23 February 2011

fleeting and phlegmatic Shades of Grey


Bertel Thorvaldsen's The Night 1815


Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
    Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
    A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring'd legend haunt about thy shape
    Of deities or mortals, or of both,
        In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
    What men or gods are these?  What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit?  What struggle to escape?
        What pipes and timbrels?  What wild ecstasy?
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
    Are sweeter: therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
    Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
    Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
        Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal - yet, do not grieve;
        She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
    For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!
Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
    Your leaves, nor ever bid the spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
    For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
    For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
        For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
    That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
        A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.
Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
    To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
    And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
    Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
        Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
    Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
        Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.
O Attic shape!  Fair attitude! with brede
    Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
    Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
    When old age shall this generation waste,
        Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
    Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty," - that is all
        Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

John Keats died in Rome, February 23,1821, at the age of 25.

Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg painting of Bertel Thorvaldsen, Rome- 1814,

some of Thorvaldsen's works in 1821 of a Youth

Thorvaldsen, a Dane, lived and worked in Rome most of his life.
That the paths of Keats and Thorvaldsen crossed in Keats brief three month stay before his death -is unlikely. Surely something beautiful would exist in remembrance.



  1. Both monumental talents! Yes if there had been even a hint of their meeting and/or collaboration, you know there would be some period piece movie being made to document it.

  2. DC I think a post from you is a must in that case. I do not know very much about Thorvaldsen. I had used a Keats poem for an earlier post and finding the date of his death Feb 23- I put this together. The idea of bringing T into it was just a stumbling. Thor was so prolific- and very handsome too. The tondo featured at the first of the post was a dear friend's-and said to have been used as one of several in the Gone with the Wind movie. I await your post. pgt

  3. Once again you have achieved the slowing down of this hectic reader and I thank you for it.

  4. Thank you for this post today...

    "By Keats's soul, the man who never stepped
    In gradual progress like another man,
    But turning grandly on his central self,
    Ensphered himself in twenty perfect years
    And died, not young (the life of a long life
    Distilled to a mere drop, falling like a tear
    Upon the world's cold cheek to make it burn
    For ever)."

    E.B. Browning



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