This is an amusing incident involving John Keats, Leigh Hunt, and a
pair of laurel crowns, which occured in 1816, or 1817.
Sonnet writing contests
, with an imposed time limit, usually of fifteen minutes
were a favorite passtime in Hunt's circle of friends at the time. One evening
Hunt suggested to Keats that they fashion themselves laurel crowns, and see
what that inspired them to write. Hunt dashed off a couple of sonnet
s at once,
while Keats laboured on for fourteen lines about the fact that he had nothing
On Receiving a Laurel Crown from Leigh Hunt
Minutes are flying swiftly; and as yet
Nothing unearthly has enticed my brain
Into a delphic labyrinth. I would fain
Catch an immortal thought to pay the debt
I owe to the kind poet who has set
Upon my ambitious head a glorious gain--
Two bending laurel sprigs--'tis nearly pain
To be conscious of such a coronet.
Still time is fleeting, and no dream arises
Gorgeous as I would have it--only I see
A trampling down of what the world most prizes,
Turbans and crowns, and blank regality;
And then I run into most wild surmises
Of all the many glories that may be.
Note the references to time passing in the first and ninth lines,
indicating the time limits on their game.
During this, a group of guests arrived at the door. Hunt immediately took
off his crown, and gestured for Keats to do the same, but Keats did not want
to give up so easily what the laurels stood for, and so wore them
throughout the visit, but offering no explanation, much to the amusement of
the women. Afterwards, he wrote the following sonnet:
To the Ladies Who Saw Me Crown'd
What is there in the universal earth
More lovely than a wreath from the bay tree?
Haply a halo round the moon--a glee
Circling from three sweet pair of lips in mirth;
And haply you will say the dewy birth
Of morning roses--riplings tenderly
Spread by the halcyon's breast upon the sea--
But these comparisons are nothing worth.
Then is there nothing in the world so fair?
The silvery tears of April?--Youth of May?
Or June that breathes out life for butterflies?
No--none of these can from my favorite bear
Away the palm; yet shall it ever pay
Due reverence to your most sovreign eyes.
However, for whatever reason, he beame horribly embarassed about his
incident later, and tried to keep it secret. The following ode fragment was
written as an apology fo Apollo for daring to wear the laurels when
he was not yet worthy of them. Keats believed he would prove himself
with the writing of Endymion.
God of the Golden Bow
God of the Golden bow,
And of the golden lyre,
And of the golden fire,
Round the patient year--
Where, where slept thine ire,
When like a blank ideot I put on thy wreath--
Thy laurel, thy glory,
The light of thy story?
Or was I a worm to low-creeping for death,
O Delphic Apollo?
The Thunderer grasp'd and grasp'd,
The Pleiades were up,
The Thunderer frown'd and frown'd;
The eagle's feathery mane
For wrath became stiffened; the sound
Of breeding thunder
Went drowsily under,
Muttering to be unbound.
O why didst thou pity and beg for a worm?
Why touch thy soft lute
Till the thunder was mute?
Why was I not crush'd--such a pitiful germ?
O Delphic Apollo!
Watching the silent air;
The seeds and roots in earth
Were swelling for summer fare;
The ocean, its neighbour,
Was at his old labor,
When--who, who did dare
To tie for a moment thy plant round his brow,
And grin and look proudly,
And blaspheme so loudly,
And live for that honor to stoop to thee now,
O Delphic Apollo?
None of these poems were published until long after Keats' death.