July did not go entirely according to plan. I started reading The Lusiads, but, between CampNaNoWriMo and family commitments, I didn’t get very far. Finding myself in danger of having no Classic to blog about for July, I turned to Penguin Little Black Classic No.13: The Eve of St Agnes.
In addition to ‘The Eve of St Agnes’, this edition reprints ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci. A Ballad’, ‘Lamia’, ‘Ode to Psyche’, and ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’, all for a bargainous 80p.
When I discovered this Classic
I studied Keats for both A-level and my degree, and I have a vague memory of reading ‘The Eve of St Agnes’ for the A-level.
Why I chose to read it
When I saw the new Penguin edition it seemed like a good opportunity to revisit the poem, plus I’d never read ‘Lamia’.
What makes it a Classic
Keats is arguably one of the better known Romantic poets of the 19th Century, and thanks to the rich imagery he employs, one of the most accessible to modern readers. These longer narrative poems are likely to remain Classics because they tell compelling stories.
What I thought of this Classic (may contain spoilers)
I enjoyed revisiting ‘The Eve of St Agnes’, a love story that owes a lot to Shakespeare, and that to the modern reader will also evoke the Old English influences employed by Tolkien. ‘Lamia’ is another love story, but in a Classical vein. I found the opening scenes with Hermes a little dull, but once Lamia secures the interest of her lover the story gets interesting; I’ll definitely be re-reading this one. The Odes, also on Classical subjects, are pretty, but I prefer the pastoral ones I’ve read elsewhere.
Will it stay a Classic
Yes. Keats had the good grace to die young and interesting, while also writing poetry that showed language at its most beautiful.
Who I’d recommend it to
In some respects, this economical little book seems like an ideal introduction to Keats, as it gives a taste of both his longer and shorter works. These particular poems do expect the reader to have some familiarity with the Classics, however, so my recommendation would come with the caveat that some additional reading ( or googling) may be required.
As for The Lusiads: perhaps I’ll finish them in August; if not, then I have Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods lined up as my plan B.