Poems October 1989
At the Spanish steps in Rome
Keats had come with his friend Severn
for the mild Roman winter. Afternoons
they walked to the Borghese Gardens
to see fine ladies, nannies with babies,
and the dapper mounted officers
whose horses moved sedately
along the broad and sandy paths.
But soon the illness kept him in.
Severn kept trying in that stoutly
cheerful English way: he rented a spinnet,
hauled it three flights, turning it end
up on the landings, and played Haydn every day.
Love letters lay unopened in a chest.
“To see her hand writing would break my heart.”
The poet’s anger rose as his health sank.
He began to refer to his posthumous
existence. One day while Severn and the porter
watched he flung, dish by dish, his catered
meal into the street.
Now the room where Keats died is a museum,
closed for several hours midday with the rest
of Rome. Waiting on the Steps in the wan
October sun I see the curator’s pale,
exceptionally round face looking down.
Everything that was not burned that day
in accordance with the law is there.
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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 8 Number 2, on page 39
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