St. Agnes’ Eve—Ah, bitter chill it was!
The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
The hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent was the flock in woolly fold:
So in 1819 Keats set down the opening of The Eve of St. Agnes. Fast forward to St. Agnes’ Eve 2016 where on another still, crisp Winter’s night one hundred odd poets and dedicated Keatsians wove their way through city commuters to gather at the Guildhall Gallery in London. The gothic architecture of The Guildhall seen at night immediately evoked the atmosphere of the poem. The Guildhall Gallery holds an impressive collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, including William Holman Hunt’s The Flight of Madeline and Porphyro that was placed centre stage for the evening.
Judith Palmer, President of the Poetry Society, had arranged a superb programme for the evening, opening with energetic performance poetry by Simon Mole, one of the Keats’ House poets, on ‘Cycling down the Edgware Road’. Simon set out clearly what the Keats House Poets are about, and how vital the funding support from the Keats Foundation has been.
Two new generation poets were next. Lucy Thynne (14) and Eleanor Penny (22) read their prize-winning poems inspired by Porphyro’s feast from the Poetry Society’s Young Poets Network competition. Go to http://www.youngpoetsnetwork.org.uk/2015/12/02/the-eve-of-st-agnes-festive-feasts-challenge/
Extracts from Keats’s poem were read by Michael Rosen, Jo Shapcott, John Hegley, Julia Bird, Mike Sims and Eva Salzman.
As all were farewelled with the wish of pleasant St. Agnes’ dreams one can’t help wondering how many checked their closets before bed, just to be sure no overzealous suitors laden with fruits and dainties were lurking.