March 13, 1983

Dear Helen—

It’s hard to believe so much time has gone by since I saw you, and I intended to have written before now if only to say again how much honored I was to have you at the reading, and to thank you again for the I lift back to Wayland. (I do hope the drive back presented no more confusions!) Anyhow, I have finally revised the four last poems in the Keats sequence, and here they are. You’ll see that I’ve proceeded pretty much in accord with your comments back in January. I’m especially indebted to you for pointing out the loose ends of syntax in the Isle of Wight poem and also the false notes there and elsewhere. What has been beyond my power (so far, anyhow) to rectify is the scanting of the Autumn ode.

You’ll see that I’ve made a gesture in that direction toward the end of the Winchester poem. Although I think I understand what troubles you, and although I continued to be awed by your argument with each rereading, my own preoccupations somehow can’t be made to take proper notice—i.e., the preoccupation with finding (or, if need be, inventing) links between Keats the English poet and the new world his brother went off to live in; which must be what causes me to connect that roar as if of earthly fire with rocketry, and thus with a leap into the twentieth century—violation of the context though I must admit it is. I can only beg your indulgence, and assure you once again of my gratitude. You’ll see that I’ve agreed with you about “the rest is silence”: I think I halfway knew it wouldn’t do, but needed to be told. I hope the solution (for which I’m indebted to one of your suggestions) will seem right to you—and that you’ll let me know if it doesn’t. The same applies to the new final stanza in the Epilogue. [Note by Willard Spiegelman: In her earlier letter to Clampitt, making recommendations, suggestions, and otherwise commenting on the sequence called “Voyages: a Homage to John Keats,” which later appeared in What the Light Was Like, Vendler objected to the use of “the rest is silence” as the last line in Winchester: The Autumn Equinox,”about Keats’s stay in that city in September, 1819, and his composition there of the ode “To Autumn.” Clampitt willingly acceded; the final line, emended and improved, is “The rest / is posthumous.”]

I forget whether I mentioned that Grand Street will be carrying the first two poems of the sequence in its spring issue. (There has been a policy decision there not to run the dedication line for the Margate poem; but I hope to include it, with your permission, when there’s a book.) More recently, Ben Sonnenberg at Grand Street has asked for three others in the sequence—the Hampstead, Isle of Wight, and Winchester ones. With the Elgin Marbles one appearing in the Kenyon Review for spring, and Chichester in (I think) the winter issue of New England Review, that leaves only the epilogue. I’m sending it to Howard Moss, though it’s so full of allusions I’m not sure even I think it’s right for the New Yorker.

I forget, also, whether I mentioned that I’m going to England—in fact, my friend and I now have our tickets about the QE2, sailing on April 16. My first objective while I’m over there is the Lake District, where I’ve never been; but I also have it in mind to follow George Eliot and Virginia Woolf around a little—not to mention John Keats himself. I did visit the house in Hampstead years ago, and have never forgotten the effect it had on me then. And as you can imagine, I’m looking forward with great eagerness to your book on the Odes.


Ever Gratefully,




“the Winchester poem”

better known as “Winchester: The Autumn Equinox”