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Hell is Heaven!

Dreamed 1819 by John Keats
from a letter to George and Georgiana Keats, quoted in The Oxford Book of Dreams (ed. Stephen Brook, 1983)

The fifth canto of Dante pleases me more and more--it's that one in which he meets with Paulo and Francesca [famous adulterers who truly loved; Dante puts them in the first circle of Hell, floating together, untortured]--I had passed many days in rather a low state of mind and in the midst of them I dreamt of being in that region of Hell.

The dream was one of the most delightful enjoyments I ever had in my life--I floated about the whirling atmosphere as it is described with a beautiful figure to whose lips mine were joined as it seem'd for an age--and in the midst of all this cold and darkness I was warm--even flowery tree tops sprung up and we rested on them sometimes with the lightness of a cloud till the wind blew us away again--

I tried a sonnet upon it; there are fourteen lines but nothing of what I felt in it--O that I could dream it every night...

Paulo and Francesca, famous lovers, floating in the first circle of Hell. Painting by Bianchi, 1877. Click to enlarge.


Hell as the highest bliss? Keat's older contemporary Blake struggled with similar dreams and visions denouncing religious repression as satanic, and free love as the real divine commandment. He suffered socially for it. It makes me wonder if Keats abandoned this sonnet partly because, even if successful, it would have offended many contemporary readers.

--Chris Wayan

Paulo and Francesca, famous lovers, floating in the first circle of Hell. Painting by Lionel Noel Royer.

LISTS AND LINKS: hell - paradise - love - flying - poets - out of the closet! - same dreamer meets La Belle Dame Sans Merci - Dante

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