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Keats was born in London on 31 October 1795, the eldest of Thomas

and Frances Jennings Keats's four children (Tom, George and
sister Fanny).
At the age of eight Keats entered Enfield Academy and became friends
with young Charles Cowden Clarke, the fifteen-year-old son of the
On the night of 15 April 1804, when Keats had been in school less than a
year, an accident occurred that would alter his life and proved to be the
first in a series of losses and dislocations that would pursue him
throughout his brief life, certainly contributing to his mature sense that the
career of the artist was an exploration of art's power to bring solace and
meaning to human suffering. His father was seriously injured when his
horse stumbled as he rode home ( from visiting John and George at Enfield) ,
and he died the next day. The shock to the family was great, emotionally
and financially.
When his mother died of tuberculosis in 1809, John became the oldest
male in his family, and, to the end of his life, felt a fiercely protective
loyalty to his brothers and sister, Fanny Keats. His most thoughtful
and moving letters on poetry's relation to individual experience, to human
suffering and spiritual development, were written to his brothers.
Keats's sense of the power and romance of literature began as the Clarkes
encouraged him to turn his energy and curiosity to their library. On his
own, Keats translated most of the Aeneid and continued learning
French. Literature for him was more than a dreamy refuge for a lonely
orphan: it was a domain for energetic exploration, "realms of gold," as
he later wrote, tempting not only as a realm of idealistic romance but also
of a beauty that enlarges our imaginative sympathies.
In 1810 Alice Whalley Jennings, Keats's grandmother, in order to ensure
the children's financial future, turned to Richard Abbey, a tea merchant
who, on the advice of her attorney, she appointed to act as trustee.
Most of Keats's later financial misery can be traced to this decision.
Keats left Enfield in 1811, and, perhaps at Abbey's urgingthough Clarke
remembered it as Keats's choicehe began to study for a career as a
surgeon. He was apprenticed to a respected surgeon, Thomas Hammond,
in a small town near Enfield, Edmonton, where his grandmother lived.
His friend Charles Brown believed Keats first read Spenser when he was
eighteen, in 1813 or 1814. He wrote: It was the `Fairy Queen' that
awakened his genius. In Spenser's fairy land he was enchanted,
breathed in a new world, and became another being. . . . Soon he was
entirely absorbed in poetry. Some time in 1814 Keats wrote his first
poem, "In Imitation of Spenser." What is remarkable about this first
poem is its vitality, its appropriation of the Spenserian rhyme scheme and
richly compressed imagery to evoke a romantically voluptuous dream
world. In the same year Keats continued his surgical studies in Guy's
Hospital as a student and 1816 he became a Licentiate of the Society
of Apothecaries. At this point his love of poetry became his main
ambition and his surgical career was left behind. Also in this year he meets

the editor of a liberal paper 'The Examiner, Leigh Hunt, who became a
great friend of Keats. Keats' first published poem was called 'Ode to
Solitude' which was published in The Examiner'. It is said that Keats
wanted his poetry published for financial reasons. The poem was received
as being acceptable and a good attempt, but it wasn't till later in the year
when his poem 'On First Looking on Chapman's Homer,' that his potential
and talent as a poet was known and it gave him the reputation as the poet
to watch.
His first book of poetry appeared 3rd March 1817, although the book
didn't actually sell very well. John was depressed by this but kept writing.
Percy Shelley (his friend) then challenged Keats to an epic poetry
competition over the summer. For the competition Keats wrote Endymion,
although Keats didn't finish the poem within the time limit so technically
Shelley won the competition. Keats was now the sought after poet in
London and his life became a whirl of parties and dances, even though
Keats didn't like crowds very much.
1818 Endymion published by Taylor & Hessey . John tours the Lake District with
Charles Brown. July - 8 August, walking tour of Scotland with Brown; August December, nurses Tom at Hampstead and meets Fanny Brawne for the first time.

January, writes The Eve of St Agnes
Stays in Sussex and Hampshire
13-17 February, writes The Eve of St Mark
March-April, John experiences a bout of depression and gives up writing
The Brawnes move into part of Wentworth Place
21 April-May, writes La Belle Dame Sans Merci
Writes his famous Odes
John becomes unofficially engaged to Fanny Brawne
July-August, John experiences the first signs of tuberculosis
At Shanklin, Isle of Wight, writing Lamia Part I and Otho the Great
August-October, moves to Winchester, writes Lamia Part II
Writes To Autumn
Begins and abandons The Fall of Hyperion
October-December, John returns to Hampstead
Becomes officially engaged to Fanny Brawne
John suffers another bout of depression; he is ill and unhappy
January, George Keats returns to England to raise money
John comes to a financial settlement with the executor of his
grandmother's estate; the settlement leaves him penniless (he
gives most of his money to George) 3 February, John has his first lung
haemorrhage and is confined to his house May, Charles Brown rents out
the house and John moves to Kentish Town, near Leigh Hunt; 22 June, John
has a severe second haemorrhage and moves to Leigh Hunt's home July,

Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St Agnes and other poems is published and
August, John leaves the Hunt home and is nursed by Fanny Brawne at
Wentworth Place; 17 September, John sails for Italy with Joseph Severn
November, John reaches Rome 30 November, John writes his last known
23 February, John dies at 26 Piazza di Spagna, Rome
26 February, John is buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome
Keats often associated love and pain both in his life and in his poetry. He
wrote of a young woman he found attactive, "When she comes into a room
she makes an impression the same as the Beauty of a Leopardess.... I
should like her to ruin me..." Love and death are intertwined in "Isabella;
or, the Pot of Basil," "Bright Star," "The Eve of St. Agnes," and "La Belle
Dame sans Merci." The Fatal Woman (the woman whom it is destructive to
love, like Salome, Lilith, and Cleopatra) appears in "La Belle Dame sans
Merci" and "Lamia."
In "Ode to a Nightingale" and "Ode on a Grecian Urn," Keats tries
to free himself from the world of change by identifying with the
nightingale, representing nature, or the urn, representing art.
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness
My sense, as though of hemlock I had
Or emptied some dull opiate to the
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine
That thou, light-wingd Dryad of the
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows
Singest of summer in full-throated
(Ode to a Nightingale)
These odes, as well as "The Ode to Psyche" and the "Ode to Melancholy,"
present the poet as dreamer; the question in these odes, as well as in "La
Belle Dame Sans Merci" and "The Eve of St. Agnes," is how Keats
characterizes the dream or vision. Is it a positive experience which

enriches the dreamer? or is it a negative experience which has the

potential to cut off the dreamer from the real world and destroy him? What
happens to the dreamers who do not awaken from the dream or do not
awaken soon enough?
Keats's imagery ranges among all our physical sensations: sight, hearing,
taste, touch, smell, temperature, weight, pressure, hunger, thirst,
sexuality, and movement. Keats repeatedly combines different senses in
one image, that is, he attributes the trait(s) of one sense to another, a
practice called synaesthesia. His synaesthetic imagery performs two major
functions in his poems: it is part of their sensual effect, and the combining
of senses normally experienced as separate suggests an underlying unity
of dissimilar happenings, the oneness of all forms of life. Richard H. Fogle
calls these images the product of his "unrivaled ability to absorb,
sympathize with, and humanize natural objects."
In June of 1818 Keats became paranoid that he only had another three
years to live; he knew he would die from tuberculosis. He spent most of
this summer touring Scotland and its lakes. Also by now he had already
written his most famous poems and he felt that he still hadn't reached his
peak and left a big enough mark in the literary world. His brother George
now announces that he is immigrating to Illinois with his new wife. His
other brother Thomas at the same time begins to show signs of suffering
from consumption and Keats was needed to take care of him. John moved
with his brother to Hampstead. And to add more pressure and emotion into
Keats' life he had just fallen in love with a young woman called Frances
Brawne (aka Fanny). This depressed and overwhelmed him as most
situations did in his life, because he realized that he was too poor to marry
Fanny. He also didn't really believe in the institution of marriage as he
thought it would stunt his creativity and that he would become
domesticated, which meant there wasn't really much of a future in any
romance with Fanny. Keats would interrupt his serious poetry to write
quick sonnets to Fanny, including the famous Bright Star, would I were
steadfast as thou art. Most of these works dwell upon her physical
charms, but they also celebrate the enjoyment and abandon he found in
her company. It was inevitable that his first love affair would consume
him. In turn, he was given new impetus, - new inspiration, - new insight
into his own emotions and the world itself. His poetry began to reflect this
new maturity and power.
Keats tried to loose himself in his latest poem Hyperion. When Keats
became ill he was unable to have any physical contact with Fanny,
so they would send letters to each other and would see each
other through glass screens.
Tom died in December 1818. John had nursed him throughout the illness.
John should have received 500 from Tom's estate but Abbey, another
guardian, decreed that Keats was unable to get the money until his sister
Francis had turned 21. It turned out that Abbey had in fact taken nearly

1000 from Keats' grandmother's estate, although this did not come out
until about a year after Keats' death.
Keats was now dependent on his friends, people like Leigh Hunt (who had
got married and settled down) and Charles Brown. In early 1820 Keats
was showing signs that he had developed consumption, coughing
up blood. It was around this time that Charles began arrangements for
sending Keats to Italy without Keats' knowledge or consent. The reason
Charles wanted to send his friend to Italy, was because of the warm
climate which at the time was considered a cure for consumption. John did
not want to go as he could not bear the thought of being parted from
Fanny, but felt incapable of arguing with his friend. Keats left for Italy in
September 1820 accompanied by his friend Joseph Severn (an
artist). The journey to Rome was unbearable and no doubt affected Keats
and made the illness worse. They were also, on arriving in Italy,
quarantined for 12 days; they were unable to dock and were forced to stay
on the ship and continue living in the damp, cramped environment of the
cabin. Once in Rome the two men lodged in a small apartment just above
the Spanish steps. John was forbidden from writing poetry and was only
allowed to read the dullest of books as they thought too much excitement
would aggravate the illness. Keats became depressed again and
refused to open any letters from Fanny as it only reminded him of
how much he missed her and how he was unable to be with her. In
December of that year Keats attempted to commit suicide by taking
laudanum (a poison) but Severn was able to stop him.
On the 23rd of February 1821, Keats died. He was only 25 years
Fanny on hearing the news for a few weeks, appeared fine, but then
suddenly fell ill. Later, after recovering from her illness she began to wear
widow's weeds. Keats requested that on his tombstone all that would be
written was "Here Lies one whose name was writ in water". However
Charles Brown felt that this was too short and had this carved into the
"This Grave contains all that was Mortal of a YOUNG ENGLISH POET Who
on his Death Bed, in the Malicious Power of his Enemies, Desired these
Words to be engraved on his Tomb Stone 'Here lies One Whose Name
was writ in Water"
Keats' genius was not generally perceived during his lifetime or
immediately after his death. Keats, dying, expected his poetry to be
forgotten, as the epitaph he wrote for his tombstone indicates: "Here lies
one whose name was writ in water." But nineteenth century critics and
readers did come to appreciate him, though, for the most part, they had
only a partial understanding of his work. They saw Keats as a sensual poet;
they focused on his vivid, concrete imagery; on his portrayal of the
physical and the passionate; and on his immersion in the here and now.
John Keats (along with Percy Shelley and Lord Byron) is referred to as
a second generation Romantic poet. (Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge
make up the so-called first generation.)

Romantic poets, because of their theories of literature and life,

were drawn to lyric poetry; they even developed a new form
of ode, often called the romantic meditative ode.
The literary critic Jack Stillinger describes the typical
movement of the romantic ode: The poet, unhappy with the real world,
escapes or attempts to escape into the ideal. Disappointed in his mental
flight, he returns to the real world. Usually he returns because human
beings cannot live in the ideal or because he has not found what he was
seeking. But the experience changes his understanding of his situation, of
the world, etc.; his views/feelings at the end of the poem differ
significantly from those he held at the beginning of the poem.
For Keats, any epiphany or visionary spot of time could only
come about by way of what he called negative capability, which involves
the erasure of self to experience the potent otherness of the world. And for
him (and the Romantics in general) we must continue to be open to
experience. We cant do that if weve got all sorts of fixed ideas.
So Keatss ideal of negative capability has to do with
suspending the ego, the subjective identity, and becoming
something else. Thats a process, and process is a watchword for the
Romantics. Thats why, for Keats, the poet is the most unpoetical of all
things. He has no self. He is always becoming another beinga
nightingale, a Grecian urn. Nature doesnt have the answer. Nature
becomes the occasion for understanding that the answer lies within us.
One way to find ones humanity and to fulfill desire is to surrender to
passion, to some kind of Blakean daemonic energy, to the ecstatic
sublime. Thats what Keatss poetry is often about. Keats once wrote:
Oh for a life of sensations, rather than thought.
Whats hes trying to do is become one with the thing he
contemplates, to imaginatively enter into its life, rather than to think about
what he thinks about it. So thats the first part of negative capability:
negating ones own ego, personality, identity, in order to see things from
the perspective of the other person or thing or situation. According to
Keats, geniuses dont use their strong identity in a moment of creation;
theyre more like the chameleon.
Again, he writes, A poet is the most unpoetical of anything in
The scholar Jack Stillinger claims that the Keatsian speaker
always begins in the world of actuality, takes off on a flight of
imagination, but theneither because theres something lacking
in the object hes meditating on, or because theres some problem
in maintaining the meditationthe flight returns to earth and
again with questions.
Keats is trying to find an objective correlative, and so he negates his
own personality (whatever it is in his personally thats driving him
whether its tuberculosis, the death of his brother, his own worries, and so
on). He tries to negate that and sympathetically approach the symbol, the
object. He tries to capture something in all of its concreteness,

particularity, ambiguity, and he uses the symbol as a field in which

opposing attitudes can engage.
In the Ode on a Grecian Urn the entire poem focuses on the
urn. Its almost as if Keats is holding an urn in his hands and turning it; its
there from beginning to end. There is a drama between perception and
object, but thats the controlling form of the whole poem. In the case of
the urn, he starts with the work of art itself, and his question is: Can art
provide some system of salvation? Hes never sure.
Romanticism was for many years defined as the age of feeling as
opposed to the age of reason. For Keats, that is the way to truth and
beauty, through the intensity of response to an object. So negative
capability and the vale of soul-making are not antithetical notions:
negative capability refers to the act of poetic composition; for a poet to
create as richly and freely as he or she desires, it is necessary to get
beyond the limits of ego and personality to see a thing from multiple
points of view.
Keatss letters are remarkable. They capture someone debating with
himself. What does it mean to be a poet, writing at this particular time in
the history of the world? He talks about the advance of the age. He has
something of a sense of an aesthetic revolution. Hes grappling, debating
with all sorts of notions about where hes going to go as a poet. And he is
shadowed by thoughts of mortality, a sense of knowing that he is going to
die (Keats died at an early age from tuberculosis).

Beauty is truth, truth beauty. (The end of Ode on a Grecian Urn)

This means:

The urn is a poem written in stone.

In his last days Keats wrote:

..but I have loved the principle of Beauty in all things, and if I had had
time I would have made myself remembered.
To Fanny Browne some months before he was taken ill:

.....I could be martyred for my Religion Love is my religion I could die

for that. I could die for you. My Creed is Love and you are its only tenet.
You have ravished me away ny a Power I cannot resist; and yet I could
resist till I saw you; and even since I have seen you I have endeavoured
often to reason against the reasons of my Love.I can do that no more
the pain would be too great. My love is selfish. I cannot breathe without

All written in May 1819, "Ode to a Nightingale," "Ode on a Grecian Urn,"

and "Ode on Melancholy" grew out of a persistent kind of experience
which dominated Keats's feelings, attitudes, and thoughts during that
time. Each of them is a unique experience, but each of them is also, as it
were, a facet of a larger experience. This larger experience is an intense
awareness of both the joy and pain, the happiness and the sorrow, of
human life.
In "Ode to a Nightingale" and "Ode on a Grecian Urn," Keats tries to
free himself from the world of change by identifying with the nightingale,
representing nature, or the urn, representing art. These odes, as well as
"The Ode to Psyche" and the "Ode to Melancholy," present the poet as
dreamer; the question in these odes, as well as in "La Belle Dame Sans
Merci" and "The Eve of St. Agnes," is how Keats characterizes the dream or
vision. Is it a positive experience which enriches the dreamer? or is it a
negative experience which has the potential to cut off the dreamer from
the real world and destroy him? What happens to the dreamers who do not
awaken from the dream or do not awaken soon enough?