Monday, February 23, 2015

John Keats— Till Love and Fame to Nothingness Did Sink

John Keats by William Hinton.

On February 23, 1821 John Keats, the quintessential English Romantic poet, died in Rome of the poignantly tragic disease of the era, consumption (tuberculosis), at the age of 25. 
The orphaned son of a livery stable keeper and a consumptive mother, young Keats fell under the guardianship of a pair of tea brokers who provided him with some of a gentleman’s education before binding him to an apprenticeship with an apothecary-surgeon in London.  Keats dutifully completed the apprenticeship but never practiced the profession. 
Instead, he threw himself into writing poetry.  After his first sonnets were published and respectably received, he was introduced into the Romantic literary circle that included William Wordsworth and Percy Bysshe Shelley.  With their help and encouragement he published his first collection, Poems by John Keats to a generally favorable reception in 1817.  His follow-up, Endimion, however, was savaged by establishment critics. 
A miniature portrait of Keats's great but unrequited love, Fanny Brawn.

He consoled himself on a walking tour or Northern England and Scotland the following year before returning home to nurse his brother who was dying of consumption.  He fell in doomed love with Fanny Brawne, who inspired a creative spurt of some of Keats’s most enduring work, including his famous Odes. 
He contracted the disease from his brother, if he was not already exposed, and began his own decline. 
In 1820 his final collection, Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems was published.  The title poems were rooted in semi-mythical historic pasts.  The collection also included his Odes and a fragment of the epic poem Hyperion on which he had been working for years but would never complete.
 His health failing and his hopes for marriage to Fanny doomed, friends financed a trip to Italy to get him out of the cold and damp of England.  The sun cure failed and he died in Rome at the home of the painter Joseph Severn. 
He was buried in the Protestant Cemetery where a number of British and American ex-patritubots and tourists of note found final rest.

A life mask of  John Keats.

The day is gone, and all its sweets are gone!
The day is gone, and all its sweets are gone!
   Sweet voice, sweet lips, soft hand, and softer breast,
Warm breath, light whisper, tender semi-tone,
   Bright eyes, accomplish’d shape, and lang’rous waist!
Faded the flower and all its budded charms,
   Faded the sight of beauty from my eyes,
Faded the shape of beauty from my arms,
   Faded the voice, warmth, whiteness, paradise –
Vanish’d unseasonably at shut of eve,
   When the dusk holiday – or holinight
Of fragrant-curtain’d love begins to weave
   The woof of darkness thick, for hid delight,
But, as I’ve read love’s missal through to-day,
He’ll let me sleep, seeing I fast and pray.

—John Keats

When I have Fears That I May Cease to Be

When I have fears that I may cease to be
   Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-pilèd books, in charactery,
   Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
   Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
   Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
   That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
   Of unreflecting love—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

—John Keats


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