John Keats was an English poet who is now regarded as being one of the greatest lyric poets of his time. He was born in London on October 31, 1795 and in his short lifetime had 54 poems published in various magazines and in three volumes of poetry. Recognition of his achievements as one of the leading poets of his time only came after his death in Rome on February 23, 1821.
From the age of 8, Keats was educated at an academy just north of London in Enfield. As a schoolboy he won an essay prize and he developed a great love for literature. He was particularly attracted to ancient myths and spent his free time translating a large part of the Aeneid. He also studied classic French and Latin texts.
John Keats finished his academic education at the age of 16, when he began to study medicine as an apprentice to a surgeon. After reading The Faerie Queen by Edmund Spencer (1552-1599), Keats had become passionate about the language of poetry, and in 1814 he had began composing his own poetry.
Keats used poetry to express his feelings and to explore his own profound sense of beauty in nature, which he had been aware of from early childhood. He wrote using many different poetic forms, including the sonnet, the ode and epic verse. His first long poem, To George Felton Mathew (1815), was based on an Elizabethan style of verse writing, using heroic couplets.
In 1816 Keats was qualified to practice surgery, but gave up his medical career to pursue poetry. His first volume of poems was published in 1817 and he was greatly disappointed when it did not sell well.
Keats continued to write in various poetic formats. He began working on the lengthy Endymion when he was challenged by the poet Shelley to write some epic verses. Endymion was published in 1818 and in the same year Keats wrote his first Shakespearian sonnet, When I Have Fears the I May Cease To Be.
In 1818 Keats met and fell in love with Fanny Brawne, an eighteen-year-old who lived next door to him in Hampstead. His most passionate love poems were written about his feelings for her. The couple became engaged but were unable to marry because of his lack of money.
In 1919 Keats was at his most creative, writing five odes which are now considered to be amongst the greatest achievements of any poet from the Romantic era.
Critics at the time did not appreciate the poetic language of Keats and some of them reviewed his work in a very negative way. They seemed to despise him for being a common Londoner from a humble background who was aiming for success as a Romantic poet. Although his poetry was appreciated by some of the leading intellectuals of the time, Keats never achieved financial success or fame as a living poet. He wrote very little after his second volume of poems was published in 1820.
In the course of his short life, the poetic language and technical ability of John Keats were not generally known or acknowledged outside his close circle of friends and admirers. By 1820 Keats was in very poor health. He was suffering with severe symptoms of tuberculosis, so he left England for the milder winter climate of Italy. He was dead within a few months of his arrival in Rome.
KEATS, JOHN (1795-1821). —Poet, s. of the chief servant at an inn in London, who m. his master's dau., and d. a man of some substance. He was sent to a school at Enfield, and having meanwhile become an orphan, was in 1810 apprenticed to a surgeon at Edmonton. In 1815 he went to London to walk the hospitals. He was not, however, at all enthusiastic in his profession, and having become acquainted with Leigh Hunt, Hazlitt, Shelley, and others, he gave himself more and more to literature. His first work—some sonnets—appeared in Hunt's Examiner, and his first book, Poems, came out in 1817. This book, while containing much that gave little promise of what was to come, was not without touches of beauty and music, but it fell quite flat, finding few readers beyond his immediate circle. Endymion, begun during a visit to the Isle of Wight, appeared in 1818, and was savagely attacked in Blackwood and theQuarterly Review. These attacks, though naturally giving pain to the poet, were not, as was alleged at the time, the cause of his health breaking down, as he was possessed of considerable confidence in his own powers, and his claim to immortality as a poet. Symptoms of hereditary consumption, however, began to show themselves and, in the hope of restored health, he made a tour in the Lakes and Scotland, from which he returned to London none the better. The death soon after of his brother Thomas, whom he had helped to nurse, told upon his spirits, as did also his unrequited passion for Miss Fanny Brawne. In 1820 he pub. Lamia and Other Poems, containing Isabella, Eve of St. Agnes, Hyperion, and the odes to the Nightingale and The Grecian Urn, all of which had been produced within a period of about 18 months. This book was warmly praised in the Edinburgh Review. His health had by this time completely given way, and he was likewise harassed by narrow means and hopeless love. He had, however, the consolation of possessing many warm friends, by some of whom, the Hunts and the Brawnes, he was tenderly nursed. At last in 1821 he set out, accompanied by his friend Severn, on that journey to Italy from which he never returned. After much suffering he d. at Rome, and was buried in the Protestant cemetery there. The character of K. was much misunderstood until the publication by R.M. Milnes, afterwards Lord Houghton (q.v.), of his Life and Letters, which gives an attractive picture of him. This, together with the accounts of other friends, represent him as "eager, enthusiastic, and sensitive, but humorous, reasonable, and free from vanity, affectionate, a good brother and friend, sweet-tempered, and helpful." In his political views he was liberal, in his religious, indefinite. Though in his life-time subjected to much harsh and unappreciative criticism, his place among English poets is now assured. His chief characteristics are intense, sensuous imagination, and love of beauty, rich and picturesque descriptive power, and exquisitely melodious versification.
Life, Letters, etc., by R.M. Milnes (1848), Poems and Letters (Forman, 5 vols., 1900). Keats (Men of Letters Series, Colvin, 1887), etc. Poems (1817),Endymion (1818), Lamia and Other Poems (1820).