April 15th: "This Living Hand"

This Living Hand
by John Keats

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calm’d—see here it is—
I hold it towards you.

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Keats is another self-centered poet, although you can hardly blame a very young man dying of tuberculosis in the same house as his never-to-be-wife for being bitter, jealous, and self-pitying: “I have two luxuries to brood over in my walks,” he wrote to his girlfriend, Fanny Brawne, “your loveliness and the hour of my death.” Can we say emo? How about creepy?

Because of this kind of talk, poor Fanny was reviled by generations of literary critics and Keats biographers…but her own letters were all burnt on Keats’ death, so it was a very one-sided story. Recent scholarship suggests she probably loved him and did her best (one essay I read said, “She may even had had some appreciation for his poetry,” which cracked me up).

So Keats was not ideal boyfriend material (he was also kind of a misogynist), but I don’t care! I still have a huge crush on him and his poetry is my favorite among the Romantics. This one in particular is intensely powerful and chilling. I love the combination of bitterness and resentment with the offer of forgiveness and reconciliation, the incredible way he’s captured the horror of death and the conflicting impulses of the heart.

Poetry is sexy.

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