John Keats (1795-1821)
John Keats was born in London in 1795. He began his studies at a private school in Enfield, and here was introduced to the study of literature. Unfortunately he soon lost both his parents and was placed in the care of a strict guardian, who took him out of Enfield school, thus prematurely ending his formal education.
At the age of 15 he was apprenticed to a surgeon and spent the next four years following medical studies, but his inclination were literary, and he continued to read passionately. In 1816 he abandoned surgery and chose poetry as a profession. Later in the same year the reading of Champman’s translation of Homer thrilled him and prompted his wounderful early sonnet On First Looking into Champman’s Homer. He was introduced to Leigh Hunt, the famous radical journalist and poet, and through Hunt Keats came to know writers and artists, whose devotion to art influenced him.
Even if the family tendency to consumption had become manifest in him, Keats went with a friend on a walking tour through the highlands, but the hardships further affected his health.
His first long and serious poem, Endymion, which contains the famous statement “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever” was published in April 1818, and was violently attacked by the two leading journals of the day. These Tory journals brutally assailed the young poet not only for his literary shortcomings, but mainly for his friendship with the radical Leigh Hunt. Keats bore the attack with apparent serenity, but there can be doubt that his health was affected to some degree.
Around this time he fell passionately in love with Fanny Brawne and they were engaged for a time, but financial dificulties and Keats’s failing health precluded marriage.
Keats continued to write poetry with almost feverish urgency, which indicated that he was aware that only a very short time was left to him to find a place in English literature, and between 1819 and 1820 he produced the best of his poetic creation: Hyperion, an unfinished poem retelling the myth of the war between the Greek gods and the Titans; La Belle Dame sans Merci; The Eve of St Agnes; Lamia; the Odes: To Psyche, To Nightingale, On a Grecian Urn, To Autumn, On Melancholy. Most of his best poems appeared in 1820 in the greates single volume of poetry wich was to be finished in the 19th centruy.
But Keats did not only verse. In the same period 1818-19 he wrote numerous letters, which contain precious information on his development as a poet and the working genius, and can be considered a remarkable spiritual autobiography.
Early in 1820 Keats coughed up blood and understood its meaning at once: "that drop of blood is my death warrant”. He travelled to Italy in the hope of some alleviation with a warmer climate, and reached Rome where he died three months later, February 1821. His remains were buried in the English Cemetry in Rome. On his gravestone is carved the following self-written epitaph: “Here lies one whose name was writ in water”.