Lamia

Lamia (1905) by John William Waterhouse

I just discovered that in January there was an adaptation of Keats’ Lamia on BBC Radio 4.  I’m sorry that I missed that.  Lamia is one of my favorite works, here are two passages I enjoy the most. (You can read the complete poem here)

Lamia has vivid imagery:

“She was a gordian shape of dazzling hue,
Vermilion-spotted, golden, green, and blue;
Striped like a zebra, freckled like a pard,
Eyed like a peacock, and all crimson barr’d;
And full of silver moons, that, as she breathed,
Dissolv’d, or brighter shone, or interwreathed
Their lustres with the gloomier tapestries -“

Perhaps my favorite part is the description of transformation:

Left to herself, the serpent now began
To change; her elfin blood in madness ran,
Her mouth foam’d, and the grass, therewith besprent,
Wither’d at dew so sweet and virulent;
Her eyes in torture fix’d, and anguish drear,
Hot, glaz’d, and wide, with lid-lashes all sear,
Flash’d phosphor and sharp sparks, without one cooling tear.
The colours all inflam’d throughout her train,
She writh’d about, convuls’d with scarlet pain:
A deep volcanian yellow took the place
Of all her milder-mooned body’s grace;
And, as the lava ravishes the mead,
Spoilt all her silver mail, and golden brede;
Made gloom of all her frecklings, streaks and bars,
Eclips’d her crescents, and lick’d up her stars:
So that, in moments few, she was undrest
Of all her sapphires, greens, and amethyst,
And rubious-argent: of all these bereft,
Nothing but pain and ugliness were left.
Still shone her crown; that vanish’d, also she
Melted and disappear’d as suddenly;
And in the air, her new voice luting soft,
Cried, “Lycius! gentle Lycius!” – Borne aloft
With the bright mists about the mountains hoar
These words dissolv’d: Crete’s forests heard no more.

Keats wrote to his brother in 1819 ‘I have been reading over a part of a short poem I have composed lately, called Lamia, and I am certain there is that sort of fire in it that must take hold of people some way; give them either pleasant or unpleasant sensation–what they want is a sensation of some sort.’  (via online-literature)

Oh yes, there is fire in it indeed.

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2 thoughts on “Lamia

  1. I saw this at a Waterhouse exhibition several years back. Quite big in scale, it was one of my favourites. The brushwork on her dress was sublime. Waterhouse has that fantastic ability to make drapery and skin seem to almost shimmer.

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