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The period of Keats's poetical production was so brief, and he leaped so quickly into the possession of his poetical powers, that almost any arrangement of his works, which was orderly, would serve.
Yet since Keats has left in all but a very few cases indication of the date of composition, and since even delicate intimations of poetic growth in the case of so rare a genius are worth attention, I have endeavored to make the arrangement as nearly chronological as the evidence, chiefly obtainable from Keats's letters, will permit. The head-notes disclose all instances where I have had to fall back on conjecture. The adoption of this order has compelled me to disregard the grouping of the volumes published by Keats and the posthumous publication by editors, but for the information of students a bibliographical note, setting forth the historical order of publication, is given in the Appendix.
The text of the poems published in Keats's three volumes has been carefully collated with copies of the first editions. I am indebted to Mr. F. H. Day for the opportunity of using the volumes of 1817 and 1820, and to Col. T. W. Higginson for Endymion. In reprinting the posthumous poems I have followed sometimes Lord Houghton in the Life, Letters and Literary Remains of John Keats, London, 1848, and the same editor's Aldine edition of 1876, sometimes Mr. Sidney Colvin in his Letters of John Keats, London, 1891, where so many of the poems are taken from Keats's own copy, and sometimes the text given by Mr. H. Buxton Forman in his careful four volume edition, London, 1883. There are a good many manuscripts, and these, together with the printed verses, have a variety of readings. All variations of consequence are noted in the Appendix; it was beyond the scope of this series to give every minute alteration. For an exhaustive statement, the curious student is referred to the invaluable edition by Mr. Forman. I have not deemed it indispensable to follow scrupulously the spelling and punctuation even of the poems whose publication was supervised by Keats, but I have not wilfully departed from either in accordance with any mere change of fashion; the spelling conforms to the accepted spelling of Keats's day; the capitalization is somewhat modified; the punctuation is studied with reference to the legibility of the passage.
For the prefatory notes I have been mainly indebted to Keats's letters, and have endeavored, as far as possible, to put the reader in possession of such light as Keats himself throws on his composition. I have also, in pursuance of the plan adopted for the arrangement of the poems, indicated in each instance the date, exactly or approximately. In accordance with the general scheme of the Cambridge editions, these prefatory notes are rarely critical; they are designed to be
rather historical and bibliographical. In the preparation of these notes, as also of the Notes and Illustrations in the Appendix, I must again acknowledge my great indebtedness to Mr. Forman.
In undertaking to assemble Keats's Complete Poetical Works, I have been aware that I was including some things which neither Keats nor any one else would call poetical. Yet besides the contribution which verse makes to beauty, there is also the light which it throws on the poetical mind and character. And since the volume of Keats's production is not large, and much of his posthumous poetry is rightly classed with his own acknowledged work, it seemed best to give everything, but to make the natural discrimination between the poetry in the body of the volume and that which follows in the division, Supplementary Verse. The personality of Keats is so vivid, that just as his friends in his lifetime and after his death carefully garnered every scrap which he wrote, so the friends created by his life and his poetry may be trusted to know what his imperishable verse is, and yet will handle affectionately even the toys he played with.
Although I have endeavored to draw from Keats's letters such passages as throw direct light on his poetry, there yet remains an undefined scholia in the whole body of his familiar correspondence. No attentive reader of Keats's letters will fail to find in these unstudied, spontaneous expressions of the poet's mind a lambent light playing all over the surface of his poetry, and therefore it is not a wide departure from the scheme of this series of poets to include, in the same volume with Keats's poems, a collection also of his letters. This collection is complete, though one or two brief notes will not be found here, because already printed in the headings to poems. I have been dependent for the text mainly upon Mr. Colvin, supplemented by the minute garnering of Mr. Forman. I have to thank Mr. John Gilmer Speed for his courtesy in permitting the use of letters which he derived from the papers of his grandfather, George Keats.
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