John Keats is perhaps the most romantic of the Romantic poets. His short life as a poet lacking recognition, his premature death, his infatuation with a girl, and, most of all, his talent, are all factors contributing to that statement.
Born in 1795, in London, Keats was meant for the occupation of an assistant surgeon. However, John Keats was encouraged to do much reading, which led him to the one profession he was meant for –the one of a Poet.
John’s first poems received practically no attention, and his later works received bad reviews. He composed during his travels around England with his friend, Charles Brown, until he settled in Hampstead. Before joining Brown, Keats suffered a tragedy – his younger brother, Tom, died early of tuberculosis. About three years later, John would reach the same fate.
In Hampstead, Keats fell passionately in love with his neighbour Fanny Brawne.
“My dearest Girl,
I have been a walk this morning with a book in my hand, but as usual I have been occupied with nothing but you…”*
This romance is wonderfully depicted in the movie Bright Star, titled after one of Keats’ poems. Unfortunately, it did not last long, as Keats started showing first signs of tuberculosis shortly after, and died in Rome, in 1821, at the age of twenty five…
He asked to put no name on the tombstone, and instead
“He left instructions that he was to be buried with the unopened letters from Fanny Brawn which he had received since arriving in Rome, together with a lock of her hair and a purse made by his sister. His headstone was to be engraved with a lyre and with the words ‘Here lies one whose name was writ in water’. He was buried in the Protestant cemetery outside the walls of Rome.”**
“Here lies one whose name was writ in water” means “fame, and indeed life, is fleeting”***, a suiting epitaph, and yet not very. Though Keats’ fame was fleeting and almost non-existent during his lifetime, his marvelous poems earned him recognition afterwards, and for centuries. He is more than just a “young English poet”, as is written on his tombstone, he stands among the best.
Personally, I think Keats had exceptional talent and I enjoyed his poems very much. I am more partial to Lyric poems, but out of his Narrative poems I liked “Isabella, or the Pot of Basil”. My short review, more like an overview, of Keats’ selected poems, as well as some of my favourite titles, can be read here.
*An excerpt from J.Keats’ letter to Fanny Brawne, dated June 1820, taken from Everyman’s Library edition of Keats’ selected poems. Citation: Keats, John. “John Keats. Poems.” UK: Everyman’s Library, 1994
**Some material taken and quoted from <http://www.adnax.com/biogs/jk.htm>
***Quoted from <http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/179500.html>