Poet Spotlight: John Keats

Poet Spotlight

John Keats (1795-1821)

Placed alongside Lord Byron and Percy Shelley in terms of reputation, John Keats died when he was only twenty-five years old. Despite this early passing, however, Keats is today considered one of the greatest Romantic poets. He did not have the same background or education as his fellow poets, however: he was from the working class, which meant he faced a constant stream of negative reviews.

Early Beginnings

Keats was born on 31st October 1795 and in 1803 he started at Clarke’s School. This was a good school, but not as good as the schools his contemporary poets were attending. It was not at all common for someone of Keats’ social status to become a poet, so Keats trained as a medical student and spent much of his time holding down hospital patients as a surgeon would operate on the patients (without the use of anaesthetic). Yet Keats also wanted to write poetry… so, he did.

Keats’ Quotes: A Box of Inspiration

“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter.” / “Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced.” / “A thing of beauty is a joy forever” / “My imagination is a monastery and I am its monk.” / “Scenery is fine – but human nature is fner.” / “I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart’s affections, and the truth of the imagination.” / “I have been astonished that men could die martyrs for religion – I have shuddered at it. I shudder no more – I could be marytred for my religion – Love is my religion – I could die for it.” / “I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest.”

Bad Reviews

In 1818, Keats published Endymion. Steeped in classical references, this long poem was inspired by the writing style of Leigh Hunt, a political radical of his time. Keats greatly admired by Hunt, but not many other people did.

Because of his radicalism, Hunt was generally shunned in political circles, and Endymion bore the brunt of this. Harsh reviews and critiques of the poem reduced Keats to a state of panic and depression.

Yet Keats’ bad reviews may not have entirely been his, or even Hunt’s fault; one review accused Keats of writing “Cockney poetry”, which was considered “the most uncouth language” of the time (John Wilson Crocker, 1818). This was a formal way of saying that Keats hadn’t had a classical education; basically, his poetry was shunned because he came from the working class.

The Odes

Keats’ odes are generally considered his finest works. They take the classical references from Endymion but explore them in an original, sophisticated manner that took him away from the style of Leigh Hunt and accusations of writing in a “Cockney” style.

Arguably his most well-known odes are “The Nightingale” and “Ode on a Grecian Urn”. The first of these turns a symbol of betrayal into one of celebration, yet also constantly considers the theme of release. It has since been suggested that these references reflect Keats’ desperate desire to leave his medical career.

The second ode, “On a Grecian Urn”, considers the issue of stasis. Keats considers being frozen in time, which could mean that something bad was always going to happen (such as a sacrifice), or that something good was always going to happen (like a kiss).

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If you want to know more about Keats, why not read some of his shorter poems? Check out these links to read “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer“, “Bright Star“, “On Fame” and “On Melancholy“.

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I hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, please feel free to leave a comment in the section below this post: it’ll make my day!

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Author Spotlight: Terry Pratchett

Author Spotlight

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015)

Appreciating literature in the modern age can sometimes be difficult. Jacobean and Victorian works may always draw more attention to themselves, for literature appears to gather more importance with age. However, this does not mean that modern authors should be neglected, particularly when their books convey the power and magic of Terry Pratchett.

Preachin’ Pratchett

Sir Terence David John “Terry” Pratchett was known for his fantasy works in the Discworld series. These forty-one novels, starting with “The Colour of Magic” in 1983, and ending with “The Shepherd’s Crown” in 2015, have spanned over thirty-two years. Their influences range from J. R. R. Tolkien, to Charles Dickens and Shakespeare. This diversity is reflected in Pratchett’s world, which is a flat disc, balanced on the back of four elephants, who stand on the back of the infamous Giant Star Turtle.

Some Inspirational Quotes

“Real Stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time.” / “I’d rather be a rising ape than a falling angel.” / “Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one.” / “Fantasy is an exercise bicycle for the mind. It might not take you anywhere, but it tones up the muscles that can.” / “It’s still magic even if you know how it’s done.” / “There are times in life when people must know when not to let go. Balloons are designed to teach small children this.” / “The entire universe has been nearly divided into things to (a) mate with, (b) eat, (c) run away from, and (d) rocks.” / “The truth may be out there, but the lies are inside your head.” / “Goodness is what you do. Not who you pray to.”

The Joy of Writing

Arguably one of Pratchett’s greatest traits was the genuine love he had for writing. He is famously known for having said that monetary rewards were “an unavoidable consequence”, rather than a reason for doing something.

Pratchett even went as far as to discredit the works of J. K. Rowling and J. R. R. Tolkien, claiming, whilst alluding to the Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings series, “fantasy isn’t just about wizards and silly wands. It’s about seeing the world from new directions”.

Although this may have horrified many of Pratchett’s fans, he remained honest, adding that he owed “a debt to the science fiction/fantasy genre which he grew up out of”, writing because it was what he loved doing, and writing about what he felt needed to be demonstrated and emphasised.

Pratchett’s Passing

On the 12th March 2015, Sir Terry Pratchett died “with his cat sleeping on his bed, surrounded by his family” (Larry Finlay, Pratchett’s publisher). At sixty-six years old, the author had lost his battle to Alzheimer’s disease and produced his very last book. Yet although his friends, family and supporters throughout the world mourned the loss of Pratchett, he, himself, retained the humour that he’d had throughout his life.

On the very day of his death, Pratchett had a friend access his twitter account, and tweet three things: “AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER”; “Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night”; and, finally, “The End”.

Whether Terry truly believed in his own characterisation of Death that he made throughout his novels, we will never know, but it is clear that he did not fear death, perhaps because he had written of it for such a long time.

It is also true that his death was a beginning as much as an end, as he tasked his daughter, Rhianna, with continuing to write his books after his death. Although Rhianna has since said that she cannot do as her father wished, she has revealed that she will be working on separate, add-on additions to the series, even if they cannot touch the excellence of her fathers’ works.

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My original article, published in “The Sixth Sense”


This article was originally published for a school newspaper that I established when I was in Sixth Form. You can check out my other Author Spotlight pages here.

Author Spotlight: Virginia Woolf

Here’s another of my mini author biography pages, which were originally written for the Sixth Sense Sixth Form Newspaper. The full edition of this February version is available through this link, here. Enjoy!


Virginia Woolf, one of the most reputable writers of the twentieth century, is renowned for her controversial and experimental ideas. More than anything else, though, she is remembered for the hardships that she faced in life, and the mental illness that she carried with her, leading to her eventual suicide at the age of fifty-nine.

Early Beginnings

Born Adeline Virginia Stephen, Woolf grew up in Kensington, London. Her father, Leslie Stephen, was a notable writer himself, known as a historian, author and critic, as well as being the founding editor of the Dictionary of National Biography, a work that later influenced Woolf whilst composing her biographical pieces. Julia Stephens was also an inspiring influence; after she moved to England from her birthplace in British India, she became a model for widely reputable Pre-Raphaelite painters such as Edward Burne-Jones.

3 Things that You Didn’t Know About the Real Virginia Woolf

#1 – Woolf’s first attempt to commit suicide was when she was only twenty-two. She threw herself from a window, but it just so happened that it was not high enough to cause any serious damage.

#2 – During one of her phases of insanity, Woolf was convinced that birds spoke to each other in Greek, and that King Edward VII was shouting curses from behind various pieces of shrubbery.

#3 – Woolf, being far from heterosexuality, once considered marrying writer, Lytton Strachey, purely because he was known to be homosexual and Woolf saw him as someone who could be her brother.

Woolf’s Feminism

Particularly in modern times, Woolf’s works have been examined with a focus on feminist approaches. Her non-fiction works, such as A Room of One’s Own (1929) and Three Guineas (1938), in particular, consider the position of women in society. Woolf wrote about the difficulties that female writers experienced, as they were seen to be inferior by critics and generally at a legal and economic disadvantage to male authors. In fact, it is from the first of these texts that one of Woolf’s most famous quotes of all time originated: “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”.

A Mental Illness

Woolf’s illness was labelled in 1992 as a “manic-depressive illness”. Aside from being a homosexual feminist living in a patriarchal society, she felt trapped inside of herself. However, having experienced incestuous sexual abuse as a child, and, even in her later life, was subject to much abuse, her illness was understandable. Meanwhile, her husband, Leonard Woolf, has often been accused of encouraging her insanity, some even believing him to be responsible for her eventual suicide.

An Abrupt Ending

Woolf fell into a deep phase of depression at the beginning of the 1940s. Her home in London had been destroyed by the Blitz of World War II and she had given up hope. She wrote one last note to her husband, Leonard, making statements such as “I can’t read” and “I know that I am spoiling your life”, before she drowned herself, filling her pockets with stones and walking into the River Ouse near her family home. Woolf died, but her legacy still lives on.

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My original article, published in “Sixth Sense”

Author Spotlight: Charles Dickens

Here’s another installment of my author biography pages, once written for my Sixth Form’s Newspaper, Sixth Sense. The full edition of this November copy is available here. If you’re interested in reading more about Charles Dickens, you can check out my review of what is arguably his most famous novel, Great Expectations.


Charles Dickens was one of the greatest writers of all time, renowned, more than anything else, for the magnitude and diversity of his writing. In only fifty-eight years, he wrote fifteen novels, five novellas and hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles. He also edited a weekly journal for over twenty years. These achievements would be remarkable in any context, but the most admirable thing about Dickens has to be the challenging circumstances that he had to overcome in order to pursue his passion for the written word.

He was born in Portsmouth to a middle-class family, the second of eight children, yet only six of these children survived to adulthood. This was because the Dickens family was thrown into poverty when Charles’ father, John Dickens, lost control of his own finances, in an apparent lack of organisation. Charles had been living a comfortable life in private education, but was pulled from this luxury when the family was forced to move to a much smaller house in Kent.

There, however, their poverty was only worsened, until, when Dickens was only twelve years old, his father was placed in a debtor’s prison. As custom stated in the Victorian era, the entire family then had to move to London in order to reside in the rooms of the prison that were specifically reserved for the families of the prisoners.

Dickens, still only twelve years old, was then sent to work in a blacking factory, where he spent eleven hours a day labelling an assortment of bottles. This continued until he turned fifteen, which was when he started his new job as a solicitor’s clerk. He had clearly been deeply affected by his time in poverty, and so fought to prevent this from happening to him again. It did not matter that he was young and still somewhat ignorant to the world, because he had a hunger for learning, and not just for the intellectual, but for the knowledge that would help to better his own life in the future, and, essentially, to prevent him from becoming his father.

Three years later, Dickens took up a different job yet again, but, this time, he had found something that he knew he genuinely enjoyed. He became a journalist, allowing him to explore the world through non-fiction writing. At night, however, Dickens would pursue his other interest; he would use the skills that he had learnt from his career to write his own fiction stories, creating characters and storylines that are now renowned for their intriguing natures. Many critics now argue hat this was because Dickens had already experienced the positives and negatives of human life, and so when he described it for himself, he had the power to make it seem real.

In the same year that he published his first novel, Pickwick Papers, Dickens met Catherine Hogarth, who he later made his wife. Just as his happiness reached its peak, however, it then began to deteriorate once more; rumours circulated, questioning his drunkenness, and potential admittance into a lunatic asylum. Society began to doubt his sanity, and it is not too difficult to imagine why. He kept a raven as a pet, named it Grip, and had it stuffed and mounted after its death. Large portions of his writing were also, for many of his readers and critics, grotesque, considering criminality as well the supernatural.

His marriage to Catherine ended when he met Ellen Turnan at the age of forty-five. She was only eighteen years old, but their relationship escalated to the point that he was forced to leave Catherine, even though his reputation decreed that he could not file for an official divorce. Dickens’ writing continued to flourish once again, all the time using his experiences to implement his own stories and characters.

Then, one day, Dickens and Ellen were travelling home, when their train crashed. Dickens himself helped to administer medical care to those most in need, but the traumatic experience deeply affected him. He only remembered at the last minute that a portion of Our Mutual Friend had been left in the wreckage. Although he saved the novel, however, his mind had been traumatised, and, a short time after, Dickens died of a stroke, fifty-eight years old.

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My original article, published in “Sixth Sense”

Author Spotlight: William Wordsworth

Here’s another article that I published in my Sixth Form’s newspaper, Sixth Sense, focussing on William Wordsworth and his connection to my home county, Dorset. This edition was the first official one that my team and I produced, available to read in full here: 2-september.


Born in the late 18th century, William Wordsworth helped to pioneer the way for the Romantic Age in English Literature. Wordsworth’s works such as the famous I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, as well as his collection of lyrical ballads that he shared with his friend, Samuel Coleridge, are his most reputable pieces of literature, nature often being used as a motif for the complex emotions that he experienced throughout his life.

This use of nature was undoubtedly inspired by his early life, for, although Wordsworth completed his work with Coleridge in Somerset, his family home was in the Lake District, where he was raised along with his four siblings, beside the picturesque English moors. Wordsworth had a particularly close relationship with his sister, Dorothy, who is also renowned for, in particular, her diary writing, and so after Wordsworth’s time in Somerset, he moved back to stay in a cottage with her in Cumbria.

What most people don’t acknowledge, or aren’t aware of, though, is Wordsworth’s connection to Dorset; his home being far from this very Southern county, any connection at all would be unexpected. In fact, it has been noted that Wordsworth spend at least two years of his life living with Dorothy at Racedown Farm, near Pilson, Dorset. There, they appeared to have lived very solitary lives, only accompanied by three members of staff, one of whom did not permanently reside at the farm.

This meant that the Wordsworth siblings were almost completely cut off from society; despite being born into the upper class, they could not afford the London paper, and so couldn’t keep up with current affairs or news. They did, however, surround themselves with the local nature. William took to his hobby of “hill walking”, where he learnt about the local history and began to thoroughly explore the area.

It has been recorded that Wordsworth wandered down to the sea at Lyme Bay on more than one occasion. One time that this happened, he witnessed the Great Indies fleet sailing right past him in all its glory, before it was brutally destroyed by a sudden storm. Ironically, this was close to the time when Wordsworth’s younger brother, John, perished at sea; as a Sea Captain, his ship was destroyed in 1805, a little further to the east.

Wordsworth did greatly admire the Dorset countryside before his return to the North, though; he climbed to the highest point at Pilsdon Pen and allowed his passion for walking and writing to give him a different perspective of his beloved English countryside; arguably, his time in Dorset may have majorly affected his later writing.

 

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My original article, published in “Sixth Sense”