Tribute to John Keats

English Romantic poet John Keats was born 31 October 1795. He was one of the main figures of the second generation of Romantic poets along with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, despite his work only having been in publication for four years before his death. Although his poems were not generally well received by critics during his life, his reputation grew after his death, so that by the end of the 19th century he had become one of the most beloved of all English poets. He had a significant influence on a diverse range of poets and writers. Jorge Luis Borges stated that his first encounter with Keats was the most significant literary experience of his life. The poetry of Keats is characterised by sensual imagery, most notably in the series of odes. Today his poems and letters are some of the most popular and most analysed in English literature.His parents were unable to afford Eton or Harrow,] so in the summer of 1803 he was sent to board at John Clarke’s school in Enfield, close to his grandparents’ house. The small school had a liberal outlook and a progressive curriculum more modern than the larger, more prestigious schools In the family atmosphere at Clarke’s, Keats developed an interest in classics and history, which would stay with him throughout his short life. The headmaster’s son, Charles Cowden Clarke, also became an important mentor and friend, introducing Keats to Renaissance literature, including Tasso, Spenser, and Chapman’s translations. The young Keats has been described as a volatile character, “always in extremes”, given to indolence and fighting. However, at 13 he began focusing his energy on reading and study, winning his first academic prize in midsummer 1809.

In April 1804, when Keats was eight, his father died. From 1814 Keats had two bequests held in trust for him until his 21st birthday: £800 willed by his grandfather John Jennings (about £34,000 in today’s money) and a portion of his mother’s legacy, £8000 (about £340,000 today), to be equally divided between her living children. Money was always a great concern and difficulty for him, as he struggled to stay out of debt and make his way in the world independently.Having finished his apprenticeship with Hammond, Keats registered as a medical student at Guy’s Hospital ( King’s College London) and began  in October 1815. Within a month of starting, he was accepted as a dresser at the hospital, assisting surgeons during operations, the equivalent of a junior house surgeon today. It was a significant promotion that marked a distinct aptitude for medicine; it brought greater responsibility and a heavier workload. Keats’s long and expensive medical training with Hammond and at Guy’s Hospital led his family to assume he would pursue a lifelong career in medicine, assuring financial security,  He lodged near the hospital at 28 St Thomas’s Street in Southwark, with Henry Stephens who became a famous inventor and ink magnate. However, Keats increasingly encroached on his writing time, and he grew ambivalent about his medical career. He felt that he faced a stark choice .

He wrote , “An Imitation of Spenser,” in 1814, when he was 19 and was inspired by fellow poets such as Leigh Hunt and Lord Byron, but beleaguered by family financial crises, he suffered periods of depression. In 1816, Keats received his apothecary’s licence, which made him eligible to practise as an apothecary, physician, and surgeon, but before the end of the year he announced to his guardia4n that he was resolved to be a poet, not a surgeon]Although he continued his work and training at Guy’s, Keats devoted more and more time to the study of literature, experimenting with verse forms, particularly the sonnet In May 1816, Leigh Hunt agreed to publish the sonnet “O Solitude” in his magazine TheExaminer, a leading liberal magazine of the day. It was the first appearance in print of Keats’s poetry, and Charles Cowden Clarkedescribed it as his friend’s red letter day the first proof that Keats’s ambitions were valid. In the summer of the same year Keats went with Clarke to the seaside town of Margate to write. There he began “Calidore” and initiated the era of his great letter writing. On his return to London he took lodgings at 8 Dean Street, Southwark, and braced himself for further study in order to become a member of the Royal College of Surgeons.]In October, Clarke introduced Keats to the influential Leigh Hunt, a close friend of Byron and Shelley. Five months later came the publication of Poems, the first volume of Keats’s verse, which included “I stood tiptoe” and “Sleep and Poetry,” both strongly influenced by Hunt. The book was a critical failure, arousing little interest, although Reynolds reviewed it favourably in The Champion. Clarke commented that the book “might have emerged in Timbuctoo.” Keats’s publishers, Charles and James Ollier, felt ashamed of the book. Keats immediately changed publishers to Taylor and Hessey on Fleet Street.Unlike the Olliers, Keats’s new publishers were enthusiastic about his work.

Within a month of the publication of Poems they were planning a new Keats volume and had paid him an advance. Hessey became a steady friend to Keats and made the company’s rooms available for young writers to meet. Their publishing lists eventually included Coleridge, Hazlitt, Clare, Hogg, Carlyle and Lamb.Through Taylor and Hessey, Keats met their Eton-educated lawyer, Richard Woodhouse, who advised them on literary as well as legal matters and was deeply impressed by Poems. and supporten him as he became one of England’s greatest writers. Soon after they met, the two became close friends, and Woodhouse started to collect Keatsiana, documenting as much as he could about Keats’s poetry. This archive survives as one of the main sources of information on Keats’s work. One of Keats’s biographers represents him as Boswell to Keats’ Johnson, ceaselessly promoting the writer’s work, fighting his corner, and spurring his poetry to greater heights. In later years, Woodhouse was one of the few people to accompany Keats to Gravesend to embark on his final trip to Rome. Hunt published the essay “Three Young Poets”  and the sonnet “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer,” foreseeing great things to come. He introduced Keats to  the editor of The Times, Thomas Barnes; the writer Charles Lamb; the conductor Vincent Novello; poet John Hamilton Reynolds, and William Hazlitt, a powerful literary figure of the day. It was a decisive turning point for Keats, establishing him in the public eye Keats befriended Isabella Jones in May 1817, while on holiday in the village of Bo Peep, near Hastings. She is described as beautiful, talented and widely read, not of the top flight of society yet financially secure, an enigmatic figure who would become a part of Keats’s circle .

In early December, Keats told Abbey that he had decided to give up medicine in favour of poetry, to Abbey’s fury. Having left his training at the hospital,  Keats moved with his brothers into rooms at 1 Well Walk in the village of Hampstead in April 1817. Both John and George nursed their brother Tom, who was suffering from tuberculosis. The house was close to Hunt and others from his circle in Hampstead, as well as to Coleridge, respected elder of the first wave of Romantic poets, at that time living in Highgate.   Around this time he was introduced to Charles Wentworth Dilke and James RiceIn June 1818, Keats began a walking tour of Scotland, Ireland, and the Lake District with his friend Charles Armitage Brown. Keats’ brother George and his wife Georgina accompanied them as far as Lancaster and then continued to Liverpool, from where the couple emigrated to America. They lived in Ohio and Louisville, Kentucky, until 1841, . Like Keats’ other brother, they both died penniless and racked by tuberculosis,  In July, while on the Isle of Mull, Keats caught a bad cold  After his return south in August, Keats continued to nurse Tom, exposing himself to infection. ”  Tom Keats died on 1 December 1818.John Keats moved to the newly built Wentworth Place, owned by his friend Charles Armitage Brown. It was also on the edge of Hampstead Heath, ten minutes’ walk south of his old home in Well Walk.During  The winter of 1818–19, he wrote his most mature work. inspired by a series of recent lectures by Hazlitt on English poets and poetic identity and had also met Wordsworth

He composed five of his six great odes at Wentworth Place ,lnduding “Ode to Psyche” and “Ode to a Nightingale”. Brown wrote, “In the spring of 1819 a nightingale had built her nest near my house. Keats felt a tranquil and continual joy in her song; and one morning he took his chair from the breakfast-table to the grass-plot under a plum-tree, where he sat for two or three hours.”Ode on a Grecian Urn” and “Ode on Melancholy” were inspired by sonnet forms Keats’s publishers  issued Endymion, which Keats dedicated to Thomas Chatterton, a work that he termed “a trial of my Powers of Imagination”.In 1819, Keats wrote The Eve of St. Agnes, “La Belle Dame sans Merci”, Hyperion, Lamia and OthoThe poems “Fancy” and “Bards of passion and of mirth” were inspired by the garden of Wentworth Place] The final volume Keats lived to see, Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems, was eventually published in July 1820. It received greater acclaim than had Endymion or Poems, Wentworth Place now houses the Keats House museum. Keats endured great conflict knowing his expectations as a struggling poet in increasingly hard straits would preclude marriage to Fanny Brawne. . Darkness, disease and depression surrounded him, reflected in poems such as The Eve of St. Agnes and “La Belle Dame sans Merci”. . During 1820 Keats displayed increasingly serious symptoms of tuberculosis, suffering two lung haemorrhages in the first few days of February lost large amounts of blood and was bled further by the attending physicianand So he was advised by his doctors to move to a warmer climate

So he agreed to move to Italy with his friend Joseph Severn. On 13 September, they left for Gravesend and four days later boarded the sailing brig “Maria Crowther”, where he made the final revisions of “Bright Star”. The journey was a minor catastrophe: storms broke out followed by a dead calm that slowed the ship’s progress. When they finally docked in Naples, the ship was held in quarantine for ten days due to a suspected outbreak of cholera in Britain. Keats reached Rome on 14 November, by which time any hope of the warmer climate he sought had disappeared. Keats wrote his last letter on 30 November 1820 to Charles Armitage Brown.

on arrival in Italy, he moved into a villa on the Spanish Steps in Rome, today the Keats-Shelley Memorial House museum. D

espite care from Severn and Dr. James Clark, his health rapidly deteriorated. The medical attention Keats received may have hastened his death. ln November 1820, Clark declared that the source of his illness was “mental exertion” and that the source was largely situated in his stomach. Clark eventually diagnosed consumption (tuberculosis) and placed Keats on a starvation diet of an anchovy and a piece of bread a day intended to reduce the blood flow to his stomach. He also bled the poet; a standard treatment of the day, but was likely a significant contributor to Keats’s weakness.”.The first months of 1821 marked a slow and steady decline into the final stage of tuberculosis. Keats was coughing up blood and covered in sweat.

John Keats died in Rome on 23 February 1821 and was buried in the Protestant Cemetery, Rome. His last request was to be placed under a tombstone bearing no name or date, only the words, “Here lies One whose Name was writ in Water.” Seven weeks after the funeral Shelley memorialised Keats in his poem Adonaïs Clark saw to the planting of daisies on the grave, saying that Keats would have wished it. For public health reasons, the Italian health authorities burned the furniture in Keats’s room, scraped the walls, made new windows, doors and flooring. The ashes of Shelley, one of Keats’s most fervent champions, are buried in the cemetery and Joseph Severn is buried next to Keats. When Keats died at 25, he had been writing poetry seriously for only about six years, from 1814 until the summer of 1820; and publishing for only four. In his lifetime, sales of Keats’s three volumes of poetry probably amounted to only 200 copies. T

he compression of his poetic apprenticeship and maturity into so short a time is just one remarkable aspect of Keats’s work. Although prolific during his short career, and now one of the most studied and admired British poets, his reputation rests on a small body of work, centred on the Odes, and only in the creative outpouring of the last years of his short life was he able to express the inner intensity for which he has been lauded since his death “Keats’s ability and talent was acknowledged by several influential contemporary allies such as Shelley and Hunt.His admirers praised him & for having developed a style which was more heavily loaded with sensualities, more gorgeous in its effects, more voluptuously alive than any poet who had come before him.

The 2009 film Bright Star, written and directed by Jane Campion, focuses on Keats’ relationship with Fanny Brawne

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