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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)
 

A Prophecy: To George Keats in America

’Tis the witching time of night,
Orbed is the moon and bright,
And the Stars they glisten, glisten,
Seeming with bright eyes to listen.
For what listen they?
For a song and for a charm,
See they glisten in alarm,
And the Moon is waxing warm
To hear what I shall say.
Moon! keep wide thy golden ears—
Hearken, Stars! and hearken, Spheres!—
Hearken, thou eternal Sky!
I sing an infant’s Lullaby,
O pretty lullaby!
Listen, listen, listen, listen,
Glisten, glisten, glisten, glisten,
And hear my Lullaby!
Though the Rushes, that will make
Its cradle, still are in the lake—
Though the linen that will be
Its swathe, is on the cotton tree—
Though the woollen that will keep
It warm, is on the silly sheep—
Listen, Starlight, listen, listen,
Glisten, glisten, glisten, glisten,
And hear my lullaby!
Child, I see thee! Child, I’ve found thee
Midst of the quiet all around thee!
Child, I see thee! Child, I spy thee
And thy mother sweet is nigh thee!
Child, I know thee! Child no more,
But a Poet evermore!
See, see the Lyre, the Lyre,
In a flame of fire,
Upon the little cradle’s top
Flaring, flaring, flaring,
Past the eyesight’s bearing.
Awake it from its sleep,
And see if it can keep
Its eyes upon the blaze—
Amaze, amaze!
It stares, it stares, it stares,
It dares what no one dares!
It lifts its little hand into the flame
Unharm’d, and on the strings
Paddles a little tune, and sings,
With dumb endeavor sweetly—
Bard art thou completely!
          Little child
          O’ th’ western wild,
Bard art thou completely!
Sweetly with dumb endeavor.
A poet now or never,
          Little child
          O’ th’ western wild,
A Poet now or never!

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

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
For Fanny Brawne

The day is gone, and all its sweets are gone!
    Sweet voice, sweet lips, soft hand, and softer breast,
Warm breath, light whisper, tender semitone,
    Bright eyes, accomplished shape, and lang'rous waist!
Faded the flower and all its budded charms,
    Faded the sight of beauty from
poem

O Goddess! hear these tuneless numbers, wrung
         By sweet enforcement and remembrance dear,
And pardon that thy secrets should be sung
         Even into thine own soft-conched ear:
Surely I dreamt to-day, or did I see
         The winged Psyche with awaken’d eyes?
I wander'd in

poem
Ah, what can ail thee, wretched wight, 
  Alone and palely loitering;
The sedge is withered from the lake, 
  And no birds sing.

Ah, what can ail thee, wretched wight, 
  So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel's granary is full, 
  And the harvest's done.

I see a lilly on thy brow,
  With anguish moist and