Asking Mr. Keats for a few revisions

Speaking of Keats (please see ''The loose-leaf library''), The Home Forum is pleased to publish a letter that was evidently overlooked by Professor Rollins in preparing his excellent edition of the poet's correspondence. It was obtained directly from its author, a literary agent, on his company letterhead.

The Fox Chase AgencyIncorporated419 East 57th StreetNew York, New York 10022

June 20, 1820

Mr. John Keats, Esq.

Hampstead Heath

London, England

Dear Jack,

Everybody here in the shop is crazy about the new ode and I don't think we'll have too much trouble getting it placed, though as you may have read, the poetry market is pretty porous these days.

Before we send it out, though, you might want to do a little tinkering with it first. Nothing major, you understand, just a little fine-tuning.

For instance, Line 6 of the first stanza: ''Of deities or mortals, or of both'' - Mrs. Fosdick feels (and I must say I agree) that ''or of both'' is a letdown. It's a bit as though you'd thought and thought how to end the line and finally thrown up your hands and scribbled ''or of both'' in an oh-well sort of way. In any case, it's not up to your usual felicitous standards.

On the plus side, you've managed to inject quite a bit of action, even a suggestion of sex and violence, into what might have been a rather static piece. After all, a Grecian urn just sits there, probably behind glass, with a bored-looking museum guard standing a few feet away.

Now for the hard part, because we sense that you are probably wedded to those last two lines. Poets are often stubborn about opening and closing lines, we find. Still, I'd be derelict in my duty if I didn't come right out and tell you that ''Beauty is truth, truth beauty'' is really terrible. Here again, one gets the impression that, having written ''Beauty is truth,'' you chewed your pencil or quill and racked your brain to no avail, and so once again settled for the easy way out. Beauty is truth, truth beauty. Well, sure, things equal to the same thing are equal to each other. See, Jack, it verges dangerously toward a simple-minded tautology, and you wouldn't want that fussy old fossil who reviews for The Spectator to get his teeth into anything like that, right?

Not that we want to put words in your mouth, but just to indicate what direction you might go in, how about something along these lines:

It's clear to all that truth's eternal,

From Other Ranks right up to


Unfortunately, that doesn't work in Beauty, but getting that in would overstuff the line and ruin the meter. And that's not a bad rhyme: eternal/Colonel. Anyway, think about it. We'll look forward to your revisions.

Yr hmble etc. -


(A.L. Hart)


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