That quintessential romantic, John Keats, wrote a handful of the most exquisite poems to be found anywhere in the whole of English literature: To Autumn, On First Looking into Chapman's Homer, On the Grasshopper and the Cricket, La Belle Dame sans Merci, When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be, Ode to a Nightingale.
I recall vividly my first encounter with Keats. I was on a family holiday in the West Country, and my father had given me a 'holiday allowance'. I went straight to the fossil and shell shops which lined the beach front, then to the higgledy-piggledy second-hand bookshops half-hidden in the quaint alleyways of that seaside town. I bought two hardback poetry books, published by Collins: the Selected Poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson and the Selected Poems of John Keats. Somehow I lost the Tennyson over the years; the Keats I have still (minus its blue dust jacket). It's lying next to me as I write this.
This is probably his last poem, written for Fanny Brawne, the love of his short life. The title of Jane Campion's achingly beautiful film about Keats, Bright Star, was taken from this lovely and poignant sonnet. Keats died in Rome of tuberculosis aged only 25.
Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art —
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike 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 for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever — or else swoon to death.