"Sleep and Poetry"
by John Keats (1795-1821)



"As I lay in my bed slepe full unmete 
"Was unto me, but why that I ne might 
"Rest I ne wist, for there n'as erthly wight 
"[As I suppose] had more of hertis ese 
"Than I, for I n'ad sicknesse nor disese." 
					Chaucer. 

1   What is more gentle than a wind in summer? 
2   What is more soothing than the pretty hummer 
3   That stays one moment in an open flower, 
4   And buzzes cheerily from bower to bower? 
5   What is more tranquil than a musk-rose blowing 
6   In a green island, far from all men's knowing? 
7   More healthful than the leafiness of dales? 
8   More secret than a nest of nightingales? 
9   More serene than Cordelia's countenance? 
10   More full of visions than a high romance? 
11   What, but thee Sleep? Soft closer of our eyes! 
12   Low murmurer of tender lullabies! 
13   Light hoverer around our happy pillows! 
14   Wreather of poppy buds, and weeping willows! 
15   Silent entangler of a beauty's tresses! 
16   Most happy listener! when the morning blesses 
17   Thee for enlivening all the cheerful eyes 
18   That glance so brightly at the new sun-rise. 

19   But what is higher beyond thought than thee? 
20   Fresher than berries of a mountain tree? 
21   More strange, more beautiful, more smooth, more regal, 
22   Than wings of swans, than doves, than dim-seen eagle? 
23   What is it? And to what shall I compare it? 
24   It has a glory, and nought else can share it: 
25   The thought thereof is awful, sweet, and holy, 
26   Chacing away all worldliness and folly; 
27   Coming sometimes like fearful claps of thunder, 
28   Or the low rumblings earth's regions under; 
29   And sometimes like a gentle whispering 
30   Of all the secrets of some wond'rous thing 
31   That breathes about us in the vacant air; 
32   So that we look around with prying stare, 
33   Perhaps to see shapes of light, aerial lymning, 
34   And catch soft floatings from a faint-heard hymning; 
35   To see the laurel wreath, on high suspended, 
36   That is to crown our name when life is ended. 
37   Sometimes it gives a glory to the voice, 
38   And from the heart up-springs, rejoice! rejoice! 
39   Sounds which will reach the Framer of all things, 
40   And die away in ardent mutterings. 

41   No one who once the glorious sun has seen, 
42   And all the clouds, and felt his bosom clean 
43   For his great Maker's presence, but must know 
44   What 'tis I mean, and feel his being glow: 
45   Therefore no insult will I give his spirit, 
46   By telling what he sees from native merit. 

47   O Poesy! for thee I hold my pen 
48   That am not yet a glorious denizen 
49   Of thy wide heaven---Should I rather kneel 
50   Upon some mountain-top until I feel 
51   A glowing splendour round about me hung, 
52   And echo back the voice of thine own tongue? 
53   O Poesy! for thee I grasp my pen 
54   That am not yet a glorious denizen 
55   Of thy wide heaven; yet, to my ardent prayer, 
56   Yield from thy sanctuary some clear air, 
57   Smoothed for intoxication by the breath 
58   Of flowering bays, that I may die a death 
59   Of luxury, and my young spirit follow 
60   The morning sun-beams to the great Apollo 
61   Like a fresh sacrifice; or, if I can bear 
62   The o'erwhelming sweets, 'twill bring to me the fair 
63   Visions of all places: a bowery nook 
64   Will be elysium---an eternal book 
65   Whence I may copy many a lovely saying 
66   About the leaves, and flowers---about the playing 
67   Of nymphs in woods, and fountains; and the shade 
68   Keeping a silence round a sleeping maid; 
69   And many a verse from so strange influence 
70   That we must ever wonder how, and whence 
71   It came. Also imaginings will hover 
72   Round my fire-side, and haply there discover 
73   Vistas of solemn beauty, where I'd wander 
74   In happy silence, like the clear meander 
75   Through its lone vales; and where I found a spot 
76   Of awfuller shade, or an enchanted grot, 
77   Or a green hill o'erspread with chequered dress 
78   Of flowers, and fearful from its loveliness, 
79   Write on my tablets all that was permitted, 
80   All that was for our human senses fitted. 
81   Then the events of this wide world I'd seize 
82   Like a strong giant, and my spirit teaze 
83   Till at its shoulders it should proudly see 
84   Wings to find out an immortality. 

85   Stop and consider! life is but a day; 
86   A fragile dew-drop on its perilous way 
87   From a tree's summit; a poor Indian's sleep 
88   While his boat hastens to the monstrous steep 
89   Of Montmorenci. Why so sad a moan? 
90   Life is the rose's hope while yet unblown; 
91   The reading of an ever-changing tale; 
92   The light uplifting of a maiden's veil; 
93   A pigeon tumbling in clear summer air; 
94   A laughing school-boy, without grief or care, 
95   Riding the springy branches of an elm. 

96   O for ten years, that I may overwhelm 
97   Myself in poesy; so I may do the deed 
98   That my own soul has to itself decreed. 
99   Then will I pass the countries that I see 
100   In long perspective, and continually 
101   Taste their pure fountains. First the realm I'll pass 
102   Of Flora, and old Pan: sleep in the grass, 
103   Feed upon apples red, and strawberries, 
104   And choose each pleasure that my fancy sees; 
105   Catch the white-handed nymphs in shady places, 
106   To woo sweet kisses from averted faces,--- 
107   Play with their fingers, touch their shoulders white 
108   Into a pretty shrinking with a bite 
109   As hard as lips can make it: till agreed, 
110   A lovely tale of human life we'll read. 
111   And one will teach a tame dove how it best 
112   May fan the cool air gently o'er my rest; 
113   Another, bending o'er her nimble tread, 
114   Will set a green robe floating round her head, 
115   And still will dance with ever varied ease, 
116   Smiling upon the flowers and the trees: 
117   Another will entice me on, and on 
118   Through almond blossoms and rich cinnamon; 
119   Till in the bosom of a leafy world 
120   We rest in silence, like two gems upcurl'd 
121   In the recesses of a pearly shell. 

122   And can I ever bid these joys farewell? 
123   Yes, I must pass them for a nobler life, 
124   Where I may find the agonies, the strife 
125   Of human hearts: for lo! I see afar, 
126   O'er sailing the blue cragginess, a car 
127   And steeds with streamy manes---the charioteer 
128   Looks out upon the winds with glorious fear: 
129   And now the numerous tramplings quiver lightly 
130   Along a huge cloud's ridge; and now with sprightly 
131   Wheel downward come they into fresher skies, 
132   Tipt round with silver from the sun's bright eyes. 
133   Still downward with capacious whirl they glide; 
134   And now I see them on a green-hill's side 
135   In breezy rest among the nodding stalks. 
136   The charioteer with wond'rous gesture talks 
137   To the trees and mountains; and there soon appear 
138   Shapes of delight, of mystery, and fear, 
139   Passing along before a dusky space 
140   Made by some mighty oaks: as they would chase 
141   Some ever-fleeting music on they sweep. 
142   Lo! how they murmur, laugh, and smile, and weep: 
143   Some with upholden hand and mouth severe; 
144   Some with their faces muffled to the ear 
145   Between their arms; some, clear in youthful bloom, 
146   Go glad and smilingly athwart the gloom; 
147   Some looking back, and some with upward gaze; 
148   Yes, thousands in a thousand different ways 
149   Flit onward---now a lovely wreath of girls 
150   Dancing their sleek hair into tangled curls; 
151   And now broad wings. Most awfully intent 
152   The driver of those steeds is forward bent, 
153   And seems to listen: O that I might know 
154   All that he writes with such a hurrying glow. 

155   The visions all are fled---the car is fled 
156   Into the light of heaven, and in their stead 
157   A sense of real things comes doubly strong, 
158   And, like a muddy stream, would bear along 
159   My soul to nothingness: but I will strive 
160   Against all doubtings, and will keep alive 
161   The thought of that same chariot, and the strange 
162   Journey it went. 

162                                             Is there so small a range 
163   In the present strength of manhood, that the high 
164   Imagination cannot freely fly 
165   As she was wont of old? prepare her steeds, 
166   Paw up against the light, and do strange deeds 
167   Upon the clouds? Has she not shewn us all? 
168   From the clear space of ether, to the small 
169   Breath of new buds unfolding? From the meaning 
170   Of Jove's large eye-brow, to the tender greening 
171   Of April meadows? Here her altar shone, 
172   E'en in this isle; and who could paragon 
173   The fervid choir that lifted up a noise 
174   Of harmony, to where it aye will poise 
175   Its mighty self of convoluting sound, 
176   Huge as a planet, and like that roll round, 
177   Eternally around a dizzy void? 
178   Ay, in those days the Muses were nigh cloy'd 
179   With honors; nor had any other care 
180   Than to sing out and sooth their wavy hair. 

181   Could all this be forgotten? Yes, a scism 
182   Nurtured by foppery and barbarism, 
183   Made great Apollo blush for this his land. 
184   Men were thought wise who could not understand 
185   His glories: with a puling infant's force 
186   They sway'd about upon a rocking horse, 
187   And thought it Pegasus. Ah dismal soul'd! 
188   The winds of heaven blew, the ocean roll'd 
189   Its gathering waves---ye felt it not. The blue 
190   Bared its eternal bosom, and the dew 
191   Of summer nights collected still to make 
192   The morning precious: beauty was awake! 
193   Why were ye not awake? But ye were dead 
194   To things ye knew not of,---were closely wed 
195   To musty laws lined out with wretched rule 
196   And compass vile: so that ye taught a school 
197   Of dolts to smooth, inlay, and clip, and fit, 
198   Till, like the certain wands of Jacob's wit, 
199   Their verses tallied. Easy was the task: 
200   A thousand handicraftsmen wore the mask 
201   Of Poesy. Ill-fated, impious race! 
202   That blasphemed the bright Lyrist to his face, 
203   And did not know it,---no, they went about, 
204   Holding a poor, decrepid standard out 
205   Mark'd with most flimsy mottos, and in large 
206   The name of one Boileau! 

206                                             O ye whose charge 
207   It is to hover round our pleasant hills! 
208   Whose congregated majesty so fills 
209   My boundly reverence, that I cannot trace 
210   Your hallowed names, in this unholy place, 
211   So near those common folk; did not their shames 
212   Affright you? Did our old lamenting Thames 
213   Delight you? Did ye never cluster round 
214   Delicious Avon, with a mournful sound, 
215   And weep? Or did ye wholly bid adieu 
216   To regions where no more the laurel grew? 
217   Or did ye stay to give a welcoming 
218   To some lone spirits who could proudly sing 
219   Their youth away, and die? 'Twas even so: 
220   But let me think away those times of woe: 
221   Now 'tis a fairer season; ye have breathed 
222   Rich benedictions o'er us; ye have wreathed 
223   Fresh garlands: for sweet music has been heard 
224   In many places;---some has been upstirr'd 
225   From out its crystal dwelling in a lake, 
226   By a swan's ebon bill; from a thick brake, 
227   Nested and quiet in a valley mild, 
228   Bubbles a pipe; fine sounds are floating wild 
229   About the earth: happy are ye and glad. 

230   These things are doubtless: yet in truth we've had 
231   Strange thunders from the potency of song; 
232   Mingled indeed with what is sweet and strong, 
233   From majesty: but in clear truth the themes 
234   Are ugly clubs, the Poets Polyphemes 
235   Disturbing the grand sea. A drainless shower 
236   Of light is poesy; 'tis the supreme of power; 
237   'Tis might half slumb'ring on its own right arm. 
238   The very archings of her eye-lids charm 
239   A thousand willing agents to obey, 
240   And still she governs with the mildest sway: 
241   But strength alone though of the Muses born 
242   Is like a fallen angel: trees uptorn, 
243   Darkness, and worms, and shrouds, and sepulchres 
244   Delight it; for it feeds upon the burrs, 
245   And thorns of life; forgetting the great end 
246   Of poesy, that it should be a friend 
247   To sooth the cares, and lift the thoughts of man. 

248   Yet I rejoice: a myrtle fairer than 
249   E'er grew in Paphos, from the bitter weeds 
250   Lifts its sweet head into the air, and feeds 
251   A silent space with ever sprouting green. 
252   All tenderest birds there find a pleasant screen, 
253   Creep through the shade with jaunty fluttering, 
254   Nibble the little cupped flowers and sing. 
255   Then let us clear away the choaking thorns 
256   From round its gentle stem; let the young fawns, 
257   Yeaned in after times, when we are flown, 
258   Find a fresh sward beneath it, overgrown 
259   With simple flowers: let there nothing be 
260   More boisterous than a lover's bended knee; 
261   Nought more ungentle than the placid look 
262   Of one who leans upon a closed book; 
263   Nought more untranquil than the grassy slopes 
264   Between two hills. All hail delightful hopes! 
265   As she was wont, th'imagination 
266   Into most lovely labyrinths will be gone, 
267   And they shall be accounted poet kings 
268   Who simply tell the most heart-easing things. 
269   O may these joys be ripe before I die. 

270   Will not some say that I presumptuously 
271   Have spoken? that from hastening disgrace 
272   'Twere better far to hide my foolish face? 
273   That whining boyhood should with reverence bow 
274   Ere the dread thunderbolt could reach? How! 
275   If I do hide myself, it sure shall be 
276   In the very fane, the light of Poesy: 
277   If I do fall, at least I will be laid 
278   Beneath the silence of a poplar shade; 
279   And over me the grass shall be smooth shaven; 
280   And there shall be a kind memorial graven. 
281   But off Despondence! miserable bane! 
282   They should not know thee, who athirst to gain 
283   A noble end, are thirsty every hour. 
284   What though I am not wealthy in the dower 
285   Of spanning wisdom; though I do not know 
286   The shiftings of the mighty winds that blow 
287   Hither and thither all the changing thoughts 
288   Of man: though no great minist'ring reason sorts 
289   Out the dark mysteries of human souls 
290   To clear conceiving: yet there ever rolls 
291   A vast idea before me, and I glean 
292   Therefrom my liberty; thence too I've seen 
293   The end and aim of Poesy. 'Tis clear 
294   As any thing most true; as that the year 
295   Is made of the four seasons---manifest 
296   As a large cross, some old cathedral's crest, 
297   Lifted to the white clouds. Therefore should I 
298   Be but the essence of deformity, 
299   A coward, did my very eye-lids wink 
300   At speaking out what I have dared to think. 
301   Ah! rather let me like a madman run 
302   Over some precipice; let the hot sun 
303   Melt my Dedalian wings, and drive me down 
304   Convuls'd and headlong! Stay! an inward frown 
305   Of conscience bids me be more calm awhile. 
306   An ocean dim, sprinkled with many an isle, 
307   Spreads awfully before me. How much toil! 
308   How many days! what desperate turmoil! 
309   Ere I can have explored its widenesses. 
310   Ah, what a task! upon my bended knees, 
311   I could unsay those---no, impossible! 
312   Impossible! 

312                                             For sweet relief I'll dwell 
313   On humbler thoughts, and let this strange assay 
314   Begun in gentleness die so away. 
315   E'en now all tumult from my bosom fades: 
316   I turn full hearted to the friendly aids 
317   That smooth the path of honour; brotherhood, 
318   And friendliness the nurse of mutual good. 
319   The hearty grasp that sends a pleasant sonnet 
320   Into the brain ere one can think upon it; 
321   The silence when some rhymes are coming out; 
322   And when they're come, the very pleasant rout: 
323   The message certain to be done to-morrow. 
324   'Tis perhaps as well that it should be to borrow 
325   Some precious book from out its snug retreat, 
326   To cluster round it when we next shall meet. 
327   Scarce can I scribble on; for lovely airs 
328   Are fluttering round the room like doves in pairs; 
329   Many delights of that glad day recalling, 
330   When first my senses caught their tender falling. 
331   And with these airs come forms of elegance 
332   Stooping their shoulders o'er a horse's prance, 
333   Careless, and grand---fingers soft and round 
334   Parting luxuriant curls;---and the swift bound 
335   Of Bacchus from his chariot, when his eye 
336   Made Ariadne's cheek look blushingly. 
337   Thus I remember all the pleasant flow 
338   Of words at opening a portfolio. 

339   Things such as these are ever harbingers 
340   To trains of peaceful images: the stirs 
341   Of a swan's neck unseen among the rushes: 
342   A linnet starting all about the bushes: 
343   A butterfly, with golden wings broad parted, 
344   Nestling a rose, convuls'd as though it smarted 
345   With over pleasure---many, many more, 
346   Might I indulge at large in all my store 
347   Of luxuries: yet I must not forget 
348   Sleep, quiet with his poppy coronet: 
349   For what there may be worthy in these rhymes 
350   I partly owe to him: and thus, the chimes 
351   Of friendly voices had just given place 
352   To as sweet a silence, when I 'gan retrace 
353   The pleasant day, upon a couch at ease. 
354   It was a poet's house who keeps the keys 
355   Of pleasure's temple. Round about were hung 
356   The glorious features of the bards who sung 
357   In other ages---cold and sacred busts 
358   Smiled at each other. Happy he who trusts 
359   To clear Futurity his darling fame! 
360   Then there were fauns and satyrs taking aim 
361   At swelling apples with a frisky leap 
362   And reaching fingers, 'mid a luscious heap 
363   Of vine leaves. Then there rose to view a fane 
364   Of liny marble, and thereto a train 
365   Of nymphs approaching fairly o'er the sward: 
366   One, loveliest, holding her white hand toward 
367   The dazzling sun-rise: two sisters sweet 
368   Bending their graceful figures till they meet 
369   Over the trippings of a little child: 
370   And some are hearing, eagerly, the wild 
371   Thrilling liquidity of dewy piping. 
372   See, in another picture, nymphs are wiping 
373   Cherishingly Diana's timorous limbs;--- 
374   A fold of lawny mantle dabbling swims 
375   At the bath's edge, and keeps a gentle motion 
376   With the subsiding crystal: as when ocean 
377   Heaves calmly its broad swelling smoothiness o'er 
378   Its rocky marge, and balances once more 
379   The patient weeds; that now unshent by foam 
380   Feel all about their undulating home. 
381   Sappho's meek head was there half smiling down 
382   At nothing; just as though the earnest frown 
383   Of over thinking had that moment gone 
384   From off her brow, and left her all alone. 

385   Great Alfred's too, with anxious, pitying eyes, 
386   As if he always listened to the sighs 
387   Of the goaded world; and Kosciusko's worn 
388   By horrid suffrance---mightily forlorn. 

389   Petrarch, outstepping from the shady green, 
390   Starts at the sight of Laura; nor can wean 
391   His eyes from her sweet face. Most happy they! 
392   For over them was seen a free display 
393   Of out-spread wings, and from between them shone 
394   The face of Poesy: from off her throne 
395   She overlook'd things that I scarce could tell. 
396   The very sense of where I was might well 
397   Keep Sleep aloof: but more than that there came 
398   Thought after thought to nourish up the flame 
399   Within my breast; so that the morning light 
400   Surprised me even from a sleepless night; 
401   And up I rose refresh'd, and glad, and gay, 
402   Resolving to begin that very day 
403   These lines; and howsoever they be done, 
404   I leave them as a father does his son.