"ST. AGNES’ Eve—Ah, bitter chill it was!
The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
The hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent was the flock in woolly fold:"


Thus begins the exquisite poem by John Keats about the meeting of two lovers. The basis of this poem is the superstitious belief that a maiden would see her future husband if she performed a certain ritual on the Eve of Saint Agnes, the twentieth of January. When I was in high school my English teacher read the whole of this poem to the class, clutching the volume of verse to her chest at once point and lifting her eyes heavenward in a rapturous sigh. "Just listen to the beauty of these words, " she said. And I did, smitten by the sumptuous sensual imagery, and it has a happy ending which is always richly satisfying.

One of my favorite passages:

"Her vespers done,
Of all its wreathed pearls her hair she frees;
Unclasps her warmed jewels one by one;
Loosens her fragrant boddice; by degrees
Her rich attire creeps rustling to her knees:
Half-hidden, like a mermaid in sea-weed,
Pensive awhile she dreams awake, and sees,
In fancy, fair St. Agnes in her bed,
But dares not look behind, or all the charm is fled..."


Contributed by Beth Trissel, a big Keats fan

7 comments

  1. Mona Risk // January 20, 2008 at 12:19 PM  

    Beautiful poem. How old were you when your teacher read the poem about "the dress falling to her feet." Hmm

  2. Beth Trissel // January 20, 2008 at 3:48 PM  

    I was probably a junior. And hey, the poem gets better! Keats was no prude and had to be toned down by his publisher.

  3. Nightingale // January 20, 2008 at 4:00 PM  

    Absolutely exquisite. And I love such legends (what if they were true as Keats weaves in his tapestry of senses, feelings and dreams). I loved it. Thanks for sharing Beth. I wish I'd known. I might have tried the ritual on the Eve of St. Agnes.

    Katy performs a ritual in Cardinal.

  4. Beth Trissel // January 20, 2008 at 4:34 PM  

    Actually, Linda. It's not too late. It's tonight.

  5. Mary Marvella // January 20, 2008 at 4:56 PM  

    Go for it and tell us all about it!

    Don't you just love language when used by a master?

  6. Beth Trissel // January 20, 2008 at 10:34 PM  

    I do, Mary. And Keats is amazing.

  7. Julie Robinson // January 21, 2009 at 11:42 AM  

    Beth,
    I didn't know you were a Keats fan. In my early 20's, I fancied myself half in love with him. When I met my husband at 25, he used to tell me, "You do know he's been dead for over a 100 years?!" It didn't faze me.
    He's the most romantic soul.
    Ach, 'this living hand . . .'

    Julie