Having made several failed attempts to copy the poem and preserve the formatting, I’ve given up (it was that or engage in an act of what is apparently known as Neo Luddism). So you can read the poem here, at the Poetry Foundation.
Sometimes I do really want to go to Lethe, which these days this involves nothing more shocking than Pinot Grigio, box sets, ice cream and various other minor vices. But really, I’m with John all the way. I don’t think you can have one without the other—or, as CS Lewis’ wife puts it in Shadowlands, ‘the joy now is part of the sorrow later’. The ‘weeping cloud…fosters the droop-headed flowers all’ even at the same time as it ‘hides the green hill in an April shroud’. Keats just tells it how it is: to say that ‘Joy’s hand is ever at his lips/Bidding adieu’ is simply to acknowledge joy’s transitory nature; and he asks us not to seek out gloom but rather to accept it as a part of things. The zenith is only a zenith because the nadir exists, too.
As someone who spends much of her time supporting people to make room for the painful parts of themselves and their experience—to trust their own sadness—this poem goes straight to my heart (though I do see that ‘Go not to Lethe’ as the name for my counselling practice might alienate quite a few potential clients). It’s always a joy for me when a client makes room for their sorrow—sees, even, that it has something to give them: an experience of gratitude, a sense of self-compassion, some information about what they might choose to do differently, next time.
Thus, even if I had a choice, which I don’t, I would choose, as Keats does, to feel the sorrow and the joy, rather than neither. This is, of course, easier to feel convinced of when you’re in one of the pleasure bits, which is why I’m very grateful this poem exists (as well as for the fact that, as a thing of beauty, it is itself a joy forever). Thanks for the reminder, John.