To Wentworth Place
by John Stocks
With fragile memories of frail passion
The cold consumptive kiss of thwarted love.
Salt tears sting his torn lips
Fingers bitten by bitter frost
As white as blanched asparagus
The restless agony of it all.
The ghastly coach that races past
The grim pools of winter like a curse
Indifferent wind driving from the east
Sends him shivering to catch his death
Lungs aching in a mouldering fog
And black grey slurs of oozing slush.
One racking cough
One fateful drop of blood
As terminal as the hangman’s hood.
So close to infinite beauty
To perfect truth
The boy who unleashed the power of words
The helpless lover who dreamed too much.
The poem relates to the poignant moment when a drop of blood enabled Keats, who, in the great poetic tradition, had been too poor to buy an overcoat and had travelled in distress in the cheap open seats of a coach, to correctly diagnose his own tuberculosis, which he recognised as a death sentence.
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