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A Thing of Beauty is a Joy for Ever -- John Keats

(Poem #770) A Thing of Beauty is a Joy for Ever
 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-darken'd ways
 Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
 Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
 From our dark spirits...
-- John Keats
Lines taken from 'Endymion', composed in 1818.

Readers interested in the poetic process might be interested to know that
Keats' first draft of this section of Endymion started with the words
   "A thing of beauty is forever a joy"
and it was only much later that he changed the line to its present form.

Which, when you think about it, is a truly fascinating fact: it goes to show
that poets, even the greatest ones, have to work sometimes - inspiration
doesn't always strike the first time around.


[On the mythologial figure of Endymion]

Endymion: in Greek mythology, a beautiful youth who spent much of his life
in perpetual sleep. Endymion's parentage varies among the different ancient
references and stories, but several traditions say that he was originally
the king of Elis. According to one tradition, Zeus offered him anything that
he might desire, and Endymion chose an everlasting sleep in which he might
remain youthful forever. According to another version of the myth,
Endymion's eternal sleep was a punishment inflicted by Zeus because he had
ventured to fall in love with Zeus's wife, Hera. In any case, Endymion was
loved by Selene, the goddess of the moon, who visited him every night while
he lay asleep in a cave on Mount Latmus in Caria; she bore him 50 daughters.
A common form of the myth represents Endymion as having been put to sleep by
Selene herself so that she might enjoy his beauty undisturbed.

        -- EB

[On the composition of the poem]

In 1817 Keats left London briefly for a trip to the Isle of Wight and
Canterbury and began work on Endymion, his first long poem. Endymion
appeared in 1818. This work is divided into four 1,000-line sections, and
its verse is composed in loose rhymed couplets. The poem narrates a version
of the Greek legend of the moon goddess Diana's (or Cynthia's) love for
Endymion, a mortal shepherd, but Keats puts the emphasis on Endymion's love
for Diana rather than on hers for him. Keats transformed the tale to express
the widespread Romantic theme of the attempt to find in actuality an ideal
love that has been glimpsed heretofore only in imaginative longings. This
theme is realized through fantastic and discursive adventures and through
sensuous and luxuriant description. In his wanderings in quest of Diana,
Endymion is guilty of an apparent infidelity to his visionary moon goddess
and falls in love with an earthly maiden to whom he is attracted by human
sympathy. But in the end Diana and the earthly maiden turn out to be one and
the same. The poem equates Endymion's original romantic ardour with a more
universal quest for a self-destroying transcendence in which he might
achieve a blissful personal unity with all creation. Keats, however, was
dissatisfied with the poem as soon as it was finished.

        -- EB

[Minstrels Links]

John Keats:
Poem #12, "On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer"
Poem #182, "La Belle Dame Sans Merci"
Poem #316, "Ode to a Nightingale"
Poem #433, "Why did I laugh tonight? No voice will tell"
Poem #575, "To Mrs Reynolds' Cat"
Poem #696, "Last Sonnet"

George Gordon, Lord Byron:
Poem #62, "So We'll Go No More a-Roving"
Poem #169, "She Walks in Beauty"
Poem #510, "There is a pleasure in the pathless woods"
Poem #547, "The Isles of Greece"
Poem #718, "The Destruction of Sennacherib"

Samuel Taylor Coleridge:
Poem #30, "Kubla Khan"
Poem #361, "Cologne"
Poem #549, "Metrical Feet - A Lesson for a Boy"

Percy Bysshe Shelley:
Poem #22, "Ozymandias"
Poem #329, "Ode to the West Wind"
Poem #399, "The Indian Serenade"
Poem #416, "The Fitful Alternations of the Rain"
Poem #500, "A Dirge"
Poem #531, "Love's Philosophy"
Poem #592, "Sonnet: England in 1819"

William Wordsworth:
Poem #63        "Daffodils"
Poem #82        "The Solitary Reaper"
Poem #128       "London, 1802"
Poem #376       "She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways"
Poem #411       "The Tables Turned"
Poem #441       "The Simplon Pass"
Poem #462       "Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802"
Poem #759       "A Complaint"


I seem to remember reading the (marvellously punning) phrase "mooned about
Endymion" somewhere, but I can't for the life of me remember where. Does
anyone on the list have a clue?

10 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Anustup Datta said...

'Mooned about Endymion' is probably PGW - can't remember which one, though.

Emily M. Cowan said...

Re poets having to work: I saw a copy of a hand-edited draft of an e.e.
cummings poem and it was so heavily crossed over and re-written that it was
hard to read. I was amazed to see how hard he had worked to create
something that read so effortlessly and lightly.

Walker Scott (Alan Scott) (Boise) said...

America's great poet, Karl Shapiro, wrote:

The Contraband

I dreamed I held a poem and knew
The capture of a living thing.
Boys in a Grecian circle sang
And women at their harvesting.

Slowly I tried to wake and draw
The vision after, word by word,
But sleep was covetous: the song
The singers and the singing blurred.

The paper flowers of everynight
All die. Day has no counterpart,
Where memory writes its boldface wish
And swiftly punishes the heart.

Clearly an homage to Keats, both his intro to Endymion with his
reference to sleep (a sleep full of sweet dreams and quiet breathig),
and, perhaps more obviously, his Ode On a Grecian Urn. In the terms of
Harold Bloom it is impossible to read Shapiro and not find the "agon"
with Keats.

Anonymous said...

as beauty transcends time
joy takes flight___
where eternity ends.

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