‎ (A7 (bio): Doesn’t indicate importance or significance of a real person)

* Fails WP:AUTHOR Adabow (talk · contribs) 08:02, 23 February 2011 (UTC)

* Delete Non-notable, appears self-promotional (single edit user). DerbyCountyinNZ (Talk Contribs) 09:54, 23 February 2011 (UTC)

* Note: This debate has been included in the list of New Zealand-related deletion discussions. Adabow (talk · contribs) 08:03, 23 February 2011 (UTC)

* Note: This debate has been included in the list of Authors-related deletion discussions. — • Gene93k (talk) 15:06, 23 February 2011 (UTC)

* Delete – I can find no reliable sources writing about this person. Radio New Zealand has devoted some time to a reading of one of her works, but that’s not sufficient to establish notability. — Whpq (talk) 16:30, 25 February 2011 (UTC)

* Delete Not notable. Polisher of Cobwebs (talk) 23:05, 26 February 2011 (UTC)

* This is Zireaux himself. Agree with others. I say delete it. I am in no way notable. (But for the record, I’m a “him” not a “her,” as those who’ve read my books or listened to my poetry — which may or may not be notable — will attest).

Read from the beginning of Res Publica | Listen to the audio version (read by Stuart Devenie) | Buy a signed copy of the book

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Lines from Endymion, by John Keats

Selected for Immortal Muse by Zireaux (read Zireaux’s comments on this poem)

Lines from Endymion, by John Keats

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
‘Gainst the hot season; the mid forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.

Diana and Endymion

Diana and Endymion by Gérard de Lairesse (1680)


Zireaux’s comments on this poem:
You’ll remember, faithful reader (for you are good and hard-working), my post on August 30, 2010, in which I claimed that Coleridge’s Kubla Khan can “rightly be called the best poem — of any length — in the English language (bar three or four very close competitors).”

One “very close competitor” would surely be a poem by John Keats, one of his great Odes, no doubt. These first 24 lines of Endymion, however, are as rich and pure a sampling of English poetry as any lines ever written.

Let’s look at the technique: The trick here, as with the greatest art, is to create the impression of effortlessness. Mouth opens, out it spills. “A thing of beauty.” Thing? Poor outcast word; a lowly bench-player called upon to start the match, but O, how much he scores today!

Endymion pulses with iambic pentameter, but the opening line — for all its casualness — is what I call a “merchant’s scale” of verse: that is, two equal meters precisely balanced by unstressed syllables (in this case, “is”), or sometimes by a caesura. You’ll often find the “merchant’s scale” making the titles of books, plays, movies more appealing to our ears: Romeo [and] Juliet. One Flew Ov[er the] Cuckoo’s Nest.

Easy music, effortless symmetry, unrestrained precision — this is Keats. I said Endymion pulses with iambic pentameter, but not until the 12th line does Keats allow us to finger its throbbing artery: “Some shape of beauty moves away the pall.” Finger, yes, but only for a moment; for just as we think we capture its rhythm, seize hold its rhyme (“all”/”pall”), Keats lets the music squirm loose with another enjambment: “…the pall / From our dark spirits.” The pattern slips through our hands, returns again to the colloquial stream, the easy talk, the poet expressing his thoughts (“like a scattered deck of cards,” said Keats about his work). Mouth opens, out it spills. Was that some meter that escaped? Was that the language of the gods?

Enjambment, fluidity, a constant flow of poetic sounds without the formal suit of song (notice all the assonance and near-rhymes, with words like “inhuman” and “gloomy,” or “bower” and “morrow”); these are Keats’s stock techniques. These, and a faithful befriending of death: Loveliness/nothingness, bloom/doom, “shady boon” and “mighty dead.” Death is kind. Death is trustworthy.

One can’t so easily depart from Keats. So drunk his nectar renders us, we linger at his blooms. I’ve done the poor soul little justice here. I’ll end this post with a poem I wrote in college:

Keats, A Lovesong

O anywhere’s okay
for me to spend a holiday
with Keats, to rent a Swiss Chalet
with Keats, to fly to Paraquay
with Keats…

O anywhere’s okay
for me to find a hideaway
with Keats, a place to runaway
with Keats, to be an émigré
with Keats…

Yes anywhere’s okay
for me to spend my every day
with Keats, to soak-up solar rays
with Keats — Pompeii, Bombay, Taipai
with Keats…

O anywhere’s okay
for me to stroke the Milky Way
with Keats, hear water-angels pray
with Keats and feel the dolphin’s spray
with Keats…

But if I go away
with Keats, yes if I go away
with Keats, be sure to hold my hand,
my love. Our names are writ in sand,
my love. Be sure to hold my hand.

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Foot Fetish — Keat’s “Dull Rhymes Chain’d”

A small Roman fresco from Pompei: Note how Adromeda is standing on a rock (sandalled, perhaps?), and Persius must step up to rescue her.

A small Roman fresco from Pompei: Note how Adromeda is standing on a rock (sandalled, perhaps?), and Persius must step up to rescue her.

Selected for Immortal Muse by Zireaux (read Zireaux’s comments on this poem)

If By Dull Rhymes Our English Must Be Chain’d
by John Keats

If by dull rhymes our English must be chain’d,
    And, like Andromeda, the Sonnet sweet
Fetter’d, in spite of pained loveliness;
Let us find out, if we must be constrain’d,
    Sandals more interwoven and complete
To fit the naked foot of poesy;
Let us inspect the lyre, and weigh the stress
Of every chord, and see what may be gain’d
    By ear industrious, and attention meet:
Misers of sound and syllable, no less
    Than Midas of his coinage, let us be
    Jealous of dead leaves in the bay wreath crown;
So, if we may not let the Muse be free,
    She will be bound with garlands of her own.

Perfectly placed textiles somehow keep the feet of Théodore Chassériau's Adromaeda off the ground (1840).

Perfectly placed textiles somehow keep the feet of Théodore Chassériau's Adromaeda off the ground (1840).


Zireaux’s comments on these poems:
We stay with Keats (while poems bubble up in me). We play with Keats — pursuer of posterity, sweet dreamer with his water-quill, esteemer of that Master Will, and fetishist of feets!

The feet of Rembrant's Adromeda (1630) are purposefully hidden

The feet of Rembrant's Adromeda (1630) are purposefully hidden

We Edna-St.-Vincent-Millay with Keats: The naked “foot of poesy,” a foot we’ve met in postings past. Remember reader? Euclid Alone? And “[Beauty’s] massive sandal set on stone.” That Venus in white marble cast, with randy Pan imploring near (to see that post again, click here).

We say with Keats: “Pained loveliness.” And say it again: “Pained loveliness!”

The feet of Titian's Adromeda (16th century) are beautifully bare and touching the soil.

The feet of Titian's Adromeda (16th century) are beautifully bare and touching the soil.

A thousand times we say it! As if all beauty is made clear by tossing words into a stream and watching what new rhymes appear; and how that ambling, scrambling scheme (ABCABDCABCDEDE), unbound, unchained to rocks, on crystal plains of water walks.

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“On Fame” by John Keats

Selected for Immortal Muse by Zireaux (read Zireaux’s comments on this poem)

Portrait of John Keats by the English painter William Hilton

Portrait of John Keats by the English painter William Hilton

On Fame
by John Keats

I.

Fame, like a wayward girl, will still be coy
To those who woo her with too slavish knees,
But makes surrender to some thoughtless boy,
And dotes the more upon a heart at ease;
She is a Gypsy,—will not speak to those
Who have not learnt to be content without her;
A Jilt, whose ear was never whispered close,
Who thinks they scandal her who talk about her;
A very Gypsy is she, Nilus-born,
Sister-in-law to jealous Potiphar;
Ye love-sick Bards! repay her scorn for scorn;
Ye Artists lovelorn! madmen that ye are!
Make your best bow to her and bid adieu,
Then, if she likes it, she will follow you.

II.

“You cannot eat your cake and have it too.” -Proverb

How fevered is the man who cannot look
Upon his mortal days with temperate blood,
Who vexes all the leaves of his life’s book,
And robs his fair name of its maidenhood;
It is as if the rose should pluck herself,
Or the ripe plum finger its misty bloom,
As if a Naiad, like a meddling elf,
Should darken her pure grot with muddy gloom;
But the rose leaves herself upon the briar,
For winds to kiss and grateful bees to feed,
And the ripe plum still wears its dim attire;
The undisturbed lake has crystal space;
Why then should man, teasing the world for grace,
Spoil his salvation for a fierce miscreed?


Zireaux’s comments on this poem:

Tupac Shakur

Tupac Shakur, shot and killed at age 25

On our gypsy-jaunt across the genres of poetry, one must pause lengthily at the divine “crystal space” that is John Keats. There’s no more appropriate theme — amidst this medium of sex-tapes and 12,479 followers on Twitter — than the theme of fame. As Shakespeare showed us, and showed Keats, too (and as Darwin confirmed some 50 years later), fame and sex are two sides of the same genitalia.

You’ll remember — of course you’ll remember, my dedicated reader — our brief encounter with Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18” on Tuesday, May 31 of this year, and how, when it comes to attracting immortality, an “excess of moderation” makes for an effective babe-magnet (I remember a car dealer once telling me, “This one’s a real babe-magnet”). As I pointed out, the word “temperate” in the second line of Shakespeare’s masterpiece (“Thou art more lovely and more temperate”) is the most important word of the poem.

Keats appears to have admired the word as well, for here it is again — “with temperate blood” — also in the second line of a Shakespearean sonnet. Keats was imitating and even attempting to one-up the Master, adhering to the great one’s rhyme scheme throughout “On Fame I,” and most of “On Fame II,” only to add a distinctive flourish when concluding the latter, with an awkward albeit distinctive FEGGF pattern all to his own.

We could, in fact, look at “Sonnet 18” as a serenade to Fame. Though Fame and Immortality are different ladies, they’re still women at heart; they can still succumb to true love – and even the Gypsy Jilt, the wayward girl, the coy coquette, can sometimes transform into a faithful widow; or, if not a woman of purity, then an eager necrophiliac.

Keats's tombstone

Keats's tombstone at the Protestant cemetery in Rome

For all its self-touching and onanistic muddying of the Naiad’s grot, there’s a line in “On Fame II” that forever remains with any artist who happens to read it and who knows of Keats’s fate: “The undisturbed lake has crystal space.” It’s here, with “crystal space,” that Keats breaks free of the Shakespearean rhyme scheme – a “G” where the “F” should be – and so himself becomes a crystal space in undisturbed water. “Here Lies One Whose Name was writ in Water, Feb 24, 1821” are the words etched into Keats’s tombstone. So with his death, his immortality crystallized.

Some relevant lines from my Kamal, Book One:

Each year, reader – each year the jaundiced stare
of beat-up Poe, of Shelley gasping for air,
of sad, consumptive Keats (beside whom cries
Bernini’s fountain), of Byron as he lies
in cold ague, of Plath, that over dramatic
half-baked spouse of Hughes, and poor rheumatic
Burns (mad, but unsoused), a stunned
and bleeding Pushkin, out-dueled, out-gunned,
and other lead-filled poets: Jam
Master Jay, Tupac and Biggie, a lamb
called Lennon, that self-shooter Cobain (his head
found with no brain) and all those left dead
in bathtubs or vomit, including one – how grim! —
by ‘soap under-toe slain’ – I mean, that Doorman, Jim —

each year, my reader, they’ve glared at me! Their eyes
increased in number and ridicule. ‘There lies
a living poet,’ they’d say, ‘older, more dead than us
His name is write in air! Our scattered dusts
a far more stable substance than this living
statue able yet to write!…”

Keats made his “best bow” and “bid adieu” at a very young age. Fame clearly liked it; Immortality, too.

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“Mrs. Reynold’s Cat” by John Keats

Selected for Immortal Muse by Zireaux (read Zireaux’s comments on this poem)

Mrs Reynold’s Cat, by John Keats

Cat! who hast passed thy grand climacteric,
  How many mice and rats hast in thy days
  Destroyed? How many tit-bits stolen? Gaze
With those bright languid segments green, and prick
Those velvet ears – but prithee do not stick
  Thy latent talons in me, and up-raise
  Thy gentle mew, and tell me all thy frays
Of fish and mice, and rats and tender chick.
Nay, look not down, nor lick thy dainty wrists –
  For all thy wheezy asthma, and for all
Thy tail’s tip is nicked off, and though the fists
  Of many a maid have given thee many a maul,
Still is that fur as soft as when the lists
  In youth thou enteredst on glass-bottled wall.


Zireaux’s comments on this poem:
What other poets have found themselves beguiled or heartbroken by cats (see last Tuesday’s poem, “Elegy to Joy“)? No shortage here. From Sir Walter Scott’s cat, Hinse of Hinsefeldt, to Tennyson’s feline clan of “Sweet-Arts,” to Henry Walpole’s emerald-eyed Selima, who drowned in Thomas Gray’s goldfish bowl (to rise again in Gray’s “Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat”). W.B. Yeats’s black Minnaloushe, Byron’s brave Beppo, Poe‘s Cattarina, Amy Lowell’s Winky, Lear’s Foss, Eliot’s Jellylorum, Bly’s mysterious cat in the kitchen, Edward Hirsh’s Zooey, Marianne Moore’s Peter, Weldon Kees’s (appropriately named) Lonesome — poems from them all; plus Shelley, Dickinson, Swinburne, Swift, Wordsworth, Rosetti, Hughes, Updike and many others, with T.S. Eliot and Shakespeare disqualified: the former for writing what might be called “cattoons,” the latter for breaking the rules of eligibility (Forces of Nature not allowed).

Sir Walter Scott and his cat named Hinse (and the dog that may have killed Hinse

Sir Walter Scott with his cat named Hinse of Hinsefeldt (and the dog that may have killed Hinse), posthumous portrait by Sir John Watson Gordon, circa 1845

The best cat poem goes to Christopher Smart’s “My Cat Jeoffry,” but few readers today can tolerate his long mad litany of ailurophilia; so “Mrs. Reynold’s Cat” achieves selection here, because it’s written by John Keats, and even an average poem by Keats can out-strut just about any field of models, not to mention supermodels like Meowmi Campbell, Tiger Banks, Kit Moss (apologies, a private joke). “Cat!”

The “grand climacteric” refers to the 63rd year of a person’s life, in other words, a kind of meno-paws (too easy, the cat-pun). The final couplet brilliantly brings the fresh young cat over the protecting wall that — paved with glass shards — surrounds Mrs. Reynold’s property, and into the fighting arena (“lists”) of an unprotected world. A perfect example of what I call “poetic depth.” So much portrayed — about the cat, Mrs. Reynolds, the neighborhood — in just a few lines. Live on, dear thing, to prick thy velvet ears and lick thy dainty wrists forever!

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