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John Keats life and works

Keats is the last important poet of English Romanticism, but differently from Byron and Shelley, he does not express rebellious or utopian ideas, and differently from Wordsworth his poetry contains no moral and social message. He thinks, in fact, the poet's task lies in search of beauty both in man and in nature, since beauty is the only lasting value. Beauty is perceived through the senses, which are the instrument by which man can escape from the ugliness of reality. The central theme of his poetry is the romantic conflict between the ideal and real, between the desire for eternity and the awareness of passing of time. He turns for inspiration to Greek mythology, as we can see in his "Ode on a Grecian Urn", and to medieval ballads. Beauty for Keats can be physical ( women, nature, paintings) or spiritual ( friendship, love, poetry). The former is subject to time and decay, the latter is eternal and immoral. So the artist will die but the beauty he has created will continue to live. This is the reason for which Keats can be considered the forerunner of the English Aesthetic movement, whose best representative is Oscar Wilde. For Keats imagination, as he wrote in his letter to a friend, is that to recognize beauty in existing things, but also to create beauty.

In this poem Keats reflects on the “lure” of art: for him poetry creates consolation but also deception, because it is different from reality. In fact, poetry represents an eternal beauty, which in reality is mortal and transitory. However there is a price to pay for eternity: the immobility and the lack of vitality of the eternal figures, which are “cold” because they are “frozen” in a state of pure beauty. So Keats’ idea of art is ambivalent because, though it is eternal, it also means death and silence. This ambiguity of art, which is at the same time superior and inferior to life, is an example of Keats’ notion of “negative capability”: it means the ability of the poet to escape from or to negate his own personality and so to open himself fully to the complex reality around him; “negative capability” also means the ability of the poet to live in a state of permanent doubt, which is for example expressed in the closing lines of the poem: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”.

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