The Winter’s Wind – a poem by Keats

As the new year begins, I present for you a poem by John Keats, inspired by a cold winter’s wind but encompassing so much more.

The image I’ve chosen to accompany the poem is a famous one by Casper David Friedrich called “The Wanderer Above the Mists”, painted around 1817. Obviously the artist is captivated by the misty mountains, but then why place a person in the very center of the image, blocking our view? And we can’t see his face, we can only wonder at who he is and what he is thinking. It’s this kind of mystery, along with the expert composition and technique, that make the painting great. There’s a bigger idea at work here, a puzzle that the viewer must unravel.

The poem is also open to interpretation, but I won’t even try to analyze it. I’ll let the poet speak for himself.

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O thou whose face hath felt the Winter’s wind,
Whose eye has seen the snow-clouds hung in mist,
And the black elm tops ‘mong the freezing stars!
To thee the spring will be a harvest time.
O thou whose only book has been the light
Of supreme darkness, which thou feddest on
Night after night, when Phœbus was away!
To thee the spring shall be a triple morn.
O fret not after knowledge. I have none,
And yet my song comes native with the warmth.
O fret not after knowledge! I have none.
And yet the evening listens. He who saddens
At thought of idleness cannot be idle,
And he’s awake who thinks himself asleep.

– John Keats (1795-1821)

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3 Responses to “The Winter’s Wind – a poem by Keats”

  1. Loni Edwards says:

    I love this! Thank you so much. Beautiful!

  2. “and yet my song comes native with the warmth” – I love that line.
    I also love what you wrote of Friedrich’s painting, about the mystery surrounding the figure. It’s an interesting take on portraiture. That is something I love attempting accomplish in my paintings – the ability to cause the viewer to wonder, to want to be inside it. I love seeing it in the work of others.
    Thanks for sharing both the painting and the poem!

  3. John Lechner says:

    Thanks for the comments! Sometimes the more I look at a painting (or poem) the more I see in it. And even when I don’t understand it entirely, that often makes it even more interesting, and keeps me coming back.