Remembering John Keats and Thomas Hardy – Time Traveller

Two hundred years ago, John Keats died in Rome. On his way to Italy he landed for a short time somewhere on the south coast of England, the last time he was to set foot on English soil. A century later Thomas Hardy wrote that;

“In September 1820 Keats, on his way to Rome, landed one day on the Dorset coast, and composed the sonnet, “Bright star! would I were steadfast as thou art.” The spot of his landing is judged to have been Lulworth Cove.”

Lulworth Cove, Dorsetshire 1814 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

In fact there is some doubt that Keats wrote ‘Bright Star’ during a stop on the Dorset Coast, some people have considered it was written the previous year, whatever the truth, it is a beautiful sonnet, addressed to his lover Fanny Brawne.

Bright Star

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art–

Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night

And watching, with eternal lids apart,

Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,

The moving waters at their priestlike task

Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,

Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask

Of snow upon the mountains and the moors–

No–yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,

Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,

To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,

Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,

Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,

And so live ever–or else swoon to death.

In 1920 Thomas Hardy used the story as the basis of a remarkable poem, imagining himself as a time traveller;

Lulworth Cove in Hardy’s day

At Lulworth Cove a Century Back

Had I but lived a hundred years ago

I might have gone, as I have gone this year,

By Warmwell Cross on to a Cove I know,

And Time have placed his finger on me there:

“YOU SEE THAT MAN?”–I might have looked, and said,

“O yes: I see him. One that boat has brought

Which dropped down Channel round Saint Alban’s Head.

So commonplace a youth calls not my thought.”

“YOU SEE THAT MAN?”–“Why yes; I told you; yes:

Of an idling town-sort; thin; hair brown in hue;

And as the evening light scants less and less

He looks up at a star, as many do.”

“YOU SEE THAT MAN?”–“Nay, leave me!” then I plead,

“I have fifteen miles to vamp across the lea,

And it grows dark, and I am weary-kneed:

I have said the third time; yes, that man I see!

“Good. That man goes to Rome–to death, despair;

And no one notes him now but you and I:

A hundred years, and the world will follow him there,

And bend with reverence where his ashes lie.”

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Filed under John Keats, Poems, Thomas Hardy

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