Interesting Literature

A summary of a remarkable short poetry fragment by John Keats

‘This living hand’ is an oddity amongst John Keats’s poetry – indeed, amongst Romantic poetry in general. Just eight lines long – or seven-and-a-half, even – it’s almost a fragment, written in blank verse, almost as if it’s a snippet of spoken dialogue from an unwritten play. (Fittingly, Keats wrote ‘This living hand’ on a manuscript page of one of his unfinished poems.) The most likely date for the poem’s composition is towards the end of 1819. A short summary and analysis of the poem’s contents (if it can be called a ‘poem’) may help to elucidate its meaning.

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,

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