Friday, April 9, 2010

Crushing on Keats: What Spring can not sing, Autumn can

I’ve had a crush on John Keats and his assonance since 1995. And I have an earnest college essay to prove it. Keats was one of the first or the first poet (it’s a blur) to move me to tears. Last month I watched Bright Star. I bawled like a baby.

Some of my Keats crush is based in my own experience of growing up country – tv-less, quiet, slow days watching seasons burp, belch and sneeze the earth’s wildness, watching life sprout up around the edges of death. When I first read "To Autumn," the season, the poem that blows all seasonal poems out of the water, when I first read this I was just beginning to realize that sometimes the less said the better, and the more said with my ear to the sound, the better.

If I could taste the words like these... “Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn / Among the river sallows, born aloft / Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies (27-29)”… if I could taste the words in my mouth, if I could feel them vibrating in the back of my throat, if my ears tingled without reading it out loud – this was good.

And his letters. I remember pulling the book of letters from the college library stacks and standing there – standing there reading until I had to sit. He knew so much. He knew too much.

What would he have said to Spring, not Autumn, being the official time to observe Poetry? What would he have said about urban bird nests threaded with plastic?
Coleridge and Keats and Whitman - the ménage a trois that held my hand and kissed my neck and stroked my hair – all in the name of lessening my fear of the blatant, lessening my fear of the sensual, lessening my fear of life.

Why do I keep naïve essays about long-standing crushes on dead poets? For the same reason I keep letters back and forth from my first “love” affair with a writer – to remind me that the urgency will pass, that words attempting to describe life and death and first kisses are never frivolous. We can only try to repeat in words what is felt in the chest when we watch a chrysalis split open. We can only try.

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