It is fitting somehow, that Lord Bryon faces off against Keats in Scarriet’s Poetry Madness—these are the two greatest poets, in English, perhaps, and their vast differences bespeak of Man’s two extreme personalities: One, manly and mercurial, the other feminine and consistent.
Here is Byron reacting rather egotistically, and coldly, to Keats’ death, remarking that Keats was killed by a bad review, but he (Byron) wasn’t:
Is it true, what Shelley writes me, that poor John Keats died at Rome of the Quarterly Review? I am very sorry for it, though I think he took the wrong line as a poet, and was spoilt by Cockneyfying, and Suburbing, and versifying Tooke’s Pantheon and Lempriere’s Dictionary. I know, by experience, that a savage review is Hemlock to a sucking author; and the one on me (which produced the English Bards, etc.) knocked me down — but I got up again. Instead of bursting a blood-vessel, I drank three bottles of Claret, and began an answer, finding that there was nothing in the Article for which I could lawfully knock Jeffrey on the head, in an honourable way.
Byron was cruel and sentimental, cold and warm, by turns, a man of the world, who loved and hated, risked and lost, ranted and wept; where Keats, perhaps the slightly higher genius, was satisfied to live in a cottage and love the maiden next door; Keats was never sentimental, never cruel—but burned with a glow, everlasting.
This is not quite true. Even Keats had his anger and his petulance.
Any good poet—as Poe pointed out—is irritable; reaching after perfection, one will naturally be annoyed at times.
And yet Keats’ bad moods must have resembled the bad moods of a flower.
The aesthetically critical mind can be argumentative, and still gentle.
Look at this sneering sonnet Keats wrote (he sounds like Byron!):
The House of Mourning written by Mr Scott,
A sermon at the Magdalen, a tear
Dropped on a greasy novel, want of cheer
After a walk uphill to a friend’s cot,
Tea with a maiden lady, a cursed lot
Of worthy poems with the author near,
A patron lord, a drunkenness from beer,
Haydon’s great picture, a cold coffee pot
At midnight when the Muse is ripe for labour,
The voice of Mr Coleridge, a French bonnet
Before you in the pit, a pipe and tabour,
A damned inseparable flute and neighbour —
All these are vile, but viler Wordsworth’s sonnet
On Dover. Dover! — who could write upon it?
It sneers, yes. But it’s a sonnet.
It is one of the more interesting poems by Keats—because it reveals so much about him. He liked coffee, etc.
“The House of Mourning” is not a well-known poem.
Nor is this line of Keats’s well-known either, “Soft went the music the soft air along.”
Connoisseurs of poetry will recognize instantly the genius and beauty of this line—chosen for the 2017 Madness.
“Soft went the music the soft air along” has no sentiment. The line has beauty only.
The famous Byron line is beautiful—and also sentimental.
“So we’ll go no more a roving, So late into the night, Though the heart be still as loving, And the moon be still as bright.”