Poetry in the city.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The Delhi Walla arranged to meet English poet John Keats in Nehru Park, a garden in the city’s diplomatic enclave.
It was an almost imperceptible autumn morning. The sunshine was soft. The air was faintly misty. The sky was painted a friendly shade of blue. There were pink flowers in some of the trees. The wild grass was wet. Squirrels were rushing down the gentle slopes, and parrots were hanging out with pigeons. Two morning walkers were noisily discussing an unfolding situation in Pakistan. A middle-aged man was lying sprawled on a green bench; he was reading Punjab Kesari.
The overhanging wooden bridge made a creaking sound as John Keats walked across it. Dressed in blue, he was carrying a copy of Chapman’s Homer.
In his early 20s, Mr Keats is an intern in Safdarjung Hospital. Looking sad, the frail-bodied poet said, “If I should die, I have left no immortal work behind me — nothing to make my friends proud of my memory.” After a pause, he said, “But I have loved the principal of beauty in all things, and if I had had time I would have made myself remembered.”
Walking along a dust track that runs up and down the grassy mounds of the garden, Mr Keats shares a poem with us.
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twinéd flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barréd clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
A poet’s world