While researching a question about one of Wordsworth's sonnets, I came across the article In the Ruins of Babylon: The Poetic “Genius” of John Keats by Paul Krause, which contains the following statement:

William Wordsworth rightly described Keats’ poetry as “very pretty paganism.”

I understand the reference to paganism, because Keats wrote poems such as Endymion, Hyperion and Hyperion: a Vision (or 'The Fall of Hyperion: A Dream'), which are based on figures and stories from Greek mythology. However, I have not been able to find the source of this quote on Archive.org or Google Books. Is this something that Wordsworth wrote in his letters?

1 Answer 1


It's an oral episode, recounted by the B.R. Haydon, who orchestrated the meeting, and quoted often by biographers, such as Nicholas Roe. The actual wording was a bit different. (Haydon is the "I' in the passage below. Emphasis added.)

When Wordsworth came to Town, I brought Keats to him, by his Wordsworths desire — Keats expressed to me as we walked to Queen Anne St East where Mr Monkhouse Lodged, the greatest, the purest, the most unalloyed pleasure at the prospect. Wordsworth received him kindly, & after a few minutes, Wordsworth asked him what he had been lately doing. I said he has just finished an exquisite ode to Pan — and as he had not a copy I begged Keats to repeat it — which he did in his usual half chant, (most touching) walking up & down the room — when he had done I felt really, as if I had heard a young Apollo — Wordsworth drily said 'a Very pretty piece of Paganism — '

This was unfeeling, & unworthy of his high Genius to a young Worshipper like Keats — & Keats felt it deeply — so that if Keats has said any thing severe about our Friend; it was because he was wounded — and though he dined with Wordsworth after at my table — he never forgave him.
It was nonsense of Wordsworth to take it as a bit of Paganism for the Time, the poet ought to have been a Pagan for the time — and if Wordsworth's puling Christian feelings were annoyed — it was rather ill-bred to hurt a youth, at such a moment when he actually trembled, like the String of a Lyre, when it has been touched.

Roe gives some more context in the linked book (John Keats: A New Life. Yale University Press, 2012).


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