Jonh Keats



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The life of John Keats
Keats was one of the most important figures of early nineteenth-century Romanticism, a movement that espoused the sanctity of emotion and imagination, and privileged the beauty of the natural world.
Keats was born in 1795 to a lower-middle-class family in London. When he was still young, he lost both his parents. His mother succumbed to tuberculosis, the disease that eventually killed Keats himself. When he was fifteen, Keats entered into a medical apprenticeship, and eventually he went to medical school. But by the time he turned twenty, he abandoned his medical training to devote himself wholly to poetry. He published his first poem in 1818, the Endymion, a long, mythological poem. Keats's brother Tom died of tuberculosis in December 1818, and Keats moved in with a friend in Hampstead.
In Hampstead, he fell in love with a young girl named Fanny Brawne. During this time, Keats began to experience the extraordinary creative inspiration that enabled him to write, at a frantic rate, all his best poems in the time before he died. His health and his finances declined sharply, and he set off for Italy in the summer of 1820, hoping the warmer climate might restore his health. He never returned home. His death brought to an untimely end one of the most extraordinary poetic careers of the nineteenth century. Keats never achieved widespread recognition for his work in his own life (his bitter request for his tombstone: "Here lies one whose name was writ on water"), but he was sustained by a deep inner confidence in his own ability. Shortly before his death, he remarked that he believed he would be among "the English poets" when he had died.
He was buried in the Protestant cemetery at Rome.
Keats wrote a series of masterful poems during his life:
• The Eve of St Agnes, written in Spenserian stanzas, and characterised by those features which are conventionally called “romantic”; here the atmosphere is one symbolic of the Middle Ages, where superstition, art, ritual and luxury, form a background against which evil threatens perfect love;
• The great odes, Ode to a Nightingale, Ode on a Grecian Urn, to Autumn, Ode on Melancholy, to Psyche, where the poet explores the relations between pleasure and pain, happiness and melancholy, art and life, reality and imagination;
• The ballad La Belle Dame sans Merci, which displays once more a taste for medieval themes and form;
• Hyperion, begun in 1818 and published, unfinished, in 1820, which shows the influence of Milton in its sonorous blank verse.
The substance of his poetry
His lyrical poems aren’t fragments of a continual spiritual autobiography, like the lyrics of Shelley and Byron. Certainly there is some deeply felt personal experience behind the odes of 1819; but the significant fact is that this experience is behind the odes, not their substance. Moreover, the poetical personal pronoun “I” does not stand for a human being linked to the events of his time, but for a universal one. Another feature of Keats’s striking departure from the central creed of Romanticism is indicated by his remark: “scenery is fine, but human nature is finer”.
The common Romantic tendency to identify scenes and landscapes with subjective moods and emotions is rarely present in his poetry; it has nothing of the Wordsworthian pantheistic conviction, and no sense of mystery.
The role of imagination
It was his belief in the supreme value of the Imagination which made him a Romantic poet. The imagination of which Keats’s poems are truly the fruit takes two main forms. In the first place, the world of his poetry –of the long narrative poems in particular– is predominantly artificial, one that he imagines rather than reflects from direct experience. Furthermore, Keats has all the Romantic fondness for the unfamiliar and strange, and for the remote in place and time. In the second place, Keats’s poetry stems from imagination in the sense that a great deal of his work, even of the odes, is a vision of what he would like human life to be like, stimulated by his own experience of pain and misery.
Negative capability
The poet, in keats’ view, is endowed with what he called “negative capability”, that is the ability to experience “uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason” Negativity refers to the capability the poet has to deny his certainties and personality in order to identify himself with the object which is the source of his inspiration and the place where Truth resides. Keats identifies beauty and truth as the only type of knowledge, as he affirms in the 2 last lines of ode on a Grecian urn.
This concept of beauty paves the way for aestheticism, but it still a romantic feature because of its moral aim.
Beauty and art
Many of the ideas and themes evident in Keats's great odes are quintessentially Romantic concerns: the beauty of nature, the relation between imagination and creativity, the response of the passions to beauty and suffering, and the transience of human life in time.
What strikes his imagination most is beauty. In fact, the contemplation of beauty is the central theme of Keat’s poetry. It is mainly the classical Greek world that inspires Keats. To him, as to the Hellenes, the expression of beauty is the ideal of all art. thus the world of Greek beliefs lives again in his verse, re-created and re-interpreted with the eyes of a Romantic.
His first apprehension of beauty proceeds from the senses, from the concreteness of physical sensations. All the senses, not only the nobler ones, sight and hearing, as in Wordsworth’s poetry, are involved in this process. This physical beauty is caught in all the forms nature acquires, in the colours it displays, in the sweetness of its perfumes, in the curves of a flower, in a woman. Beauty can also produce a much deeper experience of joy, as Keats affirmed in the opening line of Endymion, “A thing of Beauty is a Joy for ever”, and it introduces a sort of spiritual beauty, that is the one of love, friendship and poetry. These two kinds of beauty are closely interwoven, since the former linked to life, enjoyment, decay and death, is the expression of the latter, related to eternity.