John Keats (1795-1821)Selected Poems British Romanticism The epitaph on John Keats' grave in Italy reads: "Here lies one whose name was writ in water." The words on his tombstone signify the short, tragic life of this Romantic poetic genius. Keats, like many of the Romantic poets before him, was influenced by Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton. When describing the genius of Shakespeare in a letter to his brother, Keats coined the phrase "negative capability," or the ability to accept the transcendence of mystery without the need of rational explanation. Keats used this ability, as well as his understanding and empathy for human suffering, to create some of the period's greatest poetry. Keats' own story is one of tremendous loss, a story only surpassed by the beauty he finds in nature and relates in his powerful verse. His father died when he was young, leaving a wife and four children financially insecure. His mother left home, abandoning the children to the care of grandparents. When Keats' mother returned, she was dying of tuberculosis. A few years later, Keats' brother Tom would succumb to the same disease. When Keats began coughing up blood, he knew from experience what his limited life would be like. Never financially able to marry, Keats nevertheless enjoyed a brief engagement with Fanny Brawne before his death at the age of twenty-five. From the depth of his suffering, we inherit some of most sublime lines in English poetry:
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: Its loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness; but still will keep A bower quiet for us, and a sleep Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing. Endymion
- Discuss the immortality of the nightingale.
- Discuss the immortality of the lovers on the Grecian urn.
- What is Keats' greatest fear?