Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The living room is dim, except for the glowing string of Christmas lights wrapping the stair balusters. On the street, a few cars slide past. In the sky, bright Venus nods at a shallow bowl of moon. My white cup and saucer are phosphorescent in the gloom. The kitchen clock ticks. Upstairs, Tom stirs among the sheets.

I'm thinking of poems, and of this passage in Bate's biography of Keats, and wondering if it's true:
For most beginning poets, the fashionable models--at least among their own contemporaries--have usually been no better than those followed by Keats, however different they might be in kind.
I am no longer a beginning poet, but when I was, I was in love with Keats. I knew so little about contemporary poetry. And now I am a contemporary poet. The situation is ironic, but also confusing to me. Am I now one of the poets "no better than those followed by Keats"? What happens when the eager apprentice becomes the imperfect model?

1 comment:

David Novak said...

I think its not true, or at least a needless swipe. I'm following Keats in the Robert Gittings biography, which I can't grab at the moment, but he quotes these lines from James Beattie:

"Ah, who can tell how hard it is to climb
The steep where Fame's proud temple shines afar?"

The whole book might not be so good but those lines are far from bad and you might say Keatsian. Gittings recounts that Keats took some private instruction in literature even after he begun his surgical apprenticeship I think it was:

"The spark [for his first poem] undoubtedly fell when Clarke, one evening in the old arbour at school, read Keats the _Epithalamion_ of Spenser. Keats was so enchanted by this new poet that he took away with him that night the first volume of _The Faerie Queene_, which, said Clarke, ‘He ramped through... like a young horse turned into a Spring meadow.’"

Keats was eighteen, and according to Gittings that first poem was "An Imitation of Spenser" though to read it you might also call it profoundly Keatsian (and less Spenserian).

Still, I understand your sense of irony, and I suppose it may be an inevitable one. In a way, I suppose, you may say Keats (like Wilfred Owen after him) never lived long enough to become a "contemporary poet." He leapt straight from novice to classic, it seems. But "no better than those followed by Keats"? Don't say that.

[*This device will not allow me to sign on in the usual way so I'm not sure how it will work out.]