491px-John_Keats_by_William_HiltonI rarely post poems by 19th century poets, preferring to stay with the contemporary. But in this poem by John Keats, if you simply substitute modern pronouns for “thy” and “thine” and “thou,” seems to me it could have been written tomorrow.

And Keats, 1795 – 1821, is just barely a 19th century poet. This poem is almost 200 years old.

The Living Hand

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calmed—see here it is
I hold it towards you.

John Keats

If you’re having trouble with the syntax of this little poem, its message is basically: you will be really sorry about how you treated me when I’m dead. If you haven’t read much Keats, I recommend him, as does Mary Ruefle, whose book, Madness, Rack, and Honey, first introduced me to this poem.  Here’s a paragraph from her:

“I am a great believer in mood as the final arbiter of perception. What you like in October won’t necessarily hold any appeal in January. I think this is particularly true of poetry: X, whom you read with relish in October might be a bloody bore in January. It happens. But to have a poet bring you out of one mood and into another–that’s the most powerful experience of all.”

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