Featured Poem: To a Friend Who Sent Me Some Roses by John Keats

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This week’s choice of Featured Poem comes from one of the great Romantic poets, and comes as an insight into his ordinary life – which is nonetheless incredibly evocative.

Keats is a favourite here on The Reader Online, and with all the words we’ve read of his over the years we often feel like giving thanks for his poetry, his verses weaving as they do from the melancholy to the reflective. So it’s a treat to be able to read one of Keats’ own thank-you notes – in the form of a poem, no less – to one of his friends for sending some flowers. The title alone is intriguing – did the gift come from one of his fellow Romantic poets, or someone else entirely? The ‘O Wells!’ does indeed refer to another poet, but one perhaps less well known: Charles Jeremiah Wells, who attended the same school as Keats’ younger brother Tom. It would appear that the friendship between the elder Keats and Wells took a sour turn after the roses were given and the poem written, when Wells played a practical joke on the younger Keats. It seems understandable – as Keats’ brother was ailing fast at the time – and yet unfortunate that their connection broke down, given the reaction the flowers inspired, providing not only ‘friendliness’ but ‘peace’ and ‘truth’ – elements which can certainly come from a highly-valued friendship, but arguably run far deeper.

Not only is it wonderful to see how Keats is inspired by such a seemingly simple gift – although placed alongside ‘adventurous knights’ taking ‘up their dinted shields’, and with reference to Shakespeare’s Queen of the Fairies the roses take on a far more dynamic life – but it’s a heartening ode to friendship and how it can serve to be as renewing to our souls as nature itself. Just recently, many of our Shared Reading groups have delved into A Little, Aloud with Love – with love in all its many forms, from romance to friendship to family relationships, and as one of the members pointed out “you want them all to work”. In Keats’ case, and no doubt many others, they don’t always go to plan or last like we expect they might – but they can give us beautiful moments which we can cherish for long afterwards.

To a Friend Who Sent Me Some Roses

As late I rambled in the happy fields,
What time the skylark shakes the tremulous dew
From his lush clover covert;—when anew
Adventurous knights take up their dinted shields;
I saw the sweetest flower wild nature yields,
A fresh-blown musk-rose; ’twas the first that threw
Its sweets upon the summer: graceful it grew
As is the wand that Queen Titania wields.
And, as I feasted on its fragrancy,
I thought the garden-rose it far excelled;
But when, O Wells! thy roses came to me,
My sense with their deliciousness was spelled:
Soft voices had they, that with tender plea
Whispered of peace, and truth, and friendliness unquelled.

John Keats

Head over to our A Little, Aloud blog to read more about the things we’ve learnt so far from reading A Little, Aloud with Love.

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