Monday, February 15, 2010

"Mr John Keats, five feet tall' Sails Away

A poem which I have loved for a long time, by Thomas Lux.


on the Maria Crowther,
a cargo brig,
of 127 tons bound for Italy,
Naples, the sun
which was thought would cure his cough, his lungs.
The day: Sunday, 17 September 1820.
With him: Severn,
a painter, his nurse-companion;
Mrs. Pidgeon, a pain in the ass
and cold; Miss Cotterell,
like Keats consumptive
and "very lady-like but a sad martyr
to her illness," wrote Severn;
the captain and crew.
This was not a pleasure cruise.
Second day out: the sick
and the nonsick get seasick
and 'bequeath to the mighty sea their breakfasts.'
Storms, water by the pailful
in the sleeping cabin; calms, nary a puff.
A squall (Bay of Biscay),
a calm again (Cape Saint Vincent),
then, one dawn, Gibraltar, the African coast!
Then, Bay of Naples,
Saturday 21 October -- ten days
during which not one porthole opened
it rained so hard and long.
Welcome, Mr Keats, to sunny southern Italy.
Then, by wagon, on roads ripe
with malaria, to Rome
from where in the two months plus
he still has lungs
he does not write again to Fanny Brawne,
whom he loves,
though he does write about
her to a friend
the famous sentence: "Oh God! God! God!" (in whom
he had no faith) "Every thing
I have in my trunk
reminds me of her
and goes through me like a spear."
And the better but less quoted
next sentence: "The silk
lining she put in my travelling cap scalds
my head." The verb choice "scalds"
perfect here (literally he had the fever,
figuratively...). the tactility
fresher, the melodrama cut
by an almost comic hyperbole. It is
more Keats than Keats,
who died 172 years, 8 months, 2 weeks, and 4 days
ago -- this tiny man
John Keats,
who wrote some poems
without which
inch by inch -- in broken
barn, light,
in classrooms (even there!),
under the lamp where what you read
teaches you what you love -- without which
we would each,
inch by hammered inch,
we would each
be diminished.

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