19 March 2015

The Joys of spring at Keats House

Keats’s house and garden sit almost alongside Hampstead Heath, so it is very close to nature, and when spring comes, we feel it intensely here. This intensity seems to fit very well with the poetry of Keats, who wrote most of his most famous poems while living in the house.

Keats’s poetry is full of sensuous sights sounds and smells of fruit, blossom and birds, and he was very influenced by his heath-side house. He wrote ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ sitting under a plum tree in the garden of Keats House in May 1919. According to his friend Charles Brown, whom he shared the house with, a nightingale had built its nest in the garden.  Inspired by the bird's song, Keats composed the poem in one day. It explores the themes of nature, fleeting beauty and mortality, the latter being particularly personal to Keats.

Keats’s poetry was made more intense by tragic deaths in his family. He watched his mother die of TB, and had recently sat at the bedside of his 19 year old brother while he died of the same disease. He was aware that youth, beauty, flowers and the spring last only a short while.

So if you come to see our crocuses and listen to the birds sing in Keats House garden,  or come to one of our poetry events, remember that spring is all the more beautiful because it does not last.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmèd darkness, guess each sweet
Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
Fast-fading violets cover'd up in leaves;
And mid-May's eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call'd him soft names in many a musèd rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain, 
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad 
In such an ecstasy!

From ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ by John Keats