By Stuart Mitchner
He is the most daring and the proudest poetic spirit of his time.
—Robert Schumann on Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)
There is something of the innermost soul of poetry in everything he ever wrote.
—Alfred Tennyson on John Keats (1795-1821)
At this time last year I was matching the power and poignance of Chopin’s music with television images of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, mothers and children fleeing to Poland, gazing out from rain-streaked train windows. For the past week, I’ve been listening again to Chopin while reading Princeton Professor Susan Wolfson’s A Greeting of the Spirit: Selected Poetry of John Keats (Harvard University Press $35). So, no surprise, I’ve been finding Chopin in Keats and Keats in Chopin.
On Chopin’s seventh birthday, March 1, 1817, Keats published his first book, Poems, which contained “To Kosciusko,” a sonnet celebrating the leader of Poland’s 1794 rebellion against Prussian and Russian rule. It’s possible that one of Chopin’s British acquaintances called the poem to his attention during the U.K. visits of 1837 and 1848. Chopin played the last concert of his life on November 16, 1848, at the Guildhall in London, a benefit for Polish refugees (“my compatriots”). He died a year later in Paris. more