Day 12 – 30 Days, 30 Readings: John Keats, “To One Who Has Been Long in City Pent”

Portrait of Keats, listening to a nightingale ...
Portrait of Keats, listening to a nightingale on Hampstead Heath Polski: Portet Keatsa słuchającego słowika w Hampsead Heath (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This one goes out to my cyber friend Keatsbabe.

Visually I was going for a kind of unrehearsed contrast in this video, keeping the city images throughout, instead of the pastoral scenes Keats supplies up in the poem itself. I think I like the result. The opening scene is of the Chrysler Building, once upon a time the tallest in NYC’s landscape. I am not certain of the building with the blue lit tower. The guide told me but I forget now. But those flashing lights in between the buildings near street level are actually the lights of Time Square.

Philomel is Keats’s proper name for the nightingale. It is also the name of a stringed instrument. The latin root words, philo (love) and mel (song, as in melody) work well for the nightengale’s apparent love of singing.  In the Ovid Philomela was turned into a nightingale. Pantheon provides a succinct overview of the myth here if you’d like to learn more, but it has little to do I think with the simple desire of Keats to quietly recoup from the city in a grassy field somewhere, being soothed by nature and the bird’s song.

To One who has been Long in City Pent
John Keats

To one who has been long in city pent, 
    'Tis very sweet to look into the fair
    And open face of heaven,--to breathe a prayer
Full in the smile of the blue firmament.
Who is more happy, when, with heart's content,
    Fatigued he sinks into some pleasant lair
    Of wavy grass, and reads a debonair
And gentle tale of love and languishment?
Returning home at evening, with an ear
    Catching the notes of Philomel,--an eye
Watching the sailing cloudlet's bright career,
    He mourns that day so soon has glided by:
E'en like the passage of an angel's tear
    That falls through the clear ether silently.

11 Replies to “Day 12 – 30 Days, 30 Readings: John Keats, “To One Who Has Been Long in City Pent””

  1. Thank you ! How lovely to have a poem sent to me from across the water, especially if it is Keats (although I am really enjoying the selections you are making for Poetry Month). This is one of his earliest poems, a bit derivative (Milton, Coleridge…) a practice piece. Certainly language like ‘cloudlets’ garnered all sorts of criticism and, thank goodness, his rapid development meant that within two years he was writing tighter, genius sonnets such as ‘When I have fears…’ He was still at Guy’s Hospital training to be a Dr when he wrote this, glad to get out of the smoky city to the fields of Hampstead.

    Lecture over! At the end of the month I am going to return the favour as I think 30 Days 30 readings is a great idea. Is it alright if I feature you on my blog?


    1. Thanks for all that! But wait. Don’t feature it yet! There is a typo at the end of the film. It says staring philomel, not starring. Damn, and I recorded this on Brian’s computer. Not my own! Gotta fix it. 😦


    2. Oh, good, you said “at the end of the month.” I am furiously trying to rerecord this because of a typo on the end title! Yikes. And yes, that would be lovely of you. Thank you. And Yes, I didn’t think it seemed like other Keats poems I knew, so your explanation makes sense. May I quote you in the YouTube description? 🙂


    1. Just checked it out again! Smart proofreading by Ann – I didn’t notice, shame on me. Glad you put ‘an early poem’ – he wrote poetry that was so much better than this one! (Although I am still deeply grateful for you sending it out my way). I thought that at the end of April when you have done all 30 I would write a blog post about your achievement – I love the mix of poetry you are choosing and if you are OK with it, the readers of my blog will too I think. Any Robert Frost on the way?


    2. Thank you, Suzie! Ann is amazing. I just love her. She’s got my back. And yes, from what you said, I thought it called for the “early poem” qualification. I think I have only ever done a reading of “To Autumn” on my channel before. But this being such an early poem explains why I hadn’t found it before. It was in Kay Ryan’s book-tablet Poem in Your Pocket from last year. I had been looking for a new Keats poem to read for you, dear, and this one presented itself up against the city lights so nicely.

      And I would truly be honored by your sharing the series on your blog. Thank you so much. In my living room, dining room, and (I am ashamed to admit it) even in the water closet, I am currently surrounded by poetry books and anthologies, as each day I try to decide which to do next. Generally, while I have a few poets and a poem or two in mind for future days, I don’t usually know which I will read until the day I post it. This sort of keeping myself in the dark, while perhaps unorganized, keeps me open to what might work for the day at hand. Ultimately I am going for some kind of mix of variety, quality and, most days, brevity. One of the goals I have had, even before this month, in these videos is to produce things that have potential of hooking poetry virgins and reeling them in, helping them to see that just because their 10th grade English teachers bored them to tears, poetry is fun and relevant and worth sinking into. Otherwise I just want it to be fun and fulfilling for the rest of us poetry lovers. God, I do go on!

      Yes, Frost is definitely on the way! Boy, do you know me. There is a frost poem I was working at for a while, but it was going to go with a commentary video, so I think I’ll save that for June. I just haven’t decided which Frost yet.

      Thank you so much for getting into this with me!


  2. Your comment about the 10th grade teachers is so true. Not sure what 10th grade equates to in the UK but a couple of years ago, when my daughter was 15, we went to parents evening and her English teacher showed us the poetry anthology they would be studying – ‘You’ll be sick to death of this by the time we finish with it’ she said. I could have cried! How was she ever going to inspire a love of the subject? Perhaps we just have to let them come back to poetry gently but you are certainly doing your bit to reel them back in 🙂


    1. Yup, 15 is the right age, and that’s the same sort of sad story I am talking about. It’s heartbreaking, isn’t it? Literature in general can be like that with the wrong teacher. I recall being asked something like this on a test: The black cat on the fence symbolizes what? A, B, C, or D? Personally, I wanted an E choice or a combination. And I wanted to ask, when did literature become as definitive as chemistry? Couldn’t there be many possibilities? Why not ask me to write a brief essay and give me the chance to prove my point? Grrr… It drove me nuts. I barely passed that class because I hated the teacher’s methods, or lack of methods, so much. 🙂


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