Keen, Fitful Gusts are Whisp'ring Here and There

KEEN, fitful gusts are whisp'ring here and there
Among the bushes half leafless, and dry;
The stars look very cold about the sky,
And I have many miles on foot to fare.
Yet feel I little of the cool bleak air,
Or of the dead leaves rustling drearily,
Or of those silver lamps that burn on high,
Or of the distance from home's pleasant lair:
For I am brimfull of the friendliness
That in a little cottage I have found;
Of fair-hair'd Milton's eloquent distress,
And all his love for gentle Lycid drown'd;
Of lovely Laura in her light green dress,
And faithful Petrarch gloriously crown'd.

John Keats (1795–1821)

Petrarch (full name Francesco di Petracco) was an Italian poet who is considered most to be the father of modern poetry. He was said to have been born on July 20th in 1304. Some 500 odd years ago on Good Friday he first saw Laura, a Frenchwoman whose name he was to immortalize in his lyrics and who inspired him with a passion that has become proverbial with its consistency and purity.

Laura was most likely Laura de Noves, 1308?-1348). The Faithful Petrarch developed the strong belief in the role of a unified Italy as the cultural heir of the Roman Empire, highly respected in his lifetime he was made poet laureate by the Senate of Rome in 1341.

It is the myth of Petrarch that has had the most influence on translations. He wrote 317 sonnets, mainly love poems to the mysterious Laura, and their combined effect has been to raise Petrarch and Laura and their love to the level of archetype among many poets including John Keats and with all sorts of associations.

In this one Keats describes the encapsulating effect of reading poetry surrounded by such friends as Milton and Petrarch in this modest poetic text. Written after he had spent an evening at the home of the poet Leigh Hunt in 1816, the conversation had touched on Lycidas, Milton's elegy on the death of a young friend, as well as on Petrarch's sonnets to Laura to whom Keats aspires in his desire for the laureate; the fresh green wreath awarded to laureates.

A micro drama of humanity and art delicately balanced among the cozy conversation, the sonnet is about many things. Humanities and arts are placed on a personal scale, where friendships and discussion, personal ambition and aspiration, suffering and loss, poetry and imagination all matter.


Bram, Robert Philips, Norma H. Dicky, "Keats, John", Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia , 1988.

Bram, Robert Philips, Norma H. Dicky, "Petrarch", Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia , 1988.

Public domain text taken from The Poets’ Corner:

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