The Poet’s Face
Linda McCauley Freeman on John Keats
A visit to the Keats-Shelley House in Rome, where Linda saw poet John Keats’ death mask, prompted this poem.
Keats’ plaster-of-Paris death mask
is remarkable under glass.
I lean over it until – no, not the guard
gesturing in Italian – my husband
touches my elbow, shakes his head.
But I am seeing a great poet dead,
imagine pouring plaster over his wan face,
watch it fill the hollowed surface.
Oh, the cursed illness
that bled his face of fullness
so young! My cheek against the glass,
I whisper, When old age shall this
generation waste, thou shalt remain.
His words from my mouth stain
the glass. Can I catch what you had?
My husband calls from the next room.
Look. Come, look at this.
When old age shall this genaration 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.
Excerpt from “Ode on a Grecian Urn”
– John Keats, May 1819
Linda McCauley Freeman holds an MFA in Writing and Literature from Bennington College. A former poet-in-residence for the Putnam County Arts Council, she is a columnist for Living & Being magazine and a three-time winner of the Hudson Valley Talespinners short story contest. Her works have been published in literary journals and included in GIRLS: An Anthology. You can find her swing dancing in the Hudson Valley, NY. (http://www.got2lindy.com/)