Aug. 8, 2005

Endymion (extract)

by John Keats

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Poem: "Endymion (extract)" by John Keats. Public Domain

Endymion (extract)

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 of our searching; yes, in spite of all
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, born in Washington D.C. (1896). She spent her early life traveling around the country as a newspaper reporter. When she was 30, she went to Florida and fell in love with it. She started an orange grove and learned to cope with mosquitoes and poison ivy. She learned how to build fences, slaughter hogs, and make moonshine.

She had written two novels before, and in 1938, she came out with her novel The Yearling, the story of a boy in backwoods Florida who keeps a pet fawn named Flag. It is now considered a children's book, but at the time it was a best-seller among adults and won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature.

It was on this day in 1974 that Richard M. Nixon resigned the office of the presidency, the first American president in history to do so. His policies as president had been rather liberal. He began arms control agreements with the Soviet Union. He eased relations with China. He established the Environmental Protection Agency, expanded Social Security and state welfare programs and tried to create a national health insurance system.

He won re-election in 1972 in a landslide, but in that same year a group of men broke into the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate Hotel, and in that break-in were the seeds of his downfall.

And today is the anniversary of the end of one of the last truly happy periods of John Keats's life. It was on this day in 1818, Keats finished a long walking tour through England. John Keats was 23 years old. He'd planned to become a surgeon, but he realized his real vocation was poetry, and in the spring of 1818, he published his first major long poem Endymion. And then he set out on a hike through the countryside with his friend Charles Brown. Wordsworth was one of Keats's favorite poets, and he knew that Wordsworth had been inspired by walking around England, so Keats decided to do the same that summer.

Keats was a London boy. He had never seen the mountains. He had never seen a waterfall. He wrote letters back to his brother about the wonderful things that he saw, but gradually on his hike he realized he was no Wordsworth, that he did not want to write about scenery. He hated descriptions. He was more interested in the people whom he saw along the way. He was fascinated by the peasants who walked barefoot on the roads, carrying their shoes and stockings so they would look nice when they got to town. He saw an old woman being carried along the road in a kind of a cage like a dog kennel, smoking a pipe.

He came back to London and learned that the reviews of his last book of poetry, Endymion, were coming in and critics had written ferocious attacks on him. He was crushed. And his brother had come down with a serious case of tuberculosis. His brother died in December, and by the end of that year, John Keats had contracted tuberculosis himself. He would die three years later, in 1821. It was in those last three years of his life that he wrote most of his greatest poems.

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