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When Keats, at last beyond the curtain
of love’s distraction, lay dying in his room
on the Piazza di Spagna, the melody of the Bernini
Fountain “filling him like flowers,”
he held his breath like a coin, looked out
into the moonlight and thought he saw snow.
He did not suppose it was fever or the body’s
weakness turning the mind. He thought, “England!”
and there he was, secretly, for the rest 
of his improvidently short life: up to his neck
in sleigh bells and the impossibly English cries
of street vendors, perfect
and affectionate as his soul.
For days the snow and statuary sang him so far
beyond regret that if now you walk rancorless
and alone there, in the piazza, the white shadow
of his last words to Severn, “Don’t be frightened,”
may enter you.

—Christopher Howell

From Light’s Ladder
University of Washington Press, 2004

Copyright 2004 Christopher Howell.
All rights reserved.

Reprinted by permission of University of Washington Press. Copyright 2004 by Christopher Howell. For further permissions information, contact Denise Clark, University of Washington Press, 1326 5th Ave., Ste. 555, Seattle, WA 98101, (206) 543-4057, [email protected].

Poetry 180

About the Poet

Christopher Howell is the author of nine poetry collections, including Dreamless and Possible: Poems New and Selected (University of Washington Press, 2013).

Learn more about Christopher Howell at Eastern Oregon University.