“A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever” by John Keats

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old, and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
‘Gainst the hot season; the mid-forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.

Nor do we merely feel these essences
For one short hour; no, even as the trees
That whisper round a temple become soon
Dear as the temple’s self, so does the moon,
The passion poesy, glories infinite,
Haunt us till they become a cheering light
Unto our souls, and bound to us so fast
That, whether there be shine or gloom o’ercast,
They always must be with us, or we die.

Therefore, ’tis with full happiness that I
Will trace the story of Endymion.
The very music of the name has gone
Into my being, and each pleasant scene
Is growing fresh before me as the green
Of our own valleys: so I will begin
Now while I cannot hear the city’s din;
Now while the early budders are just new,
And run in mazes of the youngest hue
About old forests; while the willow trails
Its delicate amber; and the dairy pails
Bring home increase of milk. And, as the year
Grows lush in juicy stalks, I’ll smoothly steer
My little boat, for many quiet hours,
With streams that deepen freshly into bowers.
Many and many a verse I hope to write,
Before the daisies, vermeil rimmed and white,
Hide in deep herbage; and ere yet the bees
Hum about globes of clover and sweet peas,
I must be near the middle of my story.
O may no wintry season, bare and hoary,
See it half finished: but let Autumn bold,
With universal tinge of sober gold,
Be all about me when I make an end!
And now at once, adventuresome, I send
My herald thought into a wilderness:
There let its trumpet blow, and quickly dress
My uncertain path with green, that I may speed
Easily onward, thorough flowers and weed.

One could hardly think of a British poet of the nineteenth century who is as soulful and lyrical as John Keats. His life was very short – he died from tuberculosis at the age of 25, – yet he managed to leave a great poetic legacy.

John Keats had an eye for beauty – he saw it in all the things that surrounded him. His own poems enabled him to come closer to the beauty and wonders of life, and to reveal them to anyone who was ready to it.

The author phrases his creative credo in the introduction to his first large-scale work, the epic poem “Endymion” written in 1817. The credo was as follows: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever”. Shortly after its creation the introduction received a new life as a separate poem. Keats stayed in the history of British poetry as a person forever mesmerized by beauty.

The poet emphasized the transiency of life, he probably had a presentiment that his own life path won’t be long. That’s why he did not want to lose time. He phrased the three principles of poetry at the age of 18. The poem “A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever” reflects each of them. According to Keats, “poetry should surprise by a fine excess and not by singularity”. He also claimed that poetry should not leave lack of understanding or unsatisfied curiosity. According to the third principle, if a poem does not agree with the first two principles, it should not exist.

Throughout his life as a poet Keats was always trying to stick to this manifesto. Contrary to the traditions of the romantic literature, he was looking for the sources of beauty not in the world of fantasy or the past, but in real life. For him, beauty was an immortal muse and an embodiment of the truth. And the beauty could be found in all the things surrounding us.

Moreover, according to Keats, only the person who is capable of discovering “the idea of Beauty in all things” is capable of either creating or understanding poetry. Only the person who is gifted with great imagination and interest to the absolute beauty can fully perceive poetry and appreciate its wonders. He believes that understanding of beauty starts with tender stories and continues in pleasant and harmonious natural phenomena and even the elements.

The poem “A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever” can be heard in the drama film Bright Star directed by Jane Campion (2009). The movie telling the story of Keats and the love of his life is wonderfully complemented by the lines of this poem, a wonderful hymn to beauty.

Reviewed by Katerina Sidoruk