I know last week I said I would continue with my “romantic and not-so-romantic couples of the Regency” thread, but I discovered that today is the anniversary of the death of John Keats, in 1821. So I decided to talk about that instead. Stay tuned next week for more romantic high-jinks! (Or maybe some hot guys, if I can find one Megan missed…)
Of all the romantic poets, Keats is my favorite based solely on the poetry. His life is not as wild as Shelley and Byron (for one thing he lived for such a short time, to to the age of 26, narrowly beating Shelley for “youngest death”), but his poetry has a beauty and sophistication, a sensual imagery, that is hard to beat.
He was born in Moorgate, London in 1795, the son of a hostler (his father’s pub still stands, and is now called “Keats the Grove”). But his childhood had an early end with the death of his father seven years later. Keats grew up with his mother, grandmother, and 3 siblings, until his mother died of tuberculosis in 1810. John soon found himself entrusted with the care of his younger brother, Tom, who also suffered from tuberculosis. He managed to travel in Scotland and Ireland, where he composed his epic poem Endymion. But this poem, as so many after them, was the focus of much abuse from critics. In 1818, Tom died and John found he, too, suffered from the disease.
He then moved to Hampstead, where he lived next door to Fanny Brawne, his one love. But the relationship was cut short when Keats was forced to leave damp London in 1820 and go to Italy. (Fanny’s comment in her diary in his departure–“Mr. Keats has left Hampstead.” Scandalous!!!).
Italy didn’t help. Keats died in 1821, and was buried in the Protestant cemetery in Rome. He asked that his tombstone read only “Here lies one whose name was writ in water,” but his friends took the liberty of adding “This grave contains all that was mortal, of a YOUNG ENGLISH POET, who on his deathbed, in the bitterness of his heart, at the malicious power of his enemies, desired these words to be engraven on his tomb stone” (one in the eye for those nasty reviewers!).
Shelley blamed Keats’ death on an article in the Quarterly Review; Byron wrote a poem in his honor using the words “snuffed out by an article.” Wallace Stevens describes him as the “Secretary for Porcelain” in his poem Extracts from Addresses to the Academy of Fine Ideas:
That evil made magic, as in catastrophe,
If neatly glazed, becomes the same as fruit
Of an emperor, the egg-plant of a prince.
The good is evil’s last invention.”
Some of Keats’s own poems include To a lady seen for a few moments at Vauxhall, To Autumn, Ode on Melancholy, Ode to Fanny, On seeing the Elgin Marbles for the first time, Ode to a Nightingale, and Give me Wine, Women, and Snuff. Here is the last stanza of one of my favorites, Ode on a Grecian Urn:
Of Marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in the midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,”–that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
Speaking of tomorrow, be sure and join us as Deb Marlowe and I get together for an interview about our March UK releases! Comment for copies. And sign up for our monthly newsletter at email@example.com, with “newsletter” in the subject line, so you don’t miss any of our events, special or not.