Sunday Poetry – John Keats

To continue Barbara Pym’s Centenary celebrations here’s a poem by Keats (picture from here) that gave her the title of one of her novels, The Sweet Dove Died. It’s a melancholy novel about an older woman, a younger man who she fancies & an older man who fancies her. I haven’t read it for many years. I thought it was out of print but it seems Bello have just reprinted several Pyms, including this one as ebooks & paperbacks. I’m tempted to reread it although it is such a melancholy book & I didn’t find Leonora a very sympathetic character. Of course, I was much younger when I read it. I may have more sympathy for a middle-aged woman now!

The poem always strikes me as sad & naive. The speaker is so unaware. As Sting so memorably sang, If you love someone, set them free. I wonder if he had Keats in mind when he wrote that? The book, the poem & the song are all entwined for me.

I had a dove and the sweet dove died;
And I have thought it died of grieving:
O, what could it grieve for? Its feet were tied,
With a silken thread of my own hand’s weaving;
Sweet little red feet! why should you die –
Why should you leave me, sweet bird! why?
You liv’d alone in the forest-tree,
Why, pretty thing! would you not live with me?
I kiss’d you oft and gave you white peas;
Why not live sweetly, as in the green trees?

4 thoughts on “Sunday Poetry – John Keats

  1. Hello Lyn, I have two unread Barbara Pym books from the library which I suppose now is the right time to read, with the reading week going on! I've always had mixed feelings over her books, as they are very readable and attractive, but many of them have a underlying sadness, and one gets the impression that she is sometimes presenting the characters as rather pathetic. I too read The Sweet Dove Died several years ago and had the same melancholy feeling as you about it. Some of her stories are just more fun than others I suppose!

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  2. I agree, Lori. In some of her books – Excellent Women, Some Tame Gazelle – the humour is uppermost although there's melancholy in all her books, I think. In others – Quartet in Autumn (which, in the end, I couldn't read), Sweet Dove – the melancholy is almost overwhelming. Probably why I've reread the humourous books much more often than the others.

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  3. It is a young, romantic person's poem, isn't it? Reminds me of Simon & Garfunkel's I Am A Rock. All that teenage angst, why doesn't anyone love me? Much more poignant as we get older.

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