Thursday, January 19, 2012

Verse Thursday--"The Eve of St. Agnes"

St. Agnes' Eve - Ah, bitter chill it was!

Tomorrow is the fateful day--St. Agnes' Eve--the day when young women, observing certain rights, can gain a glimpse of their future husband. John Keats, one of my favorite poets EVER, immortalized this day for me by writing one of the most beautiful poems in the English language using this tradition. His tale of star-crossed lovers still gets to me twenty-five years after I first read it.

These let us wish away,
And turn, sole-thoughted, to one Lady there,
Whose heart had brooded, all that wintry day,
On love, and wing'd St. Agnes' saintly care,
As she had heard old dames full many times declare.

They told her how, upon St. Agnes' Eve,
Young virgins might have visions of delight,
And soft adorings from their loves receive
Upon the honey'd middle of the night,
If ceremonies due they did aright;
As, supperless to bed they must retire,
And couch supine their beauties, lily white;
Nor look behind, nor sideways, but require
Of Heaven with upward eyes for all that they desire.

Is it myth? I can't say for certain, but I do know that my first date with the hubby was on January 19, many, many years ago.

It was not a good date. He almost didn't ask me out again, actually, and I thought he was pretty quiet. But the next evening, with thoughts of Keats' poem in my head, I opened my blinds so that the full moon could pour its light into my room, I ate without speaking to anyone (not hard in a family of seven kids), went to bed early, and dreamed of my future husband. Yup, I was working at a store counter in my dream, and there he was, tall dark and handsome (as he still is after 22 years), with the golden sunlight casting him in shadow there in front of me.

A simple dream--just us talking softly over the counter--but it was definitely him. The next morning, on January 21, St. Agnes' Day, I remember pondering over the little dream, wondering why I dreamed of him, since the date had not been all that spectacular. Madeline, the girl in the poem, is shocked for a different reason when she awakes, for she was dreaming of her love Porphyro, but when she sees him at her bedside, he looks so different:

"Ah, Porphyro!" said she, "but even now
Thy voice was at sweet tremble in mine ear,
Made tuneable with every sweetest vow;
And those sad eyes were spiritual and clear:
How chang'd thou art! how pallid, chill, and drear!
Give me that voice again, my Porphyro,
Those looks immortal, those complainings dear!
Oh leave me not in this eternal woe,
For if thy diest, my Love, I know not where to go."

And Porphyro goes to her, "like a throbbing star." No, really. And I wish I knew how Keats had written the poem originally, since editors made him clean it up a bit for readers. Even in its current form it's pretty, um, appealing.

Beyond a mortal man impassion'd far
At these voluptuous accents, he arose
Ethereal, flush'd, and like a throbbing star
Seen mid the sapphire heaven's deep repose;
Into her dream he melted, as the rose
Blendeth its odour with the violet,--

The hubby and I found more poetry, too. We had another date a week later--January 26. This time,  wrapped in a blanket outside to watch clouds drift over the waning moon, we both found our world tilted in beautiful new ways. As I reread Keats' poem, I cannot help but see the young versions of us here. My parents didn't approve of us, but we've still made it through all these years, and my feelings are even deeper than they used to be. We were the Romeo and Juliet who made it, who found courage and devotion could make more drastic measures unnecessary.

Like Porphyro and Madeline, we just moved on together, making a life for each other:

And they are gone: aye, ages long ago
These lovers fled away into the storm.

Keats wrote no poem about the world they created together somewhere else. I don't need it, though. The hubby and I have made that world all on our own.

(Excerpts courtesy of Poetry Online)


  1. I have always thought you and your husband have had a lovely relationship. Your one of the happiest married couples I know.

    Maybe I shouldn't sleep tonight at all.

  2. Just act distracted all evening, call lots of people, and make sure not to sleep in the moonlight, and you should be okay. I still think it's pretty weird that I even tried it at all. For an educated woman, I do tend to let my imagination get the better of me.

    Maybe being happy is more important than being married, Stephanie. I'll call you this afternoon if I can. If I'm not able to, I'll call Saturday.

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