by John Keats (1795 - 1821)

What is more gentle than a wind in...
Language: English 
Available translation(s): CAT FRE
What is more gentle than a wind in summer? 
What is more soothing than the pretty hummer 
That stays one moment in an open flower, 
And buzzes cheerily from bower to bower? 
What is more tranquil than a musk-rose blowing 
In a green island, far from all men’s knowing? 
More healthful than the leafiness of dales? 
More secret than a nest of nightingales? 
More serene than Cordelia’s countenance? 
More full of visions than a high romance? 
What, but thee Sleep? Soft closer of our eyes! 
Low murmurer of tender lullabies! 
Light hoverer around our happy pillows! 
Wreather of poppy buds, and weeping willows! 
Silent entangler of a beauty’s tresses! 
Most happy listener! when the morning blesses 
Thee for enlivening all the cheerful eyes 
That glance so brightly at the new sun-rise. 

But what is higher beyond thought than thee? 
Fresher than berries of a mountain tree? 
More strange, more beautiful, more smooth, more regal, 
Than wings of swans, than doves, than dim-seen eagle? 
What is it? And to what shall I compare it? 
It has a glory, and nought else can share it: 
The thought thereof is awful, sweet, and holy, 
Chacing away all worldliness and folly; 
Coming sometimes like fearful claps of thunder, 
Or the low rumblings earth’s regions under; 
And sometimes like a gentle whispering 
Of all the secrets of some wond’rous thing 
That breathes about us in the vacant air; 
So that we look around with prying stare, 
Perhaps to see shapes of light, aerial lymning, 
And catch soft floatings from a faint-heard hymning; 
To see the laurel wreath, on high suspended, 
That is to crown our name when life is ended. 
Sometimes it gives a glory to the voice, 
And from the heart up-springs, rejoice! rejoice! 
Sounds which will reach the Framer of all things, 
And die away in ardent mutterings. 

No one who once the glorious sun has seen, 
And all the clouds, and felt his bosom clean 
For his great Maker’s presence, but must know 
What ’tis I mean, and feel his being glow: 
Therefore no insult will I give his spirit 
By telling what he sees from native merit. 

O Poesy! for thee I hold my pen 
That am not yet a glorious denizen 
Of thy wide heaven - Should I rather kneel 
Upon some mountain-top until I feel 
A glowing splendour round about me hung, 
And echo back the voice of thine own tongue? 
O Poesy! for thee I grasp my pen 
That am not yet a glorious denizen 
Of thy wide heaven; yet, to my ardent prayer, 
Yield from thy sanctuary some clear air, 
Smoothed for intoxication by the breath 
Of flowering bays, that I may die a death 
Of luxury, and my young spirit follow 
The morning sun-beams to the great Apollo 
Like a fresh sacrifice; or, if I can bear 
The o’erwhelming sweets, ’twill bring me to the fair 
Visions of all places: a bowery nook 
Will be elysium - an eternal book 
Whence I may copy many a lovely saying 
About the leaves, and flowers - about the playing 
Of nymphs in woods, and fountains; and the shade 
Keeping a silence round a sleeping maid; 
And many a verse from so strange influence 
That we must ever wonder how, and whence 
It came. Also imaginings will hover 
Round my fire-side, and haply there discover 
Vistas of solemn beauty, where I’d wander 
In happy silence, like the clear meander 
Through its lone vales; and where I found a spot 
Of awfuller shade, or an enchanted grot, 
Or a green hill o’erspread with chequered dress 
Of flowers, and fearful from its loveliness, 
Write on my tablets all that was permitted, 
All that was for our human senses fitted. 
Then the events of this wide world I’d seize 
Like a strong giant, and my spirit teaze 
Till at its shoulders it should proudly see 
Wings to find out an immortality. 

Stop and consider! life is but a day; 
A fragile dew-drop on its perilous way 
From a tree’s summit; a poor Indian’s sleep 
While his boat hastens to the monstrous steep 
Of Montmorenci. Why so sad a moan? 
Life is the rose’s hope while yet unblown; 
The reading of an ever-changing tale; 
The light uplifting of a maiden’s veil; 
A pigeon tumbling in clear summer air; 
A laughing school-boy, without grief or care, 
Riding the springy branches of an elm. 1

O for ten years, that I may overwhelm 
Myself in poesy; so I may do the deed 
That my own soul has to itself decreed. 
Then I will pass the countries that I see 
In long perspective, and continually 
Taste their pure fountains. First the realm I’ll pass 
Of Flora, and old Pan: sleep in the grass, 
Feed upon apples red, and strawberries, 
And choose each pleasure that my fancy sees; 
Catch the white-handed nymphs in shady places, 
To woo sweet kisses from averted faces, - 
Play with their fingers, touch their shoulders white 
Into a pretty shrinking with a bite 
As hard as lips can make it: till agreed, 
A lovely tale of human life we’ll read. 
And one will teach a tame dove how it best 
May fan the cool air gently o’er my rest; 
Another, bending o’er her nimble tread, 
Will set a green robe floating round her head, 
And still will dance with ever varied ease, 
Smiling upon the flowers and the trees: 
Another will entice me on, and on 
Through almond blossoms and rich cinnamon, 
Till in the bosom of a leafy world 
We rest in silence, like two gems upcurl’d 
In the recesses of a pearly shell. 

And can I ever bid these joys farewell? 
Yes, I must pass them for a nobler life, 
Where I may find the agonies, the strife 
Of human hearts: for lo! I see afar, 
O’er sailing the blue cragginess, a car 
And steeds with streamy manes - the charioteer 
Looks out upon the winds with glorious fear: 
And now the numerous tramplings quiver lightly 
Along a huge cloud’s ridge; and now with sprightly 
Wheel downward come they into fresher skies, 
Tipt round with silver from the sun’s bright eyes. 
Still downward with capacious whirl they glide; 
And now I see them on a green-hill’s side 
In breezy rest among the nodding stalks. 
The charioteer with wond’rous gesture talks 
To the trees and mountains; and there soon appear 
Shapes of delight, of mystery, and fear, 
Passing along before a dusky space 
Made by some mighty oaks: as they would chase 
Some ever-fleeting music on they sweep. 
Lo! how they murmur, laugh, and smile, and weep: 
Some with upholden hand and mouth severe; 
Some with their faces muffled to the ear 
Between their arms; some, clear in youthful bloom, 
Go glad and smilingly athwart the gloom; 
Some looking back, and some with upward gaze; 
Yes, thousands in a thousand different ways 
Flit onward - now a lovely wreath of girls 
Dancing their sleek hair into tangled curls; 
And now broad wings. Most awfully intent 
The driver of those steeds is forward bent, 
And seems to listen: O that I might know 
All that he writes with such a hurrying glow. 

The visions all are fled - the car is fled 
Into the light of heaven, and in their stead 
A sense of real things comes doubly strong, 
And, like a muddy stream, would bear along 
My soul to nothingness: but I will strive 
Against all doubtings, and will keep alive 
The thought of that same chariot, and the strange 
Journey it went. 
Is there so small a range 

In the present strength of manhood, that the high 
Imagination cannot freely fly 
As she was wont of old? prepare her steeds, 
Paw up against the light, and do strange deeds 
Upon the clouds? Has she not shewn us all? 
From the clear space of ether, to the small 
Breath of new buds unfolding? From the meaning 
Of Jove’s large eye-brow, to the tender greening 
Of April meadows? Here her altar shone, 
E’en in this isle; and who could paragon 
The fervid choir that lifted up a noise 
Of harmony, to where it aye will poise 
Its mighty self of convoluting sound, 
Huge as a planet, and like that roll round, 
Eternally around a dizzy void? 
Ay, in those days the Muses were nigh cloy’d 
With honors; nor had any other care 
Than to sing out and sooth their wavy hair. 

Could all this be forgotten? Yes, a sc[h]ism 
Nurtured by foppery and barbarism, 
Made great Apollo blush for this his land. 
Men were thought wise who could not understand 
His glories: with a puling infant’s force 
They sway’d about upon a rocking horse, 
And thought it Pegasus. Ah dismal soul’d! 
The winds of heaven blew, the ocean roll’d 
Its gathering waves - ye felt it not. The blue 
Bared its eternal bosom, and the dew 
Of summer nights collected still to make 
The morning precious: beauty was awake! 
Why were ye not awake? But ye were dead 
To things ye knew not of, - were closely wed 
To musty laws lined out with wretched rule 
And compass vile: so that ye taught a school 
Of dolts to smooth, inlay, and clip, and fit, 
Till, like the certain wands of Jacob’s wit, 
Their verses tallied. Easy was the task: 
A thousand handicraftsmen wore the mask 
Of Poesy. Ill-fated, impious race! 
That blasphemed the bright Lyrist to his face, 
And did not know it, - no, they went about, 
Holding a poor, decrepid standard out 
Mark’d with most flimsy mottos, and in large 
The name of one Boileau! 
O ye whose charge 

It is to hover round our pleasant hills! 
Whose congregated majesty so fills 
My boundly reverence, that I cannot trace 
Your hallowed names, in this unholy place, 
So near those common folk; did not their shames 
Affright you? Did our old lamenting Thames 
Delight you? Did ye never cluster round 
Delicious Avon, with a mournful sound, 
And weep? Or did ye wholly bid adieu 
To regions where no more the laurel grew? 
Or did ye stay to give a welcoming 
To some lone spirits who could proudly sing 
Their youth away, and die? ’Twas even so: 
But let me think away those times of woe: 
Now ’tis a fairer season; ye have breathed 
Rich benedictions o’er us; ye have wreathed 
Fresh garlands: for sweet music has been heard 
In many places; - some has been upstirr’d 
From out its crystal dwelling in a lake, 
By a swan’s ebon bill; from a thick brake, 
Nested and quiet in a valley mild, 
Bubbles a pipe; fine sounds are floating wild 
About the earth: happy are ye and glad. 
These things are doubtless: yet in truth we’ve had 
Strange thunders from the potency of song; 
Mingled indeed with what is sweet and strong, 
From majesty: but in clear truth the themes 
Are ugly clubs, the Poets Polyphemes 
Disturbing the grand sea. A drainless shower 
Of light is poesy; ’tis the supreme of power; 
’Tis might half slumb’ring on its own right arm. 
The very archings of her eye-lids charm 
A thousand willing agents to obey, 
And still she governs with the mildest sway: 
But strength alone though of the Muses born 
Is like a fallen angel: trees uptorn, 
Darkness, and worms, and shrouds, and sepulchres 
Delight it; for it feeds upon the burrs, 
And thorns of life; forgetting the great end 245 
Of poesy, that it should be a friend 
To sooth the cares, and lift the thoughts of man. 

Yet I rejoice: a myrtle fairer than 
E’er grew in Paphos, from the bitter weeds 
Lifts its sweet head into the air, and feeds 
A silent space with ever sprouting green. 
All tenderest birds there find a pleasant screen, 
Creep through the shade with jaunty fluttering, 
Nibble the little cupped flowers and sing. 
Then let us clear away the choaking thorns 
From round its gentle stem; let the young fawns, 
Yeaned in after times, when we are flown, 
Find a fresh sward beneath it, overgrown 
With simple flowers: let there nothing be 
More boisterous than a lover’s bended knee; 
Nought more ungentle than the placid look 
Of one who leans upon a closed book; 
Nought more untranquil than the grassy slopes 
Between two hills. All hail delightful hopes! 
As she was wont, th’ imagination 265 
Into most lovely labyrinths will be gone, 
And they shall be accounted poet kings 
Who simply tell the most heart-easing things. 
O may these joys be ripe before I die. 

Will not some say that I presumptuously 
Have spoken? that from hastening disgrace 
’Twere better far to hide my foolish face? 
That whining boyhood should with reverence bow 
Ere the dread thunderbolt could reach? How! 
If I do hide myself, it sure shall be 
In the very fane, the light of Poesy: 
If I do fall, at least I will be laid 
Beneath the silence of a poplar shade; 
And over me the grass shall be smooth shaven; 
And there shall be a kind memorial graven. 
But off Despondence! miserable bane! 
They should not know thee, who athirst to gain 
A noble end, are thirsty every hour. 
What though I am not wealthy in the dower 
Of spanning wisdom; though I do not know 
The shiftings of the mighty winds that blow 
Hither and thither all the changing thoughts 
Of man: though no great minist’ring reason sorts 
Out the dark mysteries of human souls 
To clear conceiving: yet there ever rolls 
A vast idea before me, and I glean 
Therefrom my liberty; thence too I’ve seen 
The end and aim of Poesy. ’Tis clear 
As anything most true; as that the year 
Is made of the four seasons - manifest 
As a large cross, some old cathedral’s crest, 
Lifted to the white clouds. Therefore should I 
Be but the essence of deformity, 
A coward, did my very eye-lids wink 
At speaking out what I have dared to think. 
Ah! rather let me like a madman run 
Over some precipice; let the hot sun 
Melt my Dedalian wings, and drive me down 
Convuls’d and headlong! Stay! an inward frown 
Of conscience bids me be more calm awhile. 
An ocean dim, sprinkled with many an isle, 
Spreads awfully before me. How much toil! 
How many days! what desperate turmoil! 
Ere I can have explored its widenesses. 
Ah, what a task! upon my bended knees, 310 
I could unsay those - no, impossible! 
For sweet relief I’ll dwell 

On humbler thoughts, and let this strange assay 
Begun in gentleness die so away. 
E’en now all tumult from my bosom fades: 
I turn full hearted to the friendly aids 
That smooth the path of honour; brotherhood, 
And friendliness the nurse of mutual good. 
The hearty grasp that sends a pleasant sonnet 
Into the brain ere one can think upon it; 
The silence when some rhymes are coming out; 
And when they’re come, the very pleasant rout: 
The message certain to be done to-morrow. 
’Tis perhaps as well that it should be to borrow 
Some precious book from out its snug retreat, 
To cluster round it when we next shall meet. 
Scarce can I scribble on; for lovely airs 
Are fluttering round the room like doves in pairs; 
Many delights of that glad day recalling, 
When first my senses caught their tender falling. 
And with these airs come forms of elegance 
Stooping their shoulders o’er a horse’s prance, 
Careless, and grand - fingers soft and round 
Parting luxuriant curls; - and the swift bound 
Of Bacchus from his chariot, when his eye 335 
Made Ariadne’s cheek look blushingly. 
Thus I remember all the pleasant flow 
Of words at opening a portfolio. 

Things such as these are ever harbingers 
To trains of peaceful images: the stirs 
Of a swan’s neck unseen among the rushes: 
A linnet starting all about the bushes: 
A butterfly, with golden wings broad parted 
Nestling a rose, convuls’d as though it smarted 
With over pleasure - many, many more, 
Might I indulge at large in all my store 
Of luxuries: yet I must not forget 
Sleep, quiet with his poppy coronet: 
For what there may be worthy in these rhymes 
I partly owe to him: and thus, the chimes 
Of friendly voices had just given place 
To as sweet a silence, when I ’gan retrace 
The pleasant day, upon a couch at ease. 
It was a poet’s house who keeps the keys 
Of pleasure’s temple. Round about were hung 
The glorious features of the bards who sung 
In other ages - cold and sacred busts 
Smiled at each other. Happy he who trusts 
To clear Futurity his darling fame! 
Then there were fauns and satyrs taking aim 
At swelling apples with a frisky leap 
And reaching fingers, ’mid a luscious heap 
Of vine leaves. Then there rose to view a fane 
Of liny marble, and thereto a train 
Of nymphs approaching fairly o’er the sward: 
One, loveliest, holding her white hand toward 
The dazzling sun-rise: two sisters sweet 
Bending their graceful figures till they meet 
Over the trippings of a little child: 
And some are hearing, eagerly, the wild 
Thrilling liquidity of dewy piping. 
See, in another picture, nymphs are wiping 
Cherishingly Diana’s timorous limbs; - 
A fold of lawny mantle dabbling swims 
At the bath’s edge, and keeps a gentle motion 
With the subsiding crystal: as when ocean 
Heaves calmly its broad swelling smoothiness o’er 
Its rocky marge, and balances once more 
The patient weeds; that now unshent by foam 
Feel all about their undulating home. 

Sappho’s meek head was there half smiling down 
At nothing; just as though the earnest frown 
Of over thinking had that moment gone 
From off her brow, and left her all alone. 

Great Alfred’s too, with anxious, pitying eyes, 
As if he always listened to the sighs 
Of the goaded world; and Kosciusko’s worn 
By horrid suffrance - mightily forlorn. 

Petrarch, outstepping from the shady green, 
Starts at the sight of Laura; nor can wean 
His eyes from her sweet face. Most happy they! 
For over them was seen a free display 
Of out-spread wings, and from between them shone 
The face of Poesy: from off her throne 
She overlook’d things that I scarce could tell. 
The very sense of where I was might well 
Keep Sleep aloof: but more than that there came 
Thought after thought to nourish up the flame 
Within my breast; so that the morning light 
Surprised me even from a sleepless night; 
And up I rose refresh’d, and glad, and gay, 
Resolving to begin that very day 
These lines; and howsoever they be done, 
I leave them as a father does his son. 


B. Britten sets stanza 1
S. Gendel sets stanza 5

About the headline (FAQ)

View original text (without footnotes)
The poem is headed by a quote from Chaucer:
«As I lay in my bed slepe full unmete 
Was unto me, but why that I ne might 
Rest I ne wist, for there n’as erthly wight 
[As I suppose] had more of hertis ese 
Than I, for I n’ad sicknesse nor disese.»
1 Gendel finishes his setting with a line from later in the poem: "Could all this be forgotten?"


Musical settings (art songs, Lieder, mélodies, (etc.), choral pieces, and other vocal works set to this text), listed by composer (not necessarily exhaustive)

Available translations, adaptations, and transliterations (if applicable):

  • FRE French (Français) (Jean-Pierre Granger)
  • CAT Catalan (Català) (Salvador Pila) , title 1: "Què és més suau que l’oreig a l’estiu?", copyright © 2016, (re)printed on this website with kind permission

Researcher for this text: Emily Ezust [Administrator]

Text added to the website: 2016-07-10 00:00:00
Last modified: 2016-07-10 00:41:19
Line count: 408
Word count: 3106