John Keats, a Spring garden and a Summer long ago

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever, wrote Keats who like Shakespeare had a way of coining phrases which sound like they have always been with us. Well, in some cases they were just nicking other people’s cliches and turning them into gold. He was not wrong though, John Keats, beauty remembered, remains an inspiration in the garden no less than anywhere else.

The cowslip is to my mind just one of those things of beauty and I have one flowering in my garden right now. If you have one and, if unlike me, you don’t have a fractured spine, lie down and look deep into its flower head and you will see why Shakespeare loved them so much. The yellow, like its cousin the primrose is beauty enough but inside there are bright primary red stripes hidden from all but the most inquisitive eyes. This yellow and red uniform is, for Shakespeare, a soldier’s tunic.Another flower that I have grown ever since I grew plants, is the frittilary and the first of those has gone into bloom here in my garden too this week.

It is named after a checkerboard because of its smart and orderly cheques; so much smarter than anything you would see in Burberries.
I am waving goodbye to the daffodils now like an impatient host whose guests just went on a bit too long about Wordsworth. Bye, see you next year.


So who is next? Call me superficial but I am now looking for new friends, preferably not dressed in yellow which is rapidly becoming so last season. The fledgling Cherry Tree, well a sapling if you want to be pedantic, is getting ready for its brief moment of stardom. Another week and the blossom will be out, ready for a glass of crisp white wine with neighbours as we mark this high point of Spring in Japanese style. Don’t they drink wine at Zen rituals? Tough.

All this talk of Keats got me going.

John Keats, one of our great Romantic poets, was born in 1795 and died much too young in 1821.

He gave us that stuff about a thing of beauty but also he branded Autumn for ever as that season of ‘mellow fruitfulness’ and, for me at least, he sang of love and beauty, in this case to the nightingale, in a voice that has never quite left me:

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk

He spoke of Spring and Autumn of course but I will always associate him with the season that we are now awaiting -those long hot dog days of summer.

Anyway, shamelessly in the shadow of Keats, here is something I rustled up in his honour:

Cornfield Incident

An exam – a qualification for life, they said.
What was he getting at?
Why did he write what he wrote?
The poet, Keats.

An essay was what I had to write.
An essay what I hadn’t wrote.

It was school – us and them.
In by next Tuesday,
The essay, he means.
That man who spouts Chaucer, Wordsworth and Keats.

But it is summer,
The endless season,
Ruined by them,
Essays, teachers and Keats.

Revision – it has to be done.
A bee buzzing, cloud floating day.
Hot, energy stealing and spirit rising,
Life as a glass of champagne and Keats.

Revision, do it outside, brilliant idea.
In a field, free, inspired.
It will help, it will sugar the pill that is Keats.
If not, there’s the field, the sun and me.

Me, buzzing, floating, sparkling.
So alive with potential,
Excited by hope,
Ready for anything,
Everything. Except Keats.

It was there in the corn.
Ants climbing my legs,
Fly on my nose,
Sun burning my neck.

It was there, school shirt sweat soaked.
Oblivious, absorbed, all summer’s afternoon,
Stomach pressed to the ground in a field of corn,
It was there and then, suddenly and permanently.

Never the same,
After Keats.

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