A couple of weeks ago, I posted about Keats and “To Autumn,” mentioning in passing the poet’s contemporary critics. A reader wrote with further reflections on Keats’s critical reception. He unfurls this more artfully than I possibly could, so here’s his message in its entirety:
Reading your comments on Keats today, and especially your mention of his critics,
moves me to share with you one of my very favorite passages. It is from a biography
of Keats that was published in the Ninth Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
After a single sentence giving the date and place of Keats’ birth, the author moves
directly into the critical history:
In his first book there was little foretaste of anything greatly or even genuinely
good; but between the marshy and sandy flats of sterile or futile verse there were
undoubtedly some few purple patches of floral promise. His third book raised him at
once to a foremost rank in the highest class of English poets. Never was any one of
them but Shelley so little of a marvelous boy and so suddenly revealed as a
marvelous man. Never has any poet suffered so much from the chaotic misarrangement
of his poems in every collected edition. The rawest and the rankest rubbish of his
fitful spring is bound up in one sheaf with the ripest ears, flung into one basket
with the richest fruits, of his sudden and splendid summer. The Ode to a
Nightingale, one of the final masterpieces of human work in all time and for all
ages, is immediately preceded in all editions now current by some of the most vulgar
and fulsome doggerel ever whimpered by a vapid and effeminate rhymester in the
sickly stage of whelphood.
If that strikes you as unusual prosody for an encyclopedia, you are right. It is
Swinburne. On a few occasions I have, with some success, read this paragraph aloud
Just marvelous. Thank you, Bob.