Saturday, November 27, 2010

Keats—A Brief Biographical Sketch

Birth; Schooling; and the Deaths of Parents
John Keats was born on October 31, 1795. He was the eldest of the five children of a stable-keeper. He went to school at Enfield, and found a friend in Charles Cowden Clarke, son of the schoolmaster. He was remembered by his fellows for generosity, pugnacity, and a passion for reading. He lost his father by a riding accident in 1804, and his mother in 1810.

From Apprenticeship as a Surgeon to Poetry
In 1811, John Keats became an apprentice to a surgeon at Edmonton. During 1815-17, he continued his studies at the London hospitals but his heart was not in medicine and he felt that he was born to be a poet. Finally, he abandoned surgery for literature. Under the influence of Leigh Hunt and with the help of Clarke, Keats now settled down to a literary life. Through the kindness of Hunt, several sonnets by Keats appeared in The Examiner. But his Poems, 1817, which, with all their immaturities, included the well-known sonnet On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer, did not attract much attention. It was followed in 1818 by the Jong narrative poem Endymion which received warm praise from his friends but was attacked savagely by The Quarterly Review and Blackwood’s Magazine. The hostile reviews deeply wounded the poet and, in the opinion of some critics, hastened his death. (For instance, Byron remarked that Keats was “snuffed out by an article”.) But in fact, Keats was a man of great courage and, instead of being crushed by adverse criticism, he went on with his work with the idea of producing poetry that the world should not let die. As Matthew Arnold says, Keats had “flint and iron” in him. Endymion is romantic in subject, treatment and language. It contains an extravagant wealth of imagery and suffers from an excess of unnecessary details. But it also contains some remarkable passages of great beauty and charm.
The Tragic Death of His Brother; and Disappointment in Love
The wretched circumstances of Keats’s life make pathetic reading. Exposure during a walking tour in Scotland and the strain of nursing his brother Tom, who died in December, 1818, brought about a breakdown in his health. He felt very depressed and downcast. To aggravate his misery, he fell passionately in love with a girl called Fanny Brawne who did not respond to his love. The bitterness of this disappointment weighed heavily upon his already drooping spirits and broken health. According to some biographers; she had agreed to marry him but he could not marry her on account of his poverty and growing illness.
His Finest Poems in a Volume Published in 1820
Keats published only one more volume, Hyperion and Other Poems, 1820. This volume contains his great contributions to literature: the fragmentary Hyperion, The Eve of St. Agnes, the splendid odes To Autumn, To a Nightingale, On Melancholy, and On a Grecian. Urn; and the ballad. La Belle Dame Sans Merci. All these are precious treasures of English poetry. Shelley was so impressed by the beauty and promise of Hyperion that he sent a generous invitation to Keats to come to Pisa and live with him; but Keats declined the invitation as he had little sympathy with Shelley’s social and political views.
His Premature Death Due to Tuberculoses
Keats had seen a premature death because he had always felt threatened by consumption which ran in the family and which had already carried off his brother Tom. His fear of death finds expression in his sonnet, “When I have fears that I may cease to be”, and elsewhere. He was now definitely known to he suffering from consumption. As a lost hope, in September 1820, accompanied by his friend Joseph Severn, he left England for Italy. At Lulworth he wrote his last sonnet, “Bright Star, would I were steadfast as thou art”. He died in Rome on February 23, 1821, and was buried in the old Protestant cemetery near the Pyramid of Caius Cestius. Conscious to the last, and attended by rare devotion by Severn, he chose his own epitaph: “Here lies one whose name was writ in water”. Young as he died, he was one of the most germinal poets, and left a deep mark on English literature.
In Memory of Keats
The first memorial to Keats was unveiled in the parish church of Hampstead on July 16, 1894, a bust sculptured by a Boston lady and presented by Americans. In 1909, the house in which Keats died was opened as a Keats-Shelley memorial. In connection with centenary celebrations a movement was started which in 1925 acquired Lawn Bank, formerly Wentworth Place, Hampsteadt where Keats lived during 1817-20, as a home for the Dilke collection of relics. There the poet is said to have heard the nightingale of his famous ode. The Keats Museum was opened in 1931.
The Wretchedness of the Circumstances of His Life
Referring to the circumstances of Keats’s life, J.W. Beach writes: “There was, to begin with, the somewhat low life background of the livery-stable where his father worked. There was the want of refinement in his mother’s character and the early death of both parents; the uncongenial profession of medicine to which he was apprenticed, the vulgar companionship of young hospital attendants; the sickness and death of his brother Tom, whom lie nursed during the three months of his decline; his own illness and his somewhat neurotic disposition; his unhappy infatuation with Fanny Brawne; the ugly, confining streets of London; and a general social tone and atmosphere that made him what critics called a ‘Cockney’ poet. It all must have added up to something from which his soul ardently craved relief.”

People who read this post also read :


Anonymous said...

good but it should be short...

Post a Comment

Please leave your comments!