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.
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.”
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.
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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