The Columbia History of British Poetry

By Carl Woodring; James Shapiro | Go to book overview
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Byron, Shelley, and Keats

"The web of our Life is of mingled Yarn"
Keats in a letter of 1817 after meeting --Shelley and other writers

SAILING home from a visit with Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned when his schooner, the Don Juan, capsized. A volume of Keats's poems found in his pocket helped identify his body. In Adonais, his elegy on Keats's own death, Shelley counts himself ("one frail Form, / A phantom among men,") and Byron ("The Pilgrim of Eternity") among those who weep. The three men engaged one another often during their brief lives, as they suggested poetic projects for one another and argued about the methods and materials of poetry.

Keats's plea in his first long poem, "Sleep and Poetry," was not granted--"O for ten years, that I may overwhelm / Myself in poesy; so I may do the deed / That my own soul has to itself decreed." But in the seven years he had as a poet, he published forty-five of his one hundred forty-eight poems in three volumes: Poems ( 1817), Endymion ( 1818), and Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems ( 1820). The couplets of "Sleep and Poetry," the myth making of Endymion and Hyperion, and the narratives of "Isabella" and "The Eve of St. Agnes" preceded seven remarkable months in the history of English poetry--March to September 1819--when Keats conceived and composed his six major odes: "Ode to Psyche," "Ode to a Nightingale," "Ode on a Grecian Urn," "Ode on Melancholy," "Ode on Indolence," and "To Autumn."


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