Clay F. Johnson

Writer | Poet | Pianist | sometime Alpinist | hopeless Romanticist

John Keats's Letter to Fanny Brawne, 8 July 1819

But if you will fully love me, though there may be some fire, 'twill not be more than we can bear when moistened and bedewed with Pleasures.
—John Keats, 8 July 1819

On this day, 8 July 1819, exactly two hundred years ago, Keats would continue his love-letter writing and pen his second letter to Fanny Brawne.  Keats was no doubt love-inspired, under Beauty’s spell of enchantment, and he drank in Miss Brawne’s intoxicating influence like a draught of poppies—though such love-drunk ecstasy was not opium to his creativity that summer.  The pleasure of Love’s drunken luxuries consumes us all, whether we are bloke or Lady, poet or painter, banker or grave-digger, and such intoxications can either inspire our imagination or drive it to distraction.  Although there are certainly jealousies & insecurities within Keats’s letters to Fanny, I dare say she inspired him­ more than we’ll ever know.

Immortal are his words and, just as his letter from 1 July, there are lines within this one that have stayed with me, including two in particular that I hold rather singular.  Some of these lines—both his lines of poetic hyperbole which I adore, and those of youthful insecurity & suspicion that evoke painful memories of my own when I was his age—remind me most vividly of when I was last in love, true love, which seems like centuries ago now.  I am reminded of the intense passion & creativity that often came with it, and also the moments of despair that gave life to stupid jealousies and regretful letters (text messages).  But youth & love-sickness aside, I am not here to defend lines that appear contradictory to Love & Beauty.

One doesn’t defend one’s god: one’s god is in himself a defense.

Speaking of hyperbole, the above quote by Henry James from his brilliant The Aspern Papers is just that: pure hyperbole.  Keats’s poetry & writing have inspired me more than any other, and I find his short, brilliant life both fascinating & heartbreaking, but I would never taint his memory by falsely placing him amongst false gods—he’s already among the stars as it is!  And besides, as I mentioned in a piece from last year, such fanboy nonsense & hero-worship is knee-crooking knavery and Keats deserves better.

However, mentioning James’s The Aspern Papers is sort of relevant here, in a rambling sort of way that fits this section perfectly well.  Not only did I reread it last week in a moment of letter-seeking obsession, with its absurdly obsessive inspirations still lingering fresh in my mind, but today, 8 July, is the anniversary of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s death—he drowned in Italy in 1822.  I will not dare spoil the novella for those who haven’t yet read it, but James was greatly inspired by letters Percy wrote to Claire Clairmont that she held on to all her long life—Claire was Mary Shelley’s stepsister and died at the age of eighty, long after both Percy and Mary.

Today holds a bit more Shelleyan significance & strangeness as well. As I began writing this piece today, early this morning, storms were heavy, the sky was ominously dark, and there was even rare flooding near where I live. No, there are no coincidences to those with an overblown Romantic imagination.

But to return to Keats and the sort of romantic that most people associate with the word, I want to write out some of the passages of his 8 July letter that I adore. And, like with his last letter that I wrote about, it will not be in full. If, however, you are indeed interested in reading his letter(s) in full, which I hope people who read my posts will be, then just do a Google search—many editions of his letters are posted online in full. However, if you prefer a physical copy to hold, then I would recommend Hyder Edward Rollins’s The Letters of John Keats: 1814–1821 in two volumes (1958) which is what I own. If too expensive, then the Selected Letters of John Keats by Grant F. Scott is a good alternative.

My sweet Girl,

Your Letter gave me more delight, than any thing in the world but yourself could do; indeed I am almost astonished that any absent one should have that luxurious power over my senses which I feel. Even when I am not thinking of you I receive your influence and a tenderer nature steeling upon me. All my thoughts, my unhappiest days and nights have I find not at all cured me of my love of Beauty, but made it so intense that I am miserable that you are not with me: or rather breathe in that dull sort of patience that cannot be called Life. I never knew before, what such a love as you have made me feel, was; I did not believe in it; my Fancy was affraid of it, lest it should burn me up. But if you will fully love me, though there may be some fire, 'twill not be more than we can bear when moistened and bedewed with Pleasures…

You say you are affraid I shall think you do not love me—in saying this you make me ache the more to be near you. I am at the diligent use of my faculties here, I do not pass a day without sprawling some blank verse or tagging some rhymes; and here I must confess, that, (since I am on that subject,) I love you the more in that I believe you have liked me for my own sake and for nothing else—I have met with women whom I really think would like to be married to a Poem and to be given away by a Novel…

I kiss'd your writing over in the hope you had indulg'd me by leaving a trace of honey—What was your dream? Tell it me and I will tell you the interpretation threreof.

Ever yours my love!
John Keats

I love the continuance of kissing one’s words with the hope of a trace of honey. Oh, to be inspired by Love again. If only. But if you will fully love me, though there may be some fire, 'twill not be more than we can bear when moistened and bedewed with Pleasures. Good lord. There is nothing more I can write.

Keats’s next letter to Fanny Brawne was on 15 July 1819 and, not surprisingly, I shall write a bit about it on its bicentennial anniversary next Monday. Although I may save it or combine it with Keats’s 25 July letter which quite possibly contains the most poetically haunting lines ever written.

© 2019 Clay F. Johnson