Sunday, January 19, 2014

`Make Pleasing Music, and Not Wild Uproar'

“I am quite perplexed in a world of doubts and fancies--there is nothing stable in the world; uproar's your only music.” 

A wryly unhappy thought from the poet who soon would hear melodies unheard. This from a letter Keats wrote his brothers George and Tom 196 years ago this week, between Jan. 13 and 19, in 1818. He refers most immediately to the fallout from the previous month’s “immortal dinner.” The host of that Dec. 28, 1817, soirée in London was the painter and future suicide Robert Haydon. With Keats, the guests included Wordsworth and his cousin Thomas Monkhouse, Charles Lamb and Dr. Joseph Ritchie, who less than a year later would die while searching for Timbuktu (for details, see Penelope Hughes-Hallett's The Immortal Dinner: A Famous Evening of Genius and Laughter in Literary London, 2002). Haydon had also invited the poet and critic John Hamilton Reynolds, one of Keats’ faithful correspondents. Reynolds neither RSVP’ed nor showed up, and he and Haydon exchanged a series of recriminating letters. Keats sees both sides of the dispute: 

“Considering all things—Haydons [sic] frequent neglect of his Appointments &c. his notes were bad enough to put Reynolds on the right side of the question but then Reynolds has no powers of sufferance; no idea of having the thing against him,” and so on. Somehow it’s reassuring to see our forebears -- bright, artistic folk all – behaving like spoiled brats; in short, like us. But it’s also noteworthy that Keats resorts to a musical metaphor: “uproar's your only music.” Music is his poetic ideal, the ineffable object of all his intense, short-lived efforts. The phrase echoes the final line of a sonnet, “How many bards gild the lapses of time,” he had written two years earlier, when he was not yet twenty-one: “Make pleasing music, and not wild uproar.”

1 comment:

Guy Walker said...

Lovely, sweet Keats poem but I've written an uncouth rejoinder which you might consider a breach of the peace, Patrick.

Shakespeare coined it

It’s a free country, you know!
In our correct and timid precincts,
Must we piously desist from all immodesty?
Is politeness so de rigueur?
What if we nudged and elbowed,
Broke a flowerpot,
Badgered and jostled,
Were drunk and disorderly,
Peed in backstreets,
Guilty of unmannerly riot,
Caused affray,
Waylaid, bearded and mugged,(Ambushing footpads all),
Were cutpurses to wealth,
Sallied forth, boys, all Francis Drake and got Elizabethan!!

Took the language by the throat
And showed our arses to the moon?

Then where would we be?

In England?