Imitation of Spenser is the earliest surviving poem of
John Keats, written in approximately 1814, when he was eighteen years old.
While he may have written some poetry before this,
which has since been destroyed or lost, "Imitation of Spenser" seems
a likely enough first attempt.
During the time Keats served as surgeon's apprentice, he was continuing
his studies in his spare time with his old friend and former tutor Cowden Clarke. Although
Keats was remarkably well read for a boy his age, his interests lay principly
with history, and he took no real interest in poetry until the age of eighteen,
when Clarke introduced him to the work of Edmund Spenser. Keats did not show
this poem to anyone at the time, even Clarke, although for some reason he chose to include
it in his first volume of poetry in 1817. Keats did not tell anyone he
had begun writing poetry until 1816, when he gave a copy of his "Written on the Day That Mr. Leigh
Hunt Left Prison" to its subject.
As implied by the title, this is written in the Spenserian stanza, and is
generally believed to be a fragment, although later he probably had no intention
of finishing it.
Imitation of Spenser
Now Morning from her orient chamber came,
And her first footsteps touch'd a verdant hill;
Crowning its lawny crest with amber flame,
Silv'ring the untainted gushes of its rill;
Which, pure from mossy beds, did down distill,
And after parting beds of simple flowers,
By many streams a little lake did fill,
Which round its marge reflected woven bowers,
And, in its middle space, a sky that never lowers.
There the king-fisher saw his plumage bright
Vieing with the fish of brilliant dye below;
Whose silken fins and golden scales light
Cast upward, through the waves, a ruby glow:
There saw the swan his neck of arched snow,
And oar'd himself along with majesty;
Sparkled his jetty eyes; his feet did show
Beneath the waves like Afric's ebony,
And on his back a fay reclined voluptuously.
Ah! could I tell the wonders of an isle
That in the fairest lake had placed been,
I could e'en Dido of her grief beguile;
Or rob from aged Lear his bitter teen:
For sure so fair a place was never seen,
Of all that ever charm'd romantic eye:
It seem'd an emerald in the silver sheen
Of the bright waters; or as when on high,
Through clouds of fleecy white, laughs the coerulean sky.
And all around it dipp'e luxuriously
Slopings of verdure through the grassy tide,
Which, as it were in gentle amity,
Rippled delighted up the flowery side;
As if to glean the ruddy tears, it tried,
Which fell profusely from the rose-tree stem!
Haply it was the workings of its pride,
In strife to throw upon the shore a gem
Outvieing all the buds in Flora's diadem.