Corso, Keats and Shelley

One night at the Ukranian bar across from St Marks after a poetry reading, Gregroy Corso and I argued about who was the better poet, Shelley or Keats. Gregory thought Shelley was better because according to him Shelley represented the Romantic ideal more perfectly than Keats did. I thought the beauty of Keats’ language was superior to Shelley’s.

Thinking of Gregory, I was in the woods and wanted to recite a poem of his with some of our two favorite poets as well sitting in some flowers on cloudy Labor Day: it’s all beautiful.

from Endymion by John Keats

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old, and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
‘Gainst the hot season; the mid-forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.

from Mont Blanc by Percy Bysshe Shelley

The everlasting universe of things
Flows through the mind, and rolls its rapid waves,
Now dark, now glittering, now reflecting gloom
Now lending splendor, where from secret springs
The source of human thought its tribute brings
Of waters with a sound but half its own,
Such as a feeble brook will oft assume
In the wild woods, among the mountains lone,
Where waterfalls around it leap forever,
Where woods and winds contend, and a vast river
Over its rocks ceaselessly bursts and raves.

A Star by Gregory Corso

A star
is as far
as the eye
can see
as near
as my eye
is to me

John Keats by Charles Brown Percy Bysshe Shelley Gregory Corso



  1. I met Corso back in the 60s. A wild man. I never heard him say a word about Keats or Shelley. I’m happy to hear he was a fan of both.

  2. lally

    always felt the way you did Don, preferred Keats, lovely reading of him, thanks…

  3. Like Woody Allen finding Marshall McLuhan behind the potted palm in Annie Hall, if only Shelly himself was there with you and Corso. Shelley was world’s biggest Keats fan, one of the very first. Shelley would have been embarrassed and quite angry at any comparison that put him in a superior position to Keats. Shelley worked tirelessly (behind the scenes because he knew Keats loathed him) to ensure the highest quality for the printing of Keats monumental 2nd book, Shelley drowned with a book of Keats at his heart – in his breast pocket, Shelley wrote Adonais in rage over the death of Keats – which he attributed to the critics not recognizing the greatness of Keats – the elegy made pop-famous by Mick Jagger reading it at the Stones Hyde Park concert as a tribute to Brian Jones. Keats had more to do with the transition from the Gothic to French symbolism – the few things wrong with Keats’ poems I feel come from being overly influenced by his time – and the Romantics. Shelley / Keats was a big fork in the road for poetry: Shelley led to Whitman and Ginsberg and in some way to today’s slam poetry; Keats to Emily Dickinson and Wallace Stevens…. and dare I say: Marty Watt. But the relationship of Keats and Shelly is a “thing of beauty” regarding the character of Shelley.

  4. Oh, the pic of Keats is VERY wrong. Many portraits of Keats were done – mostly after his death – attempting to bring him into the frail hothouse flower mode that was the model for Romantic Poets – don’t know why, what with Byron and all – this is an example of that. Keats was “roughhewn.” His friends were shocked when he bested a butcher in a fist fight: Keats had told the butcher’s kid to stop tormenting a cat, the butcher took offense, they went at it, Keats the victor. There is a line drawing of Keats in profile his cheek and chin resting on his formidable hands that all agree is the closest to his likeness we have.

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