The Phoenix – Fantastic Beasts…

phoenix…and where to find them.

Apologies to Harry Potter fans, I am not talking about the JK Rowling film. Although the fact that my ticket is booked for tomorrow  and I am in a state of heightened anticipation, may have contributed to making me think of something very slightly related (but not really) that happened recently.

At the Winchester Poetry festival last month I had booked to attend a lecture about John Keats’ time in Winchester. Unfortunately my friend and I were late and there was some debate at the door as to whether they would let us in.Eventually we were allowed a side seat where we sat at right angles to the speaker facing a rising wall with the proper seats above us. Even straining our necks we could only see a slither of the accompanying slide show.

One slide flashed up and was gone in an instance as the speaker moved on. I recognised the slide and wanted to know more. All he said was something like ‘this is a tile Keats was obsessed with.’ It was an old encaustic tile of a cream phoenix on a terracotta background. The speaker had talked about Keats visiting Winchester cathedral so I assumed that was where Keats had seen the object of his obsession. I wonder now whether this was an hallucination of mine,my friend didn’t see the slide at all.

I happen to be very fond (a minor obsession) of medieval encaustic tiles myself.

But the phoenix was of particular interest to me as I have the exact tile in my bedroom fireplace! Mine however are reproductions made by Priory Tiles of Kent in the traditional manner.


I could only find one phoenix in Keats’ poems. The second, and final stanza, of On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again is copied below:


When through the old oak Forest I am gone,

Let me not wander in a barren dream,

But, when I am consumed in the fire,

Give me new Phoenix wings to fly at my desire.

(written in 1818, the year before he visited Winchester)

Two sources online, Harold Bloom in his book ‘John Keats’ and a Poem of the day article by Carol Rumen in The Guardian, where she discusses Shakespeare’s ‘The Phoenix and the Turtle’, both suggest that Keats, ill and fearing death, saw himself as a Phoenix. A Phoenix, as all Harry Potter fans know, dies and is re-born in a blaze of fire.

Next time I go to Winchester I will visit the cathedral and see if I can find his phoenix tile. I hope it wasn’t too battered and fading when he saw it in 1818.

nanopoblano2016Nano Poblano where posts get weirder and weirder as the month goes on….



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