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John Keats: A Literary Biography, Page 74
by Albert Elmer Hancock (1908).

Mrs. Brawne took the fugitive into her home and nursed him. Already, knowing his plight, Keats had offered to release Fanny from the engagement. This freedom, be it said to her eternal credit, she promptly refused. The care of mother and daughter quieted him somewhat and exorcised the distemper. But his condition was still wretched. The presence of a stranger gave him a choking sensation. He could not write a note without a tightening of the chest. Meanwhile things were happening in the world to his advantage. The third volume appeared and was fairly well received. Jeffrey published an appreciative criticism of "Endymion" in the "Edinburgh Review." It was too late. Keats was too far gone to be cheered by such things. Haydon's pen sketch from this time is very vivid. He found him "lying in a white bed with white quilt and white sheets; the only color visible was the hectic flush of his cheeks." The doctors, convinced now that another winter in England would bring certain death, ordered him to Italy. Keats prepared to go—"as a soldier marches up to a battery." Word was sent to Brown, who hastened home. Shelley's invitation, urging Keats to come to Pisa, was declined. The plan was to put the invalid under the charge of Dr. Clark at Rome. Severn, a young artist, offered to go as companion. Severn—let every lover of Keats pause and consecrate a moment of silence to his memory.

They sailed from London on September 18. As the ship went down the Thames, it passed, unawares, the boat that was bringing Brown from Scotland. Contrary winds in the English Channel delayed the voyage many days. Several times the passengers were set ashore for a ramble. After one of these landings—it was off the coast of Dorsetshire—Keats wrote his last lines of verse. In a moment of artistic power he phrased those two paradoxical yearnings upon which, during the previous months, he had brooded with such fluctuating intensity of desire—Love and Death. This last sonnet is one of the perfect swan-songs of literature.

Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art!
Not in lone splendor hung aloft the night,
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priest-like task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors:
No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake forever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.


PAGE 74 OF 81.

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