19th Century Poets





Ian McKellen reads Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”:

Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” as read by Tom O’Bedlam:

Benedict Cumberbatch’s reading of the above poem is on the Pre-19th Century Poets-1 page under Shakespeare.

Richard Burton reads Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight”:


Somewhat hard to find, “Cologne” [or “Kohln”] is Coleridge’s humorous take on pollution:

“Pandemonium” a drama about the lives of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth. Directed by Julien Temple, screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Featuring Linus Roache as Coleridge; John Hannah as Wordsworth; and Samantha Morton as Sara Coleridge:

Coleridge biographer speaks at the Edinburgh Book Festival:

Richard Holmes’ lectures:


BBC Documentary:



The William Blake Archive

Toby Jones reads Blake’s “London”:


I wander thro' each charter'd street,
Near where the charter'd Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg'd manacles I hear.

How the Chimney-sweepers cry
Every blackning Church appalls;
And the hapless Soldier's sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls.

But most thro' midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlot's curse
Blasts the new-born Infants tear,
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.

by William Blake, 1757 – 1827

Ralph Richardson reads Blake’s “The Mental Traveller”:

Toby Jones reads:

The Chimney Sweeper

(from The Songs of Innocence)

When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry " 'weep! 'weep! 'weep! 'weep!"
So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep.

There's little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head
That curled like a lamb's back, was shaved, so I said,
"Hush, Tom! never mind it, for when your head's bare,
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair."

And so he was quiet, & that very night,
As Tom was a-sleeping he had such a sight!
That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, & Jack,
Were all of them locked up in coffins of black;

And by came an Angel who had a bright key,
And he opened the coffins & set them all free;
Then down a green plain, leaping, laughing they run,
And wash in a river and shine in the Sun.

Then naked & white, all their bags left behind,
They rise upon clouds, and sport in the wind.
And the Angel told Tom, if he'd be a good boy,
He'd have God for his father & never want joy.

And so Tom awoke; and we rose in the dark
And got with our bags & our brushes to work.
Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm;
So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.

by William Blake, 1757 – 1827


[excerpt from “The Four Zoas”]

“I am made to sow the thistle for wheat, the nettle for a 
     nourishing dainty.
I have planted a false oath in the earth; it has brought forth a 
     poison tree.
I have chosen the serpent for a councellor, & the dog for a 
     schoolmaster to my children.
I have blotted out from light & living the dove & the nightingale,
And I have caused the earthworm to beg from door to door.
I have taught the thief a secret path into the house of the just.
I have taught pale artifice to spread his nets upon the morning.
My heavens are brass, my earth is iron, my moon a clod of clay.
My sun a pestilence burning at noon & a vapor of death in night.

“What is the price of Experience? do men buy it for a song?
Or wisdom for a dance in the street? No, it is bought with the 
Of all that a man hath, his house, his wife, his children.
Wisdom is sold in the desolate market where none come to buy,
And in the wither’d field where the farmer plows for bread in vain.
It is an easy thing to triumph in the summer's sun
And in the vintage & to sing on the waggon loaded with corn.
It is an easy thing to talk of patience to the afflicted,
To speak the laws of prudence to the homeless wanderer,
To listen to the hungry raven's cry in wintry season
When the red blood is fill’d with wine & with the marrow of lambs.

“It is an easy thing to laugh at wrathful elements,
To hear the dog howl at the wintry door, the ox in the slaughter 
     house moan;
To see a god on every wind & a blessing on every blast;
To hear sounds of love in the thunder storm that destroys our 
     enemies' house;
To rejoice in the blight that covers his field, & the sickness that 
     cuts off his children,
While our olive & vine sing & laugh round our door, & our children 
     bring fruits & flowers.
“Then the groan & the dolor are quite forgotten, & the slave 
     grinding at the mill,
And the captive in chains, & the poor in the prison, & the soldier 
     in the field
When the shatter’d bone hath laid him groaning among the happier 
“It is an easy thing to rejoice in the tents of prosperity;
Thus could I sing & thus rejoice; but it is not so with me.”

by William Blake, 1757 – 1827

Ralph Richardson reads Blake’s “A Poison Tree”:

A Poison Tree

I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I water'd it in fears,
Night & morning with my tears:
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night.
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine.

And into my garden stole,
When the night had veil'd the pole;
In the morning glad I see;
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

by William Blake, 1757 – 1827

THE TYGER  (A.K.A. The Tiger)

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

by William Blake, 1757 – 1827

This poem is in the public domain.

Another Blake poem, read by Ralph Richardson:

For full text to Blake’s THE CRYSTAL CABINET [click here]


I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And Thou shalt not. writ over the door;
So I turn'd to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore.

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be:
And Priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars, my joys & desires.

by William Blake, 1757 – 1827

[CLICK HERE for Blake’s engraving to the above poem]



TO SEE DICKINSON DOCUMENTARY made circa 1983 as part of a PBS series called “Voices and Visions” [CLICK HERE]

Emily Dickinson [page at The Academy of American Poets]

Short PBS program about Dickinson:


I like to see it lap the Miles,  
And lick the valleys up,  
And stop to feed itself at tanks;  
And then, prodigious, step  
Around a pile of mountains, 
And, supercilious, peer  
In shanties by the sides of roads;  
And then a quarry pare  
To fit its sides, and crawl between,  
Complaining all the while
In horrid, hooting stanza;  
Then chase itself down hill  
And neigh like Boanerges;  
Then, punctual as a star,  
Stop—docile and omnipotent—
At its own stable door.

by Emily Dickinson, 18301886


Safe in their Alabaster Chambers—
Untouched by Morning
And untouched by Noon—
Lie the meek members of the Resurrection—
Rafter of Satin—and Roof of Stone!

Grand go the Years—in the Crescent—above them—
Worlds scoop their Arcs—
And Firmaments—row—
Diadems—drop—and Doges—surrender—
Soundless as dots—on a Disc of Snow—

                      Version of 1861

by Emily Dickinson, 18301886

A song by Susan McKeown, based on the poem above (text follows):


Because I could not stop for Death--
He kindly stopped for me--
The Carriage held but just Ourselves--
And Immortality.

We slowly drove--He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility--

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess--in the Ring--
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain--
We passed the Setting Sun--

Or rather--He passed Us--
The Dews drew quivering and chill--
For only Gossamer, my Gown--
My Tippet--only Tulle--

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground--
The Roof was scarcely visible--
The Cornice--in the Ground--

Since then--'tis Centuries--and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses Heads
Were toward Eternity--

by Emily Dickinson, 18301886

A song by David Sylvian, based on the poem beneath the video:


There's a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons--
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes--

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us--
We can find no scar,
But internal difference,
Where the Meanings, are--

None may teach it--Any--
'Tis the Seal Despair--
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the air--

When it comes, the Landscape listens--
Shadows--hold their breath--
When it goes, 'tis like the Distance
On the look of Death--

by Emily Dickinson, 18301886


A Bird came down the Walk—
He did not know I saw—
He bit an Angleworm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw,

And then he drank a Dew
From a convenient Grass—
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
To let a Beetle pass—

He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all around—
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought—
He stirred his Velvet Head

Like one in danger, Cautious,
I offered him a Crumb
And he unrolled his feathers
And rowed him softer home—

Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam—
Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon
Leap, plashless as they swim.

by Emily Dickinson, 18301886

This poem is in the public domain.

Lee Remick reads Dickinson’s poems “This Is My Letter to the World (#441”) and “I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died” (#465).  With an introduction by John Gielgud.


I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –  
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air –  
Between the Heaves of Storm – 

The Eyes around – had wrung them dry –  
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset – when the King
Be witnessed – in the Room –  

I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable – and then it was
There interposed a Fly –  

With Blue – uncertain stumbling Buzz –  
Between the light – and me –  
And then the Windows failed – and then
I could not see to see –

by Emily Dickinson, 18301886

Unknown reader:


It was not Death, for I stood up,
And all the Dead, lie down –
It was not Night, for all the Bells
Put out their Tongues, for Noon.

It was not Frost, for on my Flesh
I felt Siroccos – crawl –
Nor Fire – for just my Marble feet
Could keep a Chancel, cool –

And yet, it tasted, like them all,
The Figures I have seen
Set orderly, for Burial,
Reminded me, of mine –

As if my life were shaven,
And fitted to a frame,
And could not breathe without a key,
And 'twas like Midnight, some –

When everything that ticked – has stopped –
And Space stares all around –
Or Grisly frosts – first Autumn morns,
Repeal the Beating Ground –

But, most, like Chaos – Stopless – cool –
Without a Chance, or Spar –
Or even a Report of Land –
To Justify – Despair.

by Emily Dickinson, 18301886


I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, eyes – 
I wonder if It weighs like Mine – 
Or has an Easier size.

I wonder if They bore it long – 
Or did it just begin – 
I could not tell the Date of Mine – 
It feels so old a pain – 

I wonder if it hurts to live – 
And if They have to try – 
And whether – could They choose between – 
It would not be – to die – 

I note that Some – gone patient long – 
At length, renew their smile –  
An imitation of a Light
That has so little Oil – 

I wonder if when Years have piled –  
Some Thousands – on the Harm –  
That hurt them early – such a lapse
Could give them any Balm –  

Or would they go on aching still
Through Centuries of Nerve – 
Enlightened to a larger Pain –  
In Contrast with the Love –  

The Grieved – are many – I am told –  
There is the various Cause –  
Death – is but one – and comes but once –  
And only nails the eyes –  

There’s Grief of Want – and grief of Cold –  
A sort they call “Despair” –  
There’s Banishment from native Eyes – 
In sight of Native Air –  

And though I may not guess the kind –  
Correctly – yet to me
A piercing Comfort it affords
In passing Calvary –  

To note the fashions – of the Cross –  
And how they’re mostly worn –  
Still fascinated to presume
That Some – are like my own –

by Emily Dickinson, 18301886

Poetry used by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Ralph W. Franklin ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979, by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Reader unknown:

 824 [second version]

The wind begun to rock the grass
With threatening tunes and low,--
He flung a menace at the earth,
A menace at the sky.

The leaves unhooked themselves from trees
And started all abroad;
The dust did scoop itself like hands
And throw away the road.

The wagons quickened on the streets,
The thunder hurried slow;
The lightning showed a yellow beak,
And then a livid claw.

The birds put up the bars to nests,
The cattle fled to barns;
There came one drop of giant rain,
And then, as if the hands

That held the dams had parted hold,
The waters wrecked the sky
But overlooked my father's house,
Just quartering a tree.

by Emily Dickinson, 18301886


There came a wind like a bugle--
It quivered through the Grass
And a Green Chill upon the Heat
So ominous did pass
We barred the Windows and the Doors
As from an Emerald Ghost--
The Doom's electric Moccasin
That very instant passed--
On a strange Mob of panting Trees,
And Fences fled away
And Rivers where the Houses ran
Those looked that lived--that Day--
The Bell within the steeple wild
The flying tidings told--
How much can come
And much can go,
And yet abide the World!

by Emily Dickinson, 18301886



2-part documentary about Walt Whitman:

Bob Dylan reads Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing”:

Tom O’Bedlam reads a selection from “Song of Myself”:


[CLICK HERE for Walt Whitman page at The Academy of American Poets]

Astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson reads Whitman’s “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer”:


When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide,
and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with
much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

by Walt Whitman, 1819–1892


Where the city's ceaseless crowd moves on, the live-long day,
Withdrawn, I join a group of children watching--I pause aside with

By the curb, toward the edge of the flagging,
A knife-grinder works at his wheel, sharpening a great knife,
Bending over, he carefully holds it to the stone--by foot and knee,
With measur'd tread, he turns rapidly--As he presses with light but
   firm hand,
Forth issue, then, in copious golden jets,
Sparkles from the wheel.

The scene, and all its belongings--how they seize and affect me,
The sad, sharp-chinn'd old man with worn clothes, and broad
shoulder-band of leather,
Myself, effusing and fluid--a phantom curiously floating--now here 
   absorb'd and arrested,
The group, (an unminded point, set in a vast surrounding,)
The attentive, quiet children--the loud, proud, restive base of the
The low, hoarse purr of the whirling stone, the light-press'd blade,
Diffusing, dropping, sideways-darting, in tiny showers of gold,
Sparkles from the wheel.

by Walt Whitman, 1819–1892

Another great Whitman poem, read by Gideon Wagner:

The World Below the Brine

The world below the brine, 
Forests at the bottom of the sea, the branches and leaves, 
Sea-lettuce, vast lichens, strange flowers and seeds, the thick tangle,
     openings, and pink turf, 
Different colors, pale gray and green, purple, white, and gold, the 
     play of light through the water, 
Dumb swimmers there among the rocks, coral, gluten, grass, rushes, and
     the aliment of the swimmers, 
Sluggish existences grazing there suspended, or slowly crawling close 
     to the bottom, 
The sperm-whale at the surface blowing air and spray, or disporting 
     with his flukes, 
The leaden-eyed shark, the walrus, the turtle, the hairy sea-leopard,
     and the sting-ray, 
Passions there, wars, pursuits, tribes, sight in those ocean-depths, 
     breathing that thick-breathing air, as so many do, 
The change thence to the sight here, and to the subtle air breathed by
     beings like us who walk this sphere, 
The change onward from ours to that of beings who walk other spheres.

by Walt Whitman, 1819–1892


Actor Ben Whishaw reads one of John Keats’ great odes:

Text to the above poem:


Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
   Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
   And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
      To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
   With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
   For Summer has o'er-brimmed their clammy cell.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
   Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
   Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
   Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
      Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
   Steady thy laden head across a brook;
   Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
      Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
   Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,---
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
   And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir, the small gnats mourn
   Among the river sallows, borne aloft
      Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
   Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
   The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
      And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

by John Keats, 1795–1821

Ben Wishlaw reads John Keats’ “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”:

Text to the above video:


O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
     Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
     And no birds sing.

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
      So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
      And the harvest’s done.

I see a lily on thy brow,
      With anguish moist and fever-dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
      Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads,      
      Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
      And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,
      And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
      And made sweet moan

I set her on my pacing steed,
      And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
      A faery’s song.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
      And honey wild, and manna-dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
      ‘I love thee true’.

She took me to her Elfin grot,
      And there she wept and sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
      With kisses four.

And there she lullèd me asleep,
      And there I dreamed—Ah! woe betide!—
The latest dream I ever dreamt
      On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings and princes too,
      Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—‘La Belle Dame sans Merci
      Thee hath in thrall!’

I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
      With horrid warning gapèd wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
      On the cold hill’s side.

And this is why I sojourn here,
      Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
      And no birds sing.

*Though several versions exist for this text, this one is generally considered the best.

by John Keats, 1795–1821

Benedict Cumberbatch reads Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale”:

Text to the above poem:

Ode to a Nightingale

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
   My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
   One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
   But being too happy in thine happiness—-
      That thou, light-wingèd Dryad of the trees
         In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
   Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
   Cooled a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
   Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
   Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
      With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
         And purple-stainèd mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
   And with thee fade away into the forest dim--

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
   What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret   
   Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
   Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
      Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
         And leaden-eyed despairs;
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
   Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

Away! away! 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.
Already with thee! tender is the night,
   And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
      Clustered around by all her starry Fays;
         But here there is no light,
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
   Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
   Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
   Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild--
   White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
      Fast fading violets covered up in leaves;
         And mid-May's eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
   The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time   
   I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Called him soft names in many a musèd rhyme,
   To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
   To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
      While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
         In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—-
   To thy high requiem become a sod.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
   No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
   In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
   Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
      She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
         The same that oft-times hath
Charmed magic casements, opening on the foam
   Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
   To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
   As she is famed to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
   Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
      Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep
         In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
   Fled is that music-—Do I wake or sleep?

by John Keats, 1795–1821

Paris Stroud recites Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn”:

Ode on a Grecian Urn

Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
       Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express       
       A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring'd legend haunts about thy shape
       Of deities or mortals, or of both,
               In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
       What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
               What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

 Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
       Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
       Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
       Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
               Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
       She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
               For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

 Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
         Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
         For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
         For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
                For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
         That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
                A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

 Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
         To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
         And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
         Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
                Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
         Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
                Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.

 O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
         Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
         Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
         When old age shall this generation waste,
                Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
         "Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
                Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

 by John Keats, 1795–1821

Brief documentary and reading of Keats’ “The Eve of St. Agnes” (painting below by William Holman Hunt) which is introduced by English poet laureate Andrew Motion and narrated by Samuel West:

To read the complete text of “The Eve of St. Agnes” click [here]


Peter Ackroyd reveals how the radical ideas of liberty that inspired the French Revolution opened up a world of possibility for great British writers such as William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, inspiring some of the greatest works of literature in the English language. Their ideas are the foundations of our modern notions of freedom and their words are performed by David Tennant, Dudley Sutton and David Threlfall:

Peter Ackroyd summons the ghosts of the Romantics to tell the story of man’s escape from the shackles of industry and commerce to the freedom of nature. As the Industrial Revolution took hold of Britain during the late 18th Century, the Romantics embraced nature in search of sublime experience. But this was much more than just a walk in the country; it was a groundbreaking endeavour to understand what it means to be human. They forged poetry of radical protest against a dark world that was descending upon Britain. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was a prophecy that science might be used to corrupt nature, a warning people are still preaching to this day. The words of the Romantics are brought to life by Dudley Sutton, David Threlfall and Cara Horgan:

Byron, Keats and Shelley lived short lives, but the radical way they lived them would change the world. At 19, Shelley wrote The Necessity of Atheism – it was banned and burned, but it freed the Romantics from religion. Through their search for meaning in a world without God, they pioneered the notions of free love, celebrity and secular idolatry that are at the centre of modern Western culture. For them poetry became the new religion, a way of reaching eternity. Their words are brought to life by Nicholas Shaw, Blake Ritson and Joseph Millson:

This video offers a somewhat different perspective on Romantics:


WHEN the game began between them for a jest, 
He played king and she played queen to match the best; 
Laughter soft as tears, and tears that turned to laughter, 
These were things she sought for years and sorrowed after. 

Pleasure with dry lips, and pain that walks by night; 
All the sting and all the stain of long delight; 
These were things she knew not of, that knew not of her, 
When she played at half a love with half a lover. 

Time was chorus, gave them cues to laugh or cry; 
They would kill, befool, amuse him, let him die; 
Set him webs to weave to-day and break to-morrow, 
Till he died for good in play, and rose in sorrow. 

What the years mean; how time dies and is not slain; 
How love grows and laughs and cries and wanes again; 
These were things she came to know, and take their measure, 
When the play was played out so for one man’s pleasure.

by Algernon Charles Swinburne, 1837–1909