(When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone)
I eat oatmeal for breakfast.
I make it on the hot plate and put skimmed milk on it.
I eat it alone.
I am aware it is not good to eat oatmeal alone.
Its consistency is such that is better for your mental health if
somebody eats it with you.
That is why I often think up an imaginary companion to have
Possibly it is even worse to eat oatmeal with an imaginary
Nevertheless, yesterday morning, I ate my oatmeal porridge, as he
called it with John Keats.
Keats said I was absolutely right to invite him:
due to its glutinous texture, gluey lumpishness, hint of slime,
and unsual willingness to disintigrate, oatmeal should not be
He said that in his opinion, however, it is perfectly OK to eat
it with an imaginary companion, and that he himself had enjoyed
memorable porridges with Edmund Spenser and John Milton.
Even if eating oatmeal with an imaginary companion is not as
wholesome as Keats claims, still, you can learn something from
Yesterday morning, for instance, Keats told me about writing the
"Ode to a Nightingale."
He had a heck of a time finishing it those were his words "Oi 'ad
a 'eck of a toime," he said, more or less, speaking through his
He wrote it quickly, on scraps of paper, which he then stuck in
but when he got home he couldn't figure out the order of the
stanzas, and he and a friend spread the papers on a table, and
they made some sense of them, but he isn't sure to this day if
they got it right.
An entire stanza may have slipped into the lining of his jacket
through a hole in his pocket.
He still wonders about the occasional sense of drift between
stanzas, and the way here and there a line will go into the
configuration of a Moslem at prayer, then raise itself up and
peer about, and then lay \ itself down slightly off the mark,
causing the poem to move forward with a reckless, shining
He said someone told him that later in life Wordsworth heard
about the scraps of paper on the table, and tried shuffling some
stanzas of his own, but only made matters worse.
I would not have known any of this but for my reluctance to eat
When breakfast was over, John recited "To Autumn."
He recited it slowly, with much feeling, and he articulated the
words lovingly, and his odd accent sounded sweet.
He didn't offer the story of writing "To Autumn," I doubt if
there is much of one.
But he did say the sight of a just-harvested oat field go thim
started on it, and two of the lines, "For Summer has o'er-brimmed
their clammy cells" and "Thou watchest the last oozings hours by
hours," came to him while eating oatmeal alone.
I can see him drawing a spoon through the stuff, gazing into the
glimmering furrows, muttering.
Maybe there is no sublime; only the shining of the amnion's
For supper tonight I am going to have a baked potato left over
I am aware that a leftover baked potato is damp, slippery, and
simultaneaously gummy and crumbly, and therefore I'm going to
invite Patrick Kavanagh to join me.
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