He was born in London. At the age of fifteen he was attracted by books and by classical antiquity. Successively he was enchanted by the Greek plastic art which influenced his future poetry.
Then, after a trip through England, Scotland and Ireland, he began to be affected by tuberculosis. After a year of great creative activity, his health deteriorated and so he decided to travel to a warmer climate in Italy, where he died.
His narrative poems are: Endymion, Isabella or the pot of Basil, Hysperion, The eve of St. Agnes.
As for lyrical poems, we can remember La belle dame sans merci, and among his great odes, the most important was Ode on a Grecian Urn.
His life was troubled by family tragedies, financial problems and the tuberculosis. As a matter of fact in his poems we can find a sense of melancholy, death and mortality.
He conceived poetry as something absolute, as the only reason for life. Poetry was not to contain a message, but only to reproduce what his own imagination suggested to him.
Beauty is the central theme, since it was the only consolation he found in life. He wrote “a thing of beauty is a joy for ever”.
As for imagination, he said that it recognizes beauty in existing things, but also creates Beauty.
He also formulated the theory of “negative capability”: the poet is not concerned with a moral judgment and he must have the ability of not intruding his own personality into his works.
Keats’s poetical ideal was the ability to represent objects and characters enriching them with imagination, but without interfering with his personal judgment.
Ode on a Grecian Urn
For Keats ancient Greek art and poetry meant beauty, and it influenced his poetry. Greece was his ideal country and her classical art was a divine gift to all humanity.
The poem is about an imaginary Grecian Urn, probably inspired by a vase which Keats saw at the British Museum.
It is constructed in three parts: introduction, main subject and conclusion. The introduction presents the Urn in its mystery and shows what questions it poses to the poet.. The main subject consists of the scenes on the urn as Keats sees them through imagination. The conclusion relates the experience gained from the urn and answers the questions which the poem has raised..
The urn is addressed as a living creature. It is a perfect work of art, for ever uncorrupted.