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John Keats and Charles Tomlinson

On 21st September 1819 Keats wrote to J.H. Reynolds from Winchester:


‘How beautiful the season is now—How fine the air. A temperate sharpness about it. Really, without joking, chaste weather—Dian skies—I never lik’d stubble fields so much as now—Aye better than the chilly green of the spring. Somehow a stubble plain looks warm—in the same way that some pictures look warm—this struck me so much in my Sunday’s walk that I composed upon it.’

The composition, of course, was the famous ‘To Autumn’ which was written on September 19th.


In December 1958 Charles Tomlinson wrote his own poem, ‘At Holwell Farm’, which Richard Swigg, Tomlinson’s most careful and patient critic, refers to in his statement about ‘a constancy of relation with the energy and singularity of phenomena’. Tomlinson’s poem centres upon a farmhouse which lies within a few hundred yards of his own dwelling and it opens with a reference to that letter from Keats to Reynolds.


It is a quality of air, a temperate sharpness

Causes an autumn fire to burn compact,

To cast from a shapely and unrifted core

Its steady brightness.


This poem was one of those presented by J.H. Prynne to his students at Gonville & Caius in 1969 for the purposes of ‘Practical Criticism’ and, for one student at least, it proved to be the door which opened into a new world of poetic intensity and care: a quietness in which urbanity and the rural stepped side by side.

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