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Life Sketch of John Keats

Writing life sketches and/or interviews that focus on well-known poets, philosophers, and others remains part of my writing toolkit.

Introduction

The name, John Keats, is one of the most recognized in the literary world, especially in the area of poetry. He remains one the most broadly anthologized poets of the English Romantic Movement; his accomplishments remain an amazement seeing that he died at such an early age of 25, without leaving a large body of work.

Despite his dying so young, he has earned a stellar reputation that has continued to grow through the centuries, demonstrating that a high value is placed on his poetry. Keats’ poems continue to provide readers a pleasantly entertaining and enjoyable, as well as insightful, experience.

Early Years

Born in London, October 31, 1795,. Keats lost both of his parents while he was still a child: his father, Thomas Keats, who was a livery-stable owner, died when John was eight years old, and his mother, Frances Jennings Keats, when he was only fourteen.

John’s maternal grandmother turned her grandson’s upbringing over to two London merchants, Richard Abbey and John Rowland Sandell, who then became the boy’s main guardians. Abbey’s business dealt in tea, and it was he who took the greater responsibility in raising the young orphan. Sandell's presence in John’s life remained minor.

Until age fifteen, Keats attended the Clarke School at Enfield. Abbey then ended the boy's schooling school enrolled him in the study of medicine leading to a license as an apothecary. Instead continuing in the drug profession, however, Keats left that field and took up the writing of poetry.

First Publications

It was good fortune for Keats that he became acquainted with Leigh Hunt, an influential editor at the weekly newspaper, The Examiner, whose subtitle was "A Sunday paper on politics, domestic economy, and theatricals". Hunt published Keats' two most widely anthologized sonnets, "On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer" and "O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell." Serving as Keats' mentor, Hunt became instrumental in assisting the Romantic Movement in becoming ascendant.

Through Hunt the two most important literary figures of that movement, William Wordsworth and Percy Bysshe Shelley gained widespread exposure. And because of the influence of Hunt’s literary influence, Keats gained to ability and wherewithal to publish his book of poems in 1817, at the tender age of 22.

Percy Bysshe Shelley had advised Keats to postpone attempting to publish until he was older and had gathered a large collection of his original poems. Keats, of course, did not follow that advice, seeming to sense that his life may be short.

Facing the Critics

After having published his first collection of poems, Keats then published Endymion, a long poem of 4000 lines. Two critics from The Quarterly Review and Blackwood’s Magazine, then wrote scathing reviews of Keats long poem. It seemed that Shelley had been correct in his advice to the young poet to delay publication.

While Shelley essentially agreed with acid-tongued critics, he tried to lighten his own criticism by emphasizing the fact he thought Keats was a talented poet and that like the young poet’s health issues had contributed to the weakness of the long poem.

John Keats - Commemorative Stamp

John Keats - Commemorative Stamp

Composing a Creation Story

In the summer of 1818, Keats took part in a walking tour in the northern area of England and into part of Scotland. His brother, Tom, who was suffering from tuberculosis, became very ill, so Keats left the northern trek to return home, in order to care for his infirm sibling.

It was also around his period of his life that Keats met Fanny Brawne. The two fell in love, and it is thought that his romance with Fanny Brawne inspired many of Keats' best poems during the years 1818 and 1819.

Also during this same time frame, he was working on his creation myth titled "Hyperion," which is a Miltonic Greek-inspired creation story. After his brother Tom died, Keats stopped working on the creation story, but then later the next year, he took it up again. But he revised it and changed the title to "The Fall of Hyperion." Unfortunately, this piece remained unpublished, did find find publication until 1856, 35 years after John Keats’ death.

One of the Most Famous English Romantics

John Keats published one additional collection of poems in 1820, titled Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems. Along with the three poems that are featured in the title of the collection, the volume also includes his incomplete "Hyperion," "Ode on a Grecian Urn," "Ode on Melancholy," and "Ode to a Nightingale"; these poems remain the heart of a group of his works that have been most widely anthologized.

This collection was received with great praise from the literati, including such giants as Charles Lamb, and many others. Leigh Hunt and Percy Byshee Shelley, among others, composed glowing, enthusiastic reviews of this Keats collection. Even his incomplete "Hyperion" received lavish praise and was eagerly embraced as one of the finest poetic achievements in British poetry.

At this point in Keats life, after publishing his second collection of poems, Keats was suffering from his lifelong battle with tuberculosis, which was then in its advanced stages. His relationship with Fanny Brawne had continued warmly, even though his ill health had precluded from them the possibility of marriage. Keats required much time and space for him to engage his creative muse because of his health difficulties.

Keats doctor urged the poet to move to a warmer, drier climate; the cold, moist air of London exacerbated his condition. Thus, Keats relocated to Rome, Italy, and Joseph Severn, who was a painter, accompanied him.

Despite suffering an early death at age 25, John Keats remains one of the most recognizable names in the English Romantic Movement, along with William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Blake, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Felicia Dorothea Hemans, and Charlotte Turner Smith.

In Rome on February 23, 1821, John Keats died from tuberculosis, the disease that he had suffered for most of his life, His body is buried in Campo Cestio, also known as the Protestant Cemetery or the Cemetery for Non-Catholic Foreigners.

Sources

Graver Markers of John Keats and Joseph Severn

Graver Markers of John Keats and Joseph Severn

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on May 20, 2021:

Thank you, OLUSEGUN.

Keats is always a good read. And that he died so young before he could reach his peak remains a marvel in the literary world. His life must have included much suffering, yet he managed to retain a pleasant outlook on life and portray a pleasing atmosphere in his poetry. He is one of the more colorful Romantics.

OLUSEGUN from NIGERIA on May 20, 2021:

Wow! This is good work. Thanks for sharing.

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