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About this poet

English Romantic poet John Keats was born on October 31, 1795, in London. The oldest of four children, he lost both his parents at a young age. His father, a livery-stable keeper, died when Keats was eight; his mother died of tuberculosis six years later. After his mother's death, Keats's maternal grandmother appointed two London merchants, Richard Abbey and John Rowland Sandell, as guardians. Abbey, a prosperous tea broker, assumed the bulk of this responsibility, while Sandell played only a minor role. When Keats was fifteen, Abbey withdrew him from the Clarke School, Enfield, to apprentice with an apothecary-surgeon and study medicine in a London hospital. In 1816 Keats became a licensed apothecary, but he never practiced his profession, deciding instead to write poetry.

Around this time, Keats met Leigh Hunt, an influential editor of the Examiner, who published his sonnets "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" and "O Solitude." Hunt also introduced Keats to a circle of literary men, including the poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Wordsworth. The group's influence enabled Keats to see his first volume, Poems by John Keats, published in 1817. Shelley, who was fond of Keats, had advised him to develop a more substantial body of work before publishing it. Keats, who was not as fond of Shelley, did not follow his advice. Endymion, a four-thousand-line erotic/allegorical romance based on the Greek myth of the same name, appeared the following year. Two of the most influential critical magazines of the time, the Quarterly Review and Blackwood's Magazine, attacked the collection. Calling the romantic verse of Hunt's literary circle "the Cockney school of poetry," Blackwood's declared Endymion to be nonsense and recommended that Keats give up poetry. Shelley, who privately disliked Endymion but recognized Keats's genius, wrote a more favorable review, but it was never published. Shelley also exaggerated the effect that the criticism had on Keats, attributing his declining health over the following years to a spirit broken by the negative reviews.

Keats spent the summer of 1818 on a walking tour in Northern England and Scotland, returning home to care for his brother, Tom, who suffered from tuberculosis. While nursing his brother, Keats met and fell in love with a woman named Fanny Brawne. Writing some of his finest poetry between 1818 and 1819, Keats mainly worked on "Hyperion," a Miltonic blank-verse epic of the Greek creation myth. He stopped writing "Hyperion" upon the death of his brother, after completing only a small portion, but in late 1819 he returned to the piece and rewrote it as "The Fall of Hyperion" (unpublished until 1856). That same autumn Keats contracted tuberculosis, and by the following February he felt that death was already upon him, referring to the present as his "posthumous existence."

In July 1820, he published his third and best volume of poetry, Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems. The three title poems, dealing with mythical and legendary themes of ancient, medieval, and Renaissance times, are rich in imagery and phrasing. The volume also contains the unfinished "Hyperion," and three poems considered among the finest in the English language, "Ode on a Grecian Urn," "Ode on Melancholy," and "Ode to a Nightingale." The book received enthusiastic praise from Hunt, Shelley, Charles Lamb, and others, and in August, Frances Jeffrey, influential editor of the Edinburgh Review, wrote a review praising both the new book and Endymion.

The fragment "Hyperion" was considered by Keats's contemporaries to be his greatest achievement, but by that time he had reached an advanced stage of his disease and was too ill to be encouraged. He continued a correspondence with Fanny Brawne and—when he could no longer bear to write to her directly—her mother, but his failing health and his literary ambitions prevented their getting married. Under his doctor's orders to seek a warm climate for the winter, Keats went to Rome with his friend, the painter Joseph Severn. He died there on February 23, 1821, at the age of twenty-five, and was buried in the Protestant cemetery.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

The Poems of John Keats (1978)
The Poems of John Keats (1970)
The Poems of John Keats (1970)
Collections: The Poetical Works of Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats (1831)
Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems (1820)
Endymion: A Poetic Romance (1818)
Poems (1817)

Prose

Letters of John Keats: A New Selection (1970)
The Letters of John Keats (1958)
Life, Letters, and Literary Remains of John Keats (1848)

Drama

Otho The Great: A Dramatic Fragment (1819)
King Stephen: A Dramatic Fragment (1819)
 

Bright Star

John Keats, 1795 - 1821

Bright star! would I were steadfast as thou art—
   Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night,
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
   Like Nature's patient sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
   Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft fallen mask
   Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
   Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
   Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.
Bright Star: A Film About the Life and Love of Keats
An article about the poetry in Jane Campion's film, Keats's poems, and selected love letters to Fanny Brawne.

 

John Keats

John Keats

Born in 1795, John Keats was an English Romantic poet and author of three poems considered to be among the finest in the English language.

by this poet

poem
My spirit is too weak—mortality
   Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep,
   And each imagined pinnacle and steep
Of godlike hardship tells me I must die
Like a sick eagle looking at the sky.
   Yet 'tis a gentle luxury to weep,
   That I have not the cloudy winds to keep,
Fresh for the opening of the
poem
Much have I traveled in the realms of gold
    And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
    Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
    That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
    Yet never did I breathe its pure serene
Till I
poem
As late I rambled in the happy fields,	
   What time the sky-lark shakes the tremulous dew	
   From his lush clover covert;—when anew	
Adventurous knights take up their dinted shields:	
I saw the sweetest flower wild nature yields,	        
   A fresh-blown musk-rose; 'twas the first that threw	
   Its sweets