After dark vapours have oppressed our plains

Here is a sonnet from John Keats, the leading English poet of the romantic age in the early nineteenth century. Spring comes after winter, calm comes after the storm, joy comes after despair, but all is part of the natural cycle – these, I think are the themes to be found in this beautiful poem.


Sonnet: After Dark Vapors Have Oppress’d Our Plains

After dark vapors have oppress’d our plains
For a long dreary season, comes a day
Born of the gentle South, and clears away
From the sick heavens all unseemly stains.
The anxious month, relieved of its pains,
Takes as a long-lost right the feel of May;
The eyelids with the passing coolness play
Like rose leaves with the drip of Summer rains.
The calmest thoughts came round us; as of leaves
Budding — fruit ripening in stillness — Autumn suns
Smiling at eve upon the quiet sheaves —
Sweet Sappho’s cheek — a smiling infant’s breath —
The gradual sand that through an hour-glass runs —
A woodland rivulet — a Poet’s death.

From <’d-Our-Plains&gt;

The first eight lines seem to describe the coming of spring after a long winter, with the rebirth of nature and the clearing away of the oppression of the dark and dreary season which has passed. This can be read both literally and metaphorically of course, as an affirmation that moods change and light inevitably follows darkness.

The final six lines of the poem emphasise contentment and calm contemplation brought about by the change of season, these lines have almost a Buddhist feel to them, and make me imagine reading them in a Zen garden in the midst of tranquility and the casting aside of worldly cares.

The poem finishes with reminders of the inevitable passage of time, using the images of sand running through the hourglass and the stream running through a wood, and enigmatically announces the Poet’s death as part of this natural cycle of life and death, decay and rebirth. There is no sense of sadness at this outcome, it is just part of the natural order of things and is a positive way to contemplate our deaths without regret, fear or despair.

The Poetry Dude


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