By the Forge
John Keats in Winchester
Say you had been for a walk by the river
among fields of dry yellow and brown whose smell
was baking, as if the earth were their oven,
but the afternoon was warm and cold at once
and you had noticed a numbness in the sky,
a shiver in the water, that made you yearn
for things with sun in them, apples, corn, honey.
And say the air had been fidgety today
so the gnats couldn’t keep still, and overhead
it was crowded with excitable swallows.
This was your season, the time of departure.
You could feel that edge in your lungs, like the tang
of unlit bonfires or a foretaste of snow
in the last of the sunshine, as you turned back.
And you had nowhere to go now but a room
that stared at the blank side of a house, a street
you could listen to all night and hear only
the punctuation of footsteps and a cane,
so you walked through the city, where the people
had the look of those you see on holiday
as if only pretending to be themselves.
And London was waiting for you, a poem
you were almost ready to try again with.
There was another room, a woman, a book,
and a cold blur like rain you couldn’t make out
from this far away. You had to be inside
writing the words before you could find their shape.
Say you were thinking of all this and standing
all of a sudden, in front of an open shop
where a basket of coals was seething orange
and a man came and stabbed it into yellow,
a cornfield of sparks. Say you watched him hammer
and thought he was beating light into a bar,
making the street dark. That’s when you’d hug yourself
and say, I should like a bit of fire tonight
from Dragons (Faber, 2001), © Matthew Francis 2001, used by permission of the author and the publisher