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  • Address to the Keats-Shelley Association of America January 9, 2016
  • Mary Jacobus

Thank you, Alex [Regier], for your kind words.

I'm immensely touched and honored to be one of this year's honorees by the Keats-Shelley Association of America. My first thought was that this was a mistake—I've published almost nothing on Keats or Shelley, although a great deal on Wordsworth.

My second though was better, as second thoughts often are: this is a proleptic award. As it happens, I've been writing quite a bit about both Keats and Shelley in a forthcoming book called Reading Cy Twombly: Poetry in Paint.1 I certainly couldn't have written it without being a Romanticist.

Like many non-natives who have lived in and loved Rome, Twombly was vividly aware of the other painters, writers, and poets who had done the same before him: Poussin, Goethe, and Rilke; and especially the Romantic poets Keats and Shelley. Their poetry figures prominently in his work from the early 1960s onward.

When it came to poetry, Twombly had a taste for the offbeat: he preferred (and drew on) Keats's "Ode to Psyche" rather than the Nightingale Ode; Keats's "The Human Seasons" rather than "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer." He scissored the soaring lines of Shelley's Adonais for an elegiac collage that brought Keats and Shelley together in Rome.

Keats's "The Human Seasons" had already given him his working title for the vast, long-uncompleted painting that hangs in pride of place in the Menil's Twombly Pavilion in Houston. It's now known as "Say Goodbye, Catullus, to the shores of Asia Minor," in recognition of its Mediterranean associations.

For a long time progress on the painting stalled, with sections rolled and unrolled over several decades. The working title Twombly wrote on it was "On Mists in Idleness," quoting from the autumnal phase of "The Human Seasons" ("content to look / On mists in idleness"), as if alluding to his own inactivity.

But in the end Twombly rolled out yet more canvas and completed the painting in a rush, spurred on by his Museum of Modern Art retrospective in 1994. It turned out to be a monumental long painting, blooming finally into brilliant color from white beginnings. Like a long Romantic poem, it forms both a record of travel and a retrospect, looking back across the Mediterranean in time and space. [End Page 20]

So, for late bloomers, there's still hope. Meanwhile, here's to the next generation of Romanticists. And thank you, Keats-Shelley Association of America, for keeping these Romantic poets fresh in our minds today. [End Page 21]

Mary Jacobus
University of Cambridge


1. Mary Jacobus, Reading Cy Twombly: Poetry in Paint (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016). See also Jessica Ganga, "Mary Jacobus on Cy Twombly, 'a poet in paint,'" Princeton University Press Blog (July 25, 2016), available from



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