Ode on Indolence

By John Keats 1795–1821 John Keats

‘They toil not, neither do they spin.’

One morn before me were three figures seen,
    With bowèd necks, and joinèd hands, side-faced;
And one behind the other stepp’d serene,
    In placid sandals, and in white robes graced;
        They pass’d, like figures on a marble urn,
    When shifted round to see the other side;
They came again; as when the urn once more
        Is shifted round, the first seen shades return;
    And they were strange to me, as may betide
With vases, to one deep in Phidian lore.

How is it, Shadows! that I knew ye not?
    How came ye muffled in so hush a mask?
Was it a silent deep-disguisèd plot
    To steal away, and leave without a task
        My idle days? Ripe was the drowsy hour;
    The blissful cloud of summer-indolence
Benumb’d my eyes; my pulse grew less and less;
        Pain had no sting, and pleasure’s wreath no flower:
    O, why did ye not melt, and leave my sense
Unhaunted quite of all but—nothingness?

A third time pass’d they by, and, passing, turn’d
    Each one the face a moment whiles to me;
Then faded, and to follow them I burn’d
    And ached for wings, because I knew the three;
        The first was a fair Maid, and Love her name;
    The second was Ambition, pale of cheek,
And ever watchful with fatiguèd eye;
        The last, whom I love more, the more of blame
    Is heap’d upon her, maiden most unmeek,—
I knew to be my demon Poesy.

They faded, and, forsooth! I wanted wings:
    O folly! What is Love? and where is it?
And for that poor Ambition! it springs
    From a man’s little heart’s short fever-fit;
        For Poesy!—no,—she has not a joy,—
    At least for me,—so sweet as drowsy noons,
And evenings steep’d in honey’d indolence;
        O, for an age so shelter’d from annoy,
    That I may never know how change the moons,
Or hear the voice of busy common-sense!

And once more came they by:—alas! wherefore?
    My sleep had been embroider’d with dim dreams;
My soul had been a lawn besprinkled o’er
    With flowers, and stirring shades, and baffled beams:
        The morn was clouded, but no shower fell,
    Tho’ in her lids hung the sweet tears of May;
The open casement press’d a new-leaved vine,
    Let in the budding warmth and throstle’s lay;
        O Shadows! ’twas a time to bid farewell!
Upon your skirts had fallen no tears of mine.

So, ye three Ghosts, adieu! Ye cannot raise
    My head cool-bedded in the flowery grass;
For I would not be dieted with praise,
    A pet-lamb in a sentimental farce!
        Fade softly from my eyes, and be once more
    In masque-like figures on the dreamy urn;
Farewell! I yet have visions for the night,
    And for the day faint visions there is store;
Vanish, ye Phantoms! from my idle spright,
    Into the clouds, and never more return!

Source: Complete Poems and Selected Letters of John Keats (Random House Inc., 2001)

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Poet John Keats 1795–1821

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Romantic

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets, Living, Relationships, Love, Social Commentaries, Life Choices, Heartache & Loss

 John  Keats

Biography

John Keats, who died at the age of twenty-five, had perhaps the most remarkable career of any English poet. He published only fifty-four poems, in three slim volumes and a few magazines. But at each point in his development he took on the challenges of a wide range of poetic forms from the sonnet, to the Spenserian romance, to the Miltonic epic, defining anew their possibilities with his own distinctive fusion of earnest energy, . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets, Living, Relationships, Love, Social Commentaries, Life Choices, Heartache & Loss

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Romantic

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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