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The Autogenesis Of A Poet
by [?]

What a pleasant place is a college dormitory at night! The rooms with their green-hooded lights and boyish similarity of decoration, the amiable buzz and stir of a game of cards under festoons of tobacco smoke, the wiry tinkle of a mandolin distantly heard, sudden clatter subsiding again into a general humming quiet, the happy sense of solitude in multitude, these are the partial ingredients of that feeling no alumnus ever forgets. In his pensive citadel, my friend J—- would be sitting, with his pipe (one of those new “class pipes” with inlaid silver numerals, which appear among every college generation toward Christmas time of freshman year). In his lap would be the large green volume (“British Poets of the Nineteenth Century,” edited by Professor Curtis Hidden Page) which was the textbook of that sophomore course. He was reading Keats. And his eyes were those of one who has seen a new planet swim into his ken. I don’t know how many evenings we spent there together. Probably only a few. I don’t recall just how we communed, or imparted to one another our juvenile speculations. But I plainly remember how he would sit beside his desk-lamp and chuckle over the Ode to a Nightingale. He was a quizzical and quickly humorous creature, and Keats’s beauties seemed to fill him not with melancholy or anguish, but with a delighted prostration of laughter. The “wormy circumstance” of the Pot of Basil, the Indian Maid nursing her luxurious sorrow, the congealing Beads-man and the palsied beldame Angela–these and a thousand quaintnesses of phrase moved him to a gush of glorious mirth. It was not that he did not appreciate the poet, but the unearthly strangeness of it all, the delicate contradiction of laws and behaviours known to freshmen, tickled his keen wits and emotions until they brimmed into puzzled laughter. “Away! Away!” he would cry–

For I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards–

and he would shout with merriment. Beaded bubbles winking at the brim; Throbbing throats’ long, long melodious moan; Curious conscience burrowing like a mole; Emprison her soft hand and let her rave; Men slugs and human serpentry; Bade her steep her hair in weird syrops; Poor weak palsy-stricken churchyard thing; Shut her pure sorrow-drops with glad exclaim–such lines were to him a constant and exhilarating excitement. In the very simplicity and unsophistication of his approach to the poet was a virgin naivete of discernment that an Edinburgh Reviewer would rarely attain. Here, he dimly felt, was the great key

To golden palaces, strange minstrelsy,
… aye, to all the mazy world
Of silvery enchantment.

And in line after line of Endymion, as we pored over them together, he found the clear happiness of a magic that dissolved everything into lightness and freedom. It is agreeable to remember this man, preparing to be a building contractor, who loved Keats because he made him laugh. I wonder if the critics have not too insistently persuaded us to read our poet in a black-edged mood? After all, his nickname was “Junkets.”

* * * * *

So it was that I first, in any transcending sense, fell under the empire of a poet. Here was an endless fountain of immortal drink: here was a history potent to send a young mind from its bodily tenement. The pleasure was too personal to be completely shared; for the most part J—- and I read not together, but each by each, he sitting in his morris chair by the desk, I sprawled upon his couch, reading, very likely, different poems, but communicating, now and then, a sudden discovery. Probably I exaggerate the subtlety of our enjoyment, for it is hard to review the unself-scrutinizing moods of freshmanhood. It would be hard, too, to say which enthusiast had the greater enjoyment: he, because these glimpses through magic casements made him merry; I, because they made me sad. Outside, the snow sparkled in the pure winter night; the long lance windows of the college library shone yellow-panelled through the darkness, and there would be the occasional interruption of light-hearted classmates. How perfectly it all chimed into the mood of St. Agnes’ Eve! The opening door would bring a gust of lively sound from down the corridor, a swelling jingle of music, shouts from some humorous “rough-house” (probably those sophomores on the floor below)–