Ode on Indolence

‘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)
More Poems by John Keats