He Knew of Death


He knew of death:

Father Thomas, horse-fall, 1804.

He knew of death:

Mother Fanny, tuberculosis, 1810.

He knew of death,

Where youth grows pale and spectre-thin:

Brother Tom, tuberculosis, 1818.


He knew of suffering:

Ten thousand bandages in Guy’s Hospital.

He knew of pain:

Arterial blood, death warrant.


He knew of yearning through a single Wentworth wall,

And later under Roman sun:

“How I ache to be with you;

how I would die for one hour.”


He knew of melancholy: he faced her open-eyed.

He fed deep deep upon her peerless eyes.

He knew of gusto:

joyful grape on palate fine.


He knew of intensity:

Five years to ripen his Shakespearian fruit

Before he ceased to be.


Severn gives us the holiness of imagination

On two chairs,

While Hampstead Heath peers in the window

And Shakespeare’s face presides.


In suffering, pain, and death,

Beyond irritable reaching,

From joy, delight, and taste,

Through mysteries and doubts, uncertainties,

He made the Odes’ o’er-brimming capability.


For us, he unified the Beauty and the Truth

That we all seek.

For us he trod the borderline:

Do we wake or sleep?


Now more than ever seems it rich

To cease upon the midnight.

He knew of death:

Tuberculosis, February 1821.

A thing of beauty is a joy forever.