"I' m certain of nothing but the holiness
of the heart's affections and the truth of imagination."-John
Born in London, and eldest son of a livery
stable-keeper, Keats was nevertheless educated in French
and Latin, and well-known for his temper, pugnacity, wit,
and generosity. In 1811, he served as an apprentice to an
apothecary-surgeon, yet Keats' interest lied in English
literature, myths, and fairy tales. In 1815, Keats left
the apprenticeship and began the production of his poetry
while studying medicine at a hospital. But his writing took
precedence over medicine and he did not continue to pursue
a career. In 1816, his first poem, Solitude, was
published in literary figure Leigh Hunt's Examiner.
At this time he familiarized himself with Leigh Hunt, his
circle, artist Haydon, Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt, and
Percy Shelley. This acquaintance provided a great influence
for his own poetry. In 1817, under the suggestion of Haydon,
Keats retired to the Isle of Wight. There he began work
on Endymion, his first long poem which was published
in 1818 on his return to London. In March of 1818, Keats
contracted tuberculosis as a result of nursing his brother
Tom. The first signs of the disease were revealed during
Keats' visit to Ireland. While he nursed his dying brother,
withstood personal and critical attacks upon himself and
his work, and then finally experienced Tom's death and endured
through his own failing health, he fell hopelessly in love
with Fanny Brawne, of which La Belle Dame sans merci,
among many other poems, is attributed to. Keats love was
not satisfied. Fanny would not marry him because of his
poor health and poor financial situation. In 1819, Keats
wrote the poems the Eve of St. Agnes, Ode to Psyche,
La Belle Dame sans merci, Ode on Indolence, Ode on a Grecian
Urn, Ode on Melancholy, Ode to a Nightingale, Lamia, Fall
of Hyperiod, To Autumn, and the historical tragedy,
King Stephen, and a satirical burlesque, The Cap
and Bells. In 1820, he published his third volume of
poetry, and journeyed to Italy in a futile attempt to improve
Keats' tombstone held this engraving: "Here
lies one whose name was writ in water (Noyes 1120)."
The engraving suggested Keats' feeling that his life and
work were ephemeral and his mark on time virtually nonexistent.
His experiences covered love, death, hopelessness, thwarted
ambition, and failing health. Such things haunted him through
the whole of his life and flowed through to his pen in "When
I Have Fears" (1848):
"When I have fears that I may cease
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charactery
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance...
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink (Noyes 1163)."
Yet disease was the only thing that claimed
him; his courage and strength allowed him to achieve the
prestige of being considered one of the greatest English
poets. He enjoyed solitude, nature, and transcending beyond
himself to reveal the mysteries and truths of nature. In
his poem "Solitude," Keats gladly welcomes solitude
in the presence of nature: "O Solitude! if I must with
thee dwell,/Let it not be among the jumbled heap/Of murky
buildings; climb with me the/steep,--/Nature's observatory-whence
the dell,/Its flowery slopes, its river's crystal swell
" Upon this verse Keats remarked
his favor for nature over the "murky buildings"
of the city. Keats was idealistic, sympathetic, passionate,
intuitive, ambitious; thus his poetry reflected the essence
of Romanticism and the pains of human strife expressed through
his own vivid color and tone, and his memorable and unique
diction. It is unsurprising that many readers find exhilaration,
peace, and strength in his verse.
"I stood tip-toe upon a little hill"
"Sleep and Poetry"
"On First Looking into Chapman's Homer"
Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems
"Ode to a Nightingale"
"Ode on a Grecian Urn"
"Ode on Melancholy"
"La Belle Dame sans Merci"
"The Eve of St. Agnes"
"When I have fears that I may cease to be"
"Bright star! would I were as steadfast as thou art"
"Lines on the Mermaid Tavern"
"Bards of Passion and of Mirth"
Noyes, Russell. English
Romantic Poetry and Prose. New York: Oxford University