This is my favorite page at the website. It's
a collection of the original manuscript images of
Keats's poetry and letters.
For Keats's admirers, viewing the
manuscripts brings us a bit closer to the poet. We can literally
see how he thought out a poem, how he corrected and changed it along the
The images are large for reasons of clarity so they may
take a few moments to load.
from the original manuscript of 'Ode to a Nightingale' in John Keats's
Greetings to all the
visitors from Thilo's site! (I was wondering why traffic jumped
'What Printing presses yield we
think good store.
But what is writ by hand we reverence more:...'
Please note: If the larger
scans are automatically resized to fit your browser screen, you need to
adjust your browser settings. In Explorer, go to 'Tools', choose
'Internet Options', then 'Advanced'. Scroll down to 'Multimedia'
and remove the check next to 'Enable Automatic Image Resizing'.
Then click 'Apply' and close the window. Then refresh the webpage. You will now be able to
view the actual image.
to a Nightingale:
PAGE ONE -
PAGE TWO -
PAGE THREE -
This is the most remarkable manuscript at the
site, I think, for it perfectly captures the effort and enthusiasm of
Keats at the exact moment of poetic creation.
When viewing it, you can almost imagine him lost
in concentration in the garden at Wentworth Place.
Keats's friend and
roommate, Charles Brown, described the composition of this beautiful work
'In the spring of 1819 a nightingale had built her
nest near my house. Keats felt a tranquil and continual joy in her
song; and one morning he took his chair from the breakfast-table to the
grass plot under a plum-tree, where he sat for two or three hours.
When he came into the house, I perceived he had some scraps of paper in
his hand, and these he was quietly thrusting behind the books. On
inquiry, I found these scraps, four or five in number, contained his
poetic feeling on the song of our nightingale. The writing was not
well legible; and it was difficult to arrange the stanzas on so many
scraps. With his assistance I succeeded, and this was his 'Ode to a
Nightingale', a poem which has been the delight of everyone.'
Brown's account was dismissed as 'pure delusion' by
Charles Wentworth Dilke, the co-owner of Wentworth Place who visited Brown
and Keats regularly. After reading the above account in Milnes's
1848 biography of Keats, Dilke noted in the margin, 'We do not usually
thrust waste paper behind books'.
It should be noted that Brown wrote his account
almost twenty years after the event. Some critics believe he may
have confused the compositions of 'Ode on Indolence' and 'Ode to a
Nightingale'. The original manuscript of 'Indolence' is lost and the
order of its stanzas remains doubtful (note Brown's memory of arranging
The 'Nightingale' manuscript is actually on two sheets of paper,
not 'four or five' as Brown recalled, and the stanzas are in relative
order. But the work was written hastily on scrap paper. It is
clear that Keats did not anticipate writing such a lengthy poem when he
took just two sheets of paper into the garden, - and he did not dare
interrupt his writing to fetch more later.
Interestingly, there has been speculation that this
isn't the first draft, but a later copy. However, the presence of
'Small, winged Dryad' at the bottom of
the second page
(upside down) is clearly a false
start to the poem. It was abandoned and Keats began the poem again
on the other side of the paper.
Note that Keats wrote on both sides of the scrap
Unfortunately, the manuscript is in poor condition.
Certain words have faded or been badly smudged. I can't complain,
however; it was sheer luck that it survived at all.
Some notes on the manuscript: Keats
made numerous small alterations to the poem as he wrote, - for example,
on the first page, he changes 'painful' to 'drowsy', 'falls to pains',
'hence' to 'past', 'Cooling' to 'Cooled', 'and old' to 'and dies', etc
On the second page, 'grief' is altered to 'sorrow'
and Keats has written and crossed out 'With with' above 'Wherewith'.
On the bottom of the page, three words - 'Small, winged Dryad' - are written
On the third page, 'voice' is altered to 'song',
'the wide' to 'magic' and 'kuthless (meant to be 'ruthless') is crossed
out, obviously due to its similiarity to 'Ruth', and followed by 'perilous'.
On the fourth page, there are typical Keatsian
moments in which his thoughts raced ahead of his pen, and so we find the
transposition 'To told bac
me' ('To toll me back') and the misspellings of 'forlorn' and 'word'. The 'deceitful elf' is altered to 'deceiving elf'.
'Ode to a
Nightingale': This is my original (1999) scan of the first page from a
different source. The image is sepia-tinted. It's also a bit
easier to see the writing on both sides.
'I stood tip-toe upon a little hill'
This work is the opening poem of Keats's first published volume
of poems, released in 1817. He had begun it in the summer of 1816 at
Hampstead and completed it by the end of the year. It was his first
attempt at a lengthy poem, and Leigh Hunt wrote that it 'was suggested to
him [Keats] by a delightful summer-day, as he stood beside the gate that
leads from the Battery on Hampstead Heath into a field by Caen
Wood.' Readers will note that the poem contains the story of
Endymion; Keats actually referred to this work as 'Endymion' before he
attempted a lengthier work on the same subject.
Interestingly, quite a few fragments of this original
manuscript exist. Charles Cowden Clarke cut up the manuscript after
Keats's death and gave away pieces as souvenirs to the poets' friends and
pleasant tale is like a little copse'
This work was inscribed into Charles Cowden Clarke's copy of Chaucer's poems,
beneath the poem titled 'On the Floure and the Leafe'
In 1835, while
editing his Riches of Chaucer, Clarke recalled when Keats wrote
this brief sonnet:
'It happened at the period when Keats was about
publishing his first little volume of poems; he was then living in the
second floor of a house in the Poultry, at the corner of the court leading
to the Queen's Arms tavern - that corner nearest to Bow church. The
author had called upon him here, and finding his young friend engaged,
took possession of a sofa, and commenced reading, from his then
pocket-companion, Chaucer's 'Flower and the Leaf'. The fatigue of a
long walk, however, prevailed over the fascination of the verses, and he
fell asleep. Upon awaking, the book was still at his side; but the
reader may conceive the author's delight, upon finding the following
elegant sonnet written in his book at the close of the poem. During
my sleep, Keats had read it for the first time; and, knowing that it would
gratify me, had subjoined a testimony to its merit, that might have
delighted Chaucer himself.'
The sonnet reads:
tale is like a little copse:
The honied lines do freshly
To keep the
reader in so sweet a place,
So that he here and
there full hearted stops;
And oftentimes he feels
the dewy drops
and suddenly against his face,
And by the wandering melody
Which way the tender-legged linnet hops.
Oh! What a power hath white
power has this gentle story!
I, that for ever feel
athirst for glory,
Could at this moment be content
Meekly upon the
grass, as those whose sobbings
Were heard of none beside
the mournful robbins.
I think we can all agree this was a lovely gift for
This is an image of the original
manuscript of 'Hyperion', the poem which so impressed Percy Bysshe
Shelley. It was subtitled 'A Fragment' and published in Keats's final
volume of 1820.
Keats first began this poem in late 1818. In
letters to friends, as well as the preface to 'Endymion', he alluded to a
'new Romance', only to abandon it in April 1820.
Why did Keats abandon the work? No one knows,
but there are problems with its structure and intent. He did return
to the subject a few months later with 'The Fall of Hyperion'.
Keats did not want 'Hyperion' to be published, going
so far as to insert the following into the 1820 volume: '[I]t was printed
at [the publisher's] request, and contrary to the wish of the
author.' But his publisher's faith was rewarded. 'Hyperion'
was immediately praised, quite contrary to the usual reception for Keats's
Interestingly, Keats had asked his friend Benjamin
Robert Haydon to paint the frontispiece for the work. In the letter
to Haydon, he compared 'Hyperion' to his other work, 'Endymion':
'[....] in Endymion I think you may have many bits of the deep and
sentimental cast - the nature of Hyperion will lead me to treat it in a
more naked and grecian Manner - and the march of passion and endeavour
will be undeviating - and one great contrast between them will be - that
the Hero of the written tale being mortal is led on, like Buonoparte, by
circumstance; whereas the Apollo in Hyperion being a fore-seeing God will
shape his actions like one.'
Though Keats never completed 'Hyperion', it remains
one of his most evocative and beautiful works.
The Eve of St
This original manuscript was found in George
Keats's notebook. The poem was written between 13 and 17
February 1819 and first published in 1848. This particular
manuscript was written out by Keats and sent to his brother George on 20
September 1819. The poet wrote: 'Some time since I began a Poem
call'd the Eve of St Mark quite in the spirit of Town quietude. I
think it will give you the sensation of walking about an old county Town
in a coolish evening. I know not yet whether I shall ever finish it
- I will give it far as I have gone. Ut tibi placent!' He then
copied out lines 1 through 114, adding afterwards, 'I hope you will like
this for all its Carelessness.'
Letter from Keats
to his brother Tom, 10-14 July 1818
This letter was
written during Keats's walking holiday in Scotland with Charles
Brown. He wrote many such 'travel letters' to family and
It begins with the travelers at Ballantrae and then
continues through Stranraer to Ayshire to Glasgow. 'I shall
endeavour that you may follow our steps in this walk - it would be
uninteresting in a Book of Travels - it can not be interesting but by my
having gone through.' So Keats wrote, and the letter does bring the
Scottish scenery (and its eccentric inhabitants) to life.
This letter is an example of Keats's typical 'running
commentary'-style of composition. We are fortunate to read his
letters at all, but they are always in a neatly-printed book. I
think it's nice to see the letters, - to see them in the same way
his friends and family did when they first arrived in the post.
Letter from Keats to his sister Fanny, Dec 1818
Tom Keats was already dead when Keats wrote this
letter to their sister Fanny. Keats wanted to prepare her for the
inevitable news; he warns her that Tom is in a 'very dangerous
Tom died of tuberculosis, just as Keats himself would
less than three years later. Their mother had perished years earlier
from the disease.
Ode on a
manuscript is in George Keats's handwriting.
Keats's original manuscript of this famous ode has
been lost. The earliest surviving copy / first draft is this one,
made by his brother George in January 1820.
George was visiting England from America and made
copies of his brother's recent work, including the great odes. Keats
gave George his own working notebook for the task; included were drafts of
other works in his own hand, including 'Isabella'.
On 15 January 1820, Keats wrote to George's wife
Georgiana about his brother's task: 'George is busy this morning
making copies of my verses. He is making now one of an Ode to the
nightingale, which is like reading an account of the b[l]ack hole of
Letter from John Keats to
his fiancée, Fanny Brawne
This is the last surviving
letter from Keats to Fanny, written while he was staying at Leigh Hunt's
home and one month before he sailed to Italy.
This is Keats's signature, including his nickname
'Junkets', from a letter to Leigh Hunt, 10 May 1817. It was Hunt who
dubbed Keats 'Junkets' due to the poet's Cockney-esque pronunciation of his
star! would I were steadfast as thou art -
This famous sonnet
written by Keats in his copy of 'The Poetical Works of William
Shakespeare' opposite the poem 'A Lover's Complaint'.
Looking into Chapman's Homer
sonnet was written in October 1816 and first published in the
Examiner on 1 December 1816. It is considered the highlight of
Keats's first volume of poetry. It was originally a gift for his friend,
Charles Cowden Clarke. The two men had spent an evening reading George
Chapman's superb translation of the Iliad and Odyssey. The
next morning, Clarke came down to breakfast and found the sonnet waiting
for him. As he later recalled:
'A beautiful copy of the folio edition of
Chapman's translation of Homer had been lent me.... and to work we went,
turning to some of the 'famousest' passages, as we had scrappily known
them in Pope's version.... Chapman supplied us with many an after-treat;
but it was in the teeming wonderment of this his first introduction,
that, when I came down to breakfast the next morning, I found upon my
table a letter with no other enclosure than his famous sonnet, 'On First
Looking into Chapman's Homer.' We had parted, as I have already
said, at day-spring, yet he contrived that I should receive the poem
from a distance of, may be, two miles by ten o'clock.'
Letter from John Keats to Benjamin Robert Haydon
20 November 1816
brief note includes the 'Great Spirits' sonnet which Haydon later sent to
is the beginning of 'Lamia', from Keats's fair copy of the poem.
'Lamia' was begun at Winchester in the summer of 1819; Keats set it aside
in early September, but completed further revisions in March 1820.
During the lull in composition, he wrote the beautiful ode, 'To Autumn',
and continued work on 'Otho the Great', 'The Fall of Hyperion', and 'King
Stephen'. Struggling for popular and financial success, Keats was
pleased with 'Lamia'. It marked the first time he returned to a
previously abandoned poem.
His friends were also pleased with it, though his
publisher, John Taylor, had initial misgivings. 'Lamia' was the
first poem in Keats's final published volume of poetry. It was
inspired by a passage in Robert Burton's 'Anatomy of Melancholy', a work
which Keats admired and read voraciously. (This inspiration is noted
by Keats at the bottom of the page.)
FIRST PAGE -
SECOND PAGE -
The original version of this ode is found in the famous spring
1819 journal-letter from Keats to his brother George. Keats
typically wrote a running commentary to George and his wife Georgiana
in America, then loosely grouped the pages together as one long
letter. The letter ends with this beautiful work, of which Keats
wrote: 'The following Poem - the last I have written is the first and
the only one with which I have taken even moderate pains - I have for
the most part dash'd of[f] my lines in a hurry - This I have done
leisurely - I think it reads the more richly for it and will I hope
encourage me to write other thing[s] in even a more peaceable and
Some notes on the manuscript:
This ode was originally begun as a sonnet, which explains its curious
structure. (As his letter indicates, he had 'dashed off' several
sonnets in the third week of April 1819, of which this was the
last.) No alteration in the original manuscript occurs until the
thirteenth and fourteenth lines. At that point, Keats seems to
have decided to alter the structure of the work. Originally
titled 'To Psyche', he added 'Ode' later; note the different and widely-spaced angle of
writing in the manuscript. This decision to change a perfectly acceptable
sonnet to an ode is perhaps the real importance of this work. It
marks the beginning of a sequence of even greater odes.
Keats was terminally ill as his final volume of poetry was
prepared. As a result, his publishers made several alterations to
the original work without his input. In particular, they were
stymied by his use of the words 'freckle-pink' and 'syrian' in line
fourteen. Keats had originally written 'silver-white' in the
work, but changed it to 'freckle-pink' in the margin, and included the
latter in the copy he made for George. The publishers retained
'silver-white'; also, they could not define the obscure 'syrian' and so
changed it to 'Tyrian', which was a traditional purple dye. They
also altered the end of line ten, which Keats had ended 'the whispering
fan'. Taylor and Hessey changed it to 'whisp'ring roof', which
completely ruined Keats's rhyme scheme. These changes reflected
the vicious criticism of Endymion, which had been attacked for
a certain quaintness in creating and altering words as well as an
exaggeratedly lush style. Understandably, they also looked
askance at the beginning of the third stanza and changed Keats's
original 'O Bloomiest!' to 'O brightest!' - a tepid alteration but
The most notable alteration in 'Ode to Psyche' was made by
Keats himself. The final line originally read 'To let warm Love
glide in'. He altered it to 'To let the warm Love in', a simple
but lovely change. Further discussion of this line can be found
in the annotations at the
'Ode to Psyche'
This is perhaps Keats's most famous and beloved
work. It is considered the perfect embodiment of poetic form,
intent, and effect.
'To Autumn' was the last of Keats's great lyrics.
It was more heavily revised than other works.
I will post a discussion of the manuscript and its
revisions shortly (November 2004.) I wanted to put the images up as
soon as possible.
Keats: Images to
view the entire collection of images at this website.
A note on the manuscripts:
The largest collection of Keats's manuscripts (poetry and letters) is held
by Harvard University. Arthur Houghton Jr's bequest of Keats-related
material formed the foundation of the library which now bears his name.
And, of course, Amy Lowell also bequeathed her collection of Keats
memorabilia to Harvard. Sadly, past misuse (and overuse) means that
most visitors cannot view the original manuscripts, only facsimile
reproductions. The Houghton Library does have a Keats Room, - and it
is certainly worth a visit if you're in the Boston / Cambridge area.
In England, the British Library has some Keats manuscripts (including
'Hyperion') while Cambridge University holds the 'Ode to a Nightingale'
manuscript. Unfortunately, none of my great-great-grandparents had
the foresight to purchase an original manuscript in, say, 1901 when 'Ode
to Psyche' sold for £86. Alas.
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