Ode to mud and sodden bonfires

Related Topics
A recent study showed that if John Keats had lived his short lifespan today, training under modern NHS conditions, he would never have had time to write any poetry at all.

Actually, there never was any such study. I made that up. But it doesn't undercut my basic point, which is that today's junior hospital doctors don't have time to produce great poetry. I challenge you to name one junior hospital doctor currently writing great poetry, especially one suffering from a lung condition who is scheduled to die at the age of 27. Nobody? I think that proves my point.

Anyway, there is nothing wrong in making things up. Keats did it all the time.

Remember what he said about autumn? All about the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness? Conspiring with the sun "how to load and bless/With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run." Baloney! If you did a study on what autumn is like, you would have established one thing at least: autumn is rarely like that. Keats should have got out a bit more! Autumn is all about mud, and damp, and sodden bonfires that won't get started on 5 November, and cars that won't get started in the morning, and children who lie abed until nearly schooltime, and the evenings fair drawing in, and forgetting to give the lawn its last cut and forgetting to put the lawn mower in for its winter overhaul.

OK, I give you mists. There are mists around in the autumn. Keats got one thing right. But mellow fruitfulness? Conspiring to load the vines? Not in a hundred years!

My neighbour has a vine that grows picturesquely over her wall (no thatch- eaves) and into my front yard, and right now it is loaded with grapes which she never comes round to pick. Do you know why she doesn't? (And why I do not nick any of them as they dangle temptingly by my car door?) Because she knows (and I know) that they will be inedible. Grapes grown outdoors in England go straight from the interesting baby stage to the toothless granny stage without any attractive maturity in between, unless they are growing indoors or in vineyards, and even then the outcome is not particularly hopeful. Nothing mellow or fruitful about them, I fear.

I think I heard this line about mellow fruitfulness being quoted on Radio 4's Today programme yesterday, as if it were true, and I think I also heard someone say that a thing of beauty is a joy forever. Another famous line from Keats. It is also another untruth. There are very, very few things which remain beautiful. The only constant rule is that people's ideas of beauty change. If Keats had written that a thing of beauty is a joy for 50 years, or maybe 100, or - in the case of actresses and supermodels - about seven years, it would be much nearer the truth.

Unfortunately, it wouldn't be poetry. Poetry is concerned a lot with feelings and beauty. It isn't concerned much with the truth.

I have a lingering feeling that HL Mencken may have been right on this matter. HL Mencken was of the opinion that poetry and the truth were opposed to each other, and that a lot of what sounded true when written poetically clearly turned out to be bunkum when written out in the superior medium of prose. The two examples he gave, as I remember, were:-

God's in his heaven,

All's well with the world


I am the master of my fate

I am the captain of my soul.

They both have a good ring, he said, but if you think about either statement for five seconds you can see it is the denial of the truth.

The trouble is that poetry is a young man's game, and most poetry is written by young people short of 30, so it contains young men's ideas, that is to say, no very great ideas at all, only some delightful sounds.

"Poetry", said Mencken, succumbing to the temptation to define it, "is a comforting piece of fiction set to more or less lascivious music." Wait till people grow up a bit and get out of poetry into something grown-up like prose, that was his feeling.

"I have been told," wrote Mencken, "that the average age of the men who made the Authorised Version of the Bible was beyond 60 years. Had they been under 30 they would have made it lyrical; as it was, they made it colossal."

I have just remembered that I set out today to examine why John Keats, although medically trained, is always referred to as John Keats and not Dr Keats, whereas Ian Paisley, who seems trained for nothing in particular, calls himself Dr Paisley. Tomorrow, I hope.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Legal Secretary

£17000 - £17800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to work ...

Recruitment Genius: Ad Ops Manager - Up to £55K + great benefits

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a digital speci...

The Green Recruitment Company: Operations Manager - Anaerobic Digestion / Biogas

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Operation...

Recruitment Genius: Implementation Consultant

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global leading software co...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Daily catch-up: How much difference does the wording of a referendum question make?

John Rentoul

An unelectable extremist who hijacked their party has already served as prime minister – her name was Margaret Thatcher

Jacques Peretti
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent