It’s St. Agnes eve, don’t you know, so it’s time to read the famous poem by Keats. I’m actually not sure that any of my contemporaries have read Keats, even the English majors. They must have, but I roomed with two, and I remember Milton and Pope and Joyce etc., but no Keats. Perhaps his value is about to rise, the way 50s/60s furniture did.
Let me just limber up here in order to read a 10 page poem – which Poe just told us yesterday is too long to be a true poem! If the Harvard Classics doesn't read itself, why should I?
-- “Bitter chill it was!” It’s like the open for the NFC Championship game (if I can sound like Relevant English Teacher for a minute here).
-- We start with an old Beadsman, and then we DISSOLVE TO: our Lady. The Beadsman was just atmosphere. If you were Keats’s editor and had to lose three column inches you’d know where to cut.
-- Our Madeline is mad for this St. Agnes fad:
She danc’d along with vague, regardless eyes,Kids! They’re all the same!
Anxious her lips, her breathing quick and short:
-- Oh, I get it. Porphyro (they don’t have names like that anymore; think of him as Zack, though it would never scan) is from the wrong family. This old warhorse – it always works.
-- So then Porphyro’s going to hide in a closet while Madeline has her vision. This’ll go well. I think he’s going to crash into a tambour or lute and give the game away.
-- I’m sorry to be so jokey about this classic of English literature but really, can we be said to be honestly engaged with the classics if we don’t think they’re full of shit sometimes?
-- The “little smoke” of her candle after she puts it out is nicely observed, though.
Of all its wreathèd pearls her hair she frees;An early example of "Good heavens, Miss Jones! You’re beautiful!"
Unclasps her warmed jewels one by one;
Loosens her fragrant bodice; by degrees
Her rich attire creeps rustling to her knees;
-- Wait a minute. He fixes her jellies? Times sure have changed. And they don’t even have time to eat them because they must fly, fly!
-- And then, just when the modern reader is conditioned for an action-packed chase scene, possibly with helicopters, the thing ends.
This is the type of poem where you begin to see why modernism was necessary.