ESL – John Keats

23 February

John Keats died on this day February 23, 1821

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Born in London, England, on October 31, 1795, John Keats devoted his short life to the perfection of poetry marked by vivid imagery, great sensuous appeal and an attempt to express a philosophy through classical legend.

Early Years

A revered English poet whose short life spanned just 25 years, John Keats was born October 31, 1795, in London, England. He was the oldest of Thomas and Frances Keats’ four children.  Keats lost his parents at an early age. He was eight years old when his father, a livery stable-keeper, was killed after being trampled by a horse.

Early Poetry

Keats’ began a career in medicine, but it never truly took off. Even as he studied medicine, Keats’ devotion to literature and the arts never ceased. Through his friend, Cowden Clarke, whose father was the headmaster at Enfield School, Keats met publisher, Leigh Hunt of The Examiner. In addition to affirming Keats’ standing as a poet, Hunt also introduced the young poet to a group of other English poets, including Percy Bysshe Shelley and Williams Wordsworth.

In 1817 Keats leveraged his new friendships to publish his first volume of poetry, Poems by John Keats. The following year, Keats’ published “Endymion,” a mammoth four-thousand line poem based on the Greek myth of the same name.  Keats was also formulating the thinking behind his most famous doctrine, Negative Capability, which is the idea that humans are capable of transcending intellectual or social constraints and far exceed, creatively or intellectually, what human nature is thought to allow.

The Mature Poet

In the summer of 1818, Keats took a walking tour in Northern England and Scotland. He returned home later that year to care for his brother, Tom, who’d fallen deeply ill with tuberculosis.

Keats, who around this time fell in love with a woman named Fanny Brawne, continued to write. He’d proven prolific for much of the past year. His work included his first Shakespearean sonnet, “When I have fears that I may cease to be,” which was published in January 1818.

Two months later, Keats published “Isabella,” a poem that tells the story of a woman who falls in love with a man beneath her social standing, instead of the man her family has chosen her to marry. The work was based on a story from Italian poet Giovanni Boccaccio, and it’s one Keats himself would grow to dislike.

His work also included the beautiful “To Autumn,” a sensuous work published in 1820 that describes ripening fruit, sleepy workers, and a maturing sun. The poem, and others, demonstrated a style Keats himself had crafted all his own, one that was filled with more sensualities than any contemporary Romantic poetry.

Keats’ writing also revolved around a poem he called “Hyperion,” an ambitious Romantic piece inspired by Greek myth that told the story of the Titans’ despondency after their losses to the Olympians.

In all, the poet published three volumes of poetry during his life but managed to sell just a combined 200 copies of his work by the time of his death in 1821. His third and final volume of poetry, Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems, was published in July 1820.

Final Years

In 1819 Keats contracted tuberculosis. His health deteriorated quickly. Soon after his last volume of poetry was published, he ventured off to Italy with his close friend, the painter Joseph Severn, on the advice of his doctor, who had told him he needed to be in a warmer climate for the winter.

Keats arrived in Rome in November of that year and for a brief time started to feel better. But within a month, he was back in bed, suffering from a high temperature. The last few months of his life proved particularly painful for the poet.

Keats’ death came on February 23, 1821.

Thank you for reading my blog.

Gordon

 

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