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John Keats ( , "keets") (31 October 1795 – 23 February 1821) was an Englishmarker poet, who became one of the key figures of the Romantic movement. Along with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, Keats was one of the second generation Romantic poets. During his short life his work was not well received by critics, but his posthumous influence on poets such as Alfred Tennyson and Wilfred Owen was significant. The poetry of Keats was characterised by elaborate word choice and sensual imagery, most notably in a series of odes which remain among the most popular poems in English literature. The letters of Keats, which include the development of his aesthetic theory of negative capability, are among the most celebrated by any English poet.


Early life

John Keats was born on 31 October 1795 to Thomas and Frances Jennings Keats. He was the oldest of their four surviving children—George (1797–1841), Thomas (1799–1818), and Frances Mary "Fanny" (1803–1889). A son was lost in infancy. John was born in central Londonmarker, (though there is no clear evidence exactly where) . His father was working as an ostler at the Hoop and Swan pub when John Keats was born, an establishment Thomas later managed and where the growing family would live for some years, now the "Keats at the Globe", a few yards from modern day Moorgate stationmarker.

Keats was baptised at St Botolph-without-Bishopsgatemarker and sent to a local dame school as an infant. In the summer of 1803, he was sent to board, with his brother George, at the Clark school in Enfield run by headmaster John Clarke, close to his grandparents' house in Ponders Endmarker. On 15 April 1804, only nine months after Keats had started at Enfield, his father died of a fractured skull, falling from his horse on a return visit to the school. Thomas died intestate. Frances remarried two months afterwards, but quickly left the new husband and, with her four children, went to live with the children's grandmother, Alice Jennings, in the village of Edmonton, Londonmarker

In March 1810, when Keats was fourteen, his mother died, leaving the children in the custody of their grandmother. Jennings appointed two guardians to take care of her new charges. In autumn 1810, Keats was removed from Clarke's school to become a surgeon's apprentice at Thomas Hammond's apothecary shop in Edmontonmarker. Charles Cowden Clarke, a close school friend of Keats, described this time as "the most placid time in [Keats'] painful life". He lodged with Hammond and slept in the attic above the surgery.

A young poet—the Cockney School

His first surviving poem—An Imitation of Spenser—comes in 1814, when Keats was nineteen. On 1 October 1815, Keats registered to become a student at Guy's Hospitalmarker (now part of King's College Londonmarker) where he would study for five years. Within a month of starting, he was accepted for a 'dressership' position within the hospital—a significant promotion, which he took up in March the following year. During his time at Guysmarker, he lived in various rooms near London Bridgemarker.

He was also devoting increasing time to the study of literature. On 5 May 1816, Leigh Hunt, a poet and critic greatly admired by Keats, agreed to publish the sonnet O Solitude. Hunt's Examiner was "the leading liberal magazine of the day". It is the first appearance of Keats' poems in print and Charles Cowden Clarke refers to it as his friend's "red letter day" , first proof that John's ambitions were not ridiculous. In the summer of that year he went down to the coastal town of Margatemarker with Clarke to write. Here he began Calidore and initiated the era of his great letter writing.

In October, Clarke personally introduced Keats to Leigh Hunt and five months later, on March 3 1817, Poems, his first volume of verse, was published. It was a critical failure. Hunt introduced Keats to many influential men in his circle, including editor of The Times Thomas Barnes, writer Charles Lamb, conductor Vincent Novello and poet John Hamilton Reynolds, who would become a close friend. Hunt went on to publish an essay on Three Young Poets (Shelley, Keats and Reynolds), along with the sonnet on Chapman's Homer, promising great things to come. Andrew Motion suggests in his biography that this represents a decisive turning point for Keats as "he was now established in the eyes of the world as a member of, what Hunt called, 'a new school of poetry' ".

Endymion, on its eventual publication, was also ferociously damned by the critics, giving rise to Byron's quip that Keats was ultimately "snuffed out by an article." William Gifford wrote in The Quarterly Review:
"It is not that Mr. Keats (if that be his real name, for we almost doubt that any man in his senses would put his real name to such a rhapsody)—it is not, we say, that the author has not powers of language, rays of fancy, and gleams of genius. He has all these; but he is unhappily a disciple of the new school of what has been somewhere called 'Cockney Poetry,' which may be defined to consist of the most incongruous ideas in the most uncouth language. ... He seems to us to write a line at random, and then he follows, not the thought excited by this line, but that suggested by the rhyme with which it concludes. There is hardly a complete couplet enclosing a complete idea in the whole book. He wonders from one subject to another, from the association, not of ideas, but of sounds ..."

John Gibson Lockhart wrote in Blackwoods Magazine
   "To witness the disease of any human understanding, however feeble, is distressing; but the spectacle of an able mind reduced to a state of insanity is of course ten times more afflicting. It is with such sorrow as this that we have contemplated the case of Mr John Keats. ... He was bound apprentice some years ago to a worthy apothecary in town. But all has been undone by a sudden attack of the malady. ... For some time we were in hopes, that he might get off with a violent fit or two; but of late the symptoms are terrible. The phrenzy of the "Poems" was bad enough in its way; but it did not alarm us half so seriously as the calm, settled, imperturbable drivelling idiocy of Endymion.[...] Back to the [apothecary] shop Mr John, back to ‘plasters, pills, and ointment boxes.’" 

It was Lockhart at Blackwoods that had coined the defamatory term "the Cockney School" for Hunt and his circle, including Hazlitt and, squarely, Keats. The dismissal was as much political as literary—aimed at upstart young writers deemed 'uncooth' for their lack of education and 'low diction'. They had not attended Etonmarker, Harrowmarker or Oxbridge colleges—they were not from the upper classes.

The Hampstead period

Unhappy with living in London and in bad health, Keats moved into rooms at 1 Well Walk, in April 1817, with his brothers. Both John and George nursed their brother Tom, who was suffering from tuberculosis. The house in Hampsteadmarker was close to Hunt and others from his circle, as well as the senior poet Coleridge, living in Highgatemarker.

In June 1818, Keats began a walking journey around Scotlandmarker, Irelandmarker and the Lake districtmarker with his friend Charles Armitage Brown. George and his wife Georgina accompanied them as far as Lancaster and then headed to Liverpoolmarker, from where the couple would emigrate to America. (They lived in Ohiomarker and Louisvillemarker, Kentuckymarker until 1841 when George's investments went bad. Like both his brothers, he would die penniless and racked by tuberculosis. There would be no effective treatment for the disease till 1921.)

In July, while on Mull for the walking tour, Keats caught a bad cold and by August Brown writes that his friend "was too thin and fevered to proceed on the journey" . On his return south, Keats continued to nurse Tom, continuously exposing himself to the highly infectious disease. Motion argues "It was on Mull that Keats' short life started to end, and his slow death began", although biographers disagree on when the first signs of tuberculosis appear. 'Consumption' was not identified as a single disease till 1820 and there was considerable stigma attached to the infection—often being associated with weakness, repressed sexual passion or masturbation. Keats "refuses to give it a name" in his letters. Tom Keats died on 1 December.

John Keats moved again, to live in Brown's house, the newly built, Wentworth Place, also on the edge of Hampstead Heathmarker, slightly south of Well Walk. The Keats poems Fancy and Bards of passion and of mirth were inspired by the gardens. Keats composed five of his six great odes in April and May and, although it is debated in which order they were written, Ode to Psyche starts the series. According to Brown, Ode to a Nightingale was composed under their mulberry tree. He says

In the spring of 1819 a nightingale had built her nest near my house.
Keats felt a tranquil and continual joy in her song; and one morning he took his chair from the breakfast-table to the grass-plot under a plum-tree, where he sat for two or three hours.
When he came into the house, I perceived he had some scraps of paper in his hand, and these he was quietly thrusting behind the books.
On inquiry, I found those scraps, four or five in number, contained his poetic feelings on the song of our nightingale

Dilke, co-owner of the house, strenuously denied the story, as it was printed in Milnes' 1848 biography of Keats, and dismissed it as "pure delusion". Wentworth Place now houses the Keats' Housemarker museum.

At this time he met the eighteen year old Frances (Fanny) Brawne, who eventually lived next door to Wentworth Place with her widowed mother. Fanny was also a Londoner—born in the hamlet of West End near Hampstead on 9 August 1800. Her grandfather had run a London inn, as Keats' father had done, and had lost several members of her family to tuberculosis. She also shared her christian name with the sister and mother of Keats. He fell in love with Fanny and a year later they were betrothed, although the engagement was later broken off as his health worsened. Fanny's letters to Keats were, as the poet had requested, destroyed upon his death. However, in 1937, a collection of 31 letters, written by Fanny Brawne to Frances, the sister of Keats, was published by Oxford University Press.

Life and Death masks in Rome
In 1819, during his time at Wentworth, also he wrote The Eve of St. Agnes, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, Hyperion Otho (critically slammed and not dramatised till 1950) and Lamia. In September, very short of money, he approached his publishers with his new poems. They were unimpressed with the collection, finding the presented versions of Lamia confusing, and describing St Agnes as having a "sense of pettish disgust" and "a 'Don Juan' style of mingling up sentiment and sneering [...] a poem unfit for ladies"

On 21 September, Keats wrote to his friend Reynolds, introducing his last great ode: To Autumn. He says
"How beautiful the season is now—How fine the air. A temperate sharpness about it [...]I never lik'd the stubbled fields as much as now—Aye, better than the chilly green of spring. Somehow the stubble plain looks warm—in the same way as some pictures look warm—this struck me so much in my Sunday's walk that I composed upon it" .

It would go on, long after his death, to become one of the most highly praised poems in the English language. The final volume Keats lived to see—Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems—was eventually published in July 1820.

During 1820 Keats began showing increasingly serious signs of tuberculosis and suffered two lung haemorrhages in the first few days of February . He lost large amounts of blood in the attacks and was then bled further by his attending physician. At the suggestion of his doctors, he agreed to leave Londonmarker and move to Italymarker with his friend Joseph Severn. On 13th September, he left for Gravesend and four days later Keats and Severn boarded the sailing brig The Maria Crowther. Keats wrote his final version of Bright Star aboard the ship.


On arrival in Italy, he moved into a villa on the Spanish Stepsmarker in Romemarker, (now the Keats-Shelley Memorial Housemarker, a museum that is dedicated to their life and work). Despite attentive care from Severn and Dr. John Clark, the poet's health rapidly deteriorated. According to a biography of Severn, the medical attention Keats was given may have hastened his end. When Keats arrived in Romemarker in November 1820, Dr Clark is said to have declared that the source of his illness was "mental exertions and application" and that his illness was chiefly "situated in his Stomach". He finally diagnosed consumption (now called tuberculosis) and put Keats on a starvation diet—an anchovy and a piece of bread a day—to reduce the blood flow to his stomach. He also bled Keats, which was a standard treatment of the day but would have contributed to his weakness.

John Keats died on 23 February 1821 and was buried in the Protestant Cemetery, Romemarker. His last request was to be buried under a tombstone, without his name, and bearing only the legend Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water. Severn and Brown erected such a stone, and under the relief of a lyre with broken strings, they added:

This Grave

contains all that was mortal,

of a



on his Death Bed,

in the Bitterness of his heart,

at the Malicious Power of his Enemies,

Desiredthese Words to be engraven on his Tomb Stone

"Here lies One

Whose Name was writ in Water"

This was written in protest to the critical reception of the Keats's work. Leigh Hunt blamed Keats's death on a scathing attack on Endymion, carried in an article published several years earlier, in the Quarterly Review. The article was long believed to have been written by William Gifford, though later shown to be the work of John Wilson Croker. Shelley memorialised Keats in his poem Adonais. In his biography Motion says "Shelley promoted Keats as someone whose achievement could not be separated from agony, who was 'spiritualised' by his decline, and [...] simply too fine-tuned to endure the buffetings of the world". This is the consumptive, suffering image popularly held today.


See the Wikipedia articles List of Poems by John Keats and Bibliography of John Keats for links to detailed articles about individual poems.

As a poet of the Romantic school, his inspiration often comes from a new regard for wild, untrammelled, and "pure" nature. His work reflects other Romantic themes such as medievalism (Isabella), the heroic isolation of the narrator (Ode to a Nightingale), folk lore (The Eve of St. Agnes), classical myth (Lamia or Hyperion), and the primacy of freedom and feeling (Ode on Melancholy). He found great inspiration in poets such as Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, and Dryden.

Keats' odes, which many consider to be his most distinctive poetical achievements, were all composed in 1819. Algernon Charles Swinburne, in his entry on Keats for the 1882 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, was scathing in his criticism of Keats's early poems

:::"The rawest and the rankest rubbish of his fitful spring, ... frequently detestable, a mixture of sham Spenserian and mock Wordsworthian, alternately florid and arid... some of the most vulgar and fulsome doggrel ever whimpered by a vapid and effeminate rhymester in the sickly stage of whelphood"

but rapt in admiration for Keats's "unequalled and unrivalled odes," about which he wrote:

::"Of these perhaps the two nearest to absolute perfection, to the triumphant achievement and accomplishment of the very utmost beauty possible to human words, may be that to Autumn and that on a Grecian Urn ; the most radiant, fervent, and musical is that to a Nightingale; the most pictorial and perhaps the tenderest in its ardour of passionate fancy is that to Psyche; the subtlest in sweetness of thought and feeling is that on Melancholy. Greater lyrical poetry the world may have seen than any that is in these; lovelier it surely has never seen, nor ever can it possibly see... The Ode to a Nightingale, [is] one of the final masterpieces of human work in all time and for all ages "


The grave of Keats in Rome
The death of Keats inspired Shelley to write the poem Adonais.

Byron later composed a short poem on Shelley's theme employing the phrase "snuffed out by an article." However, Byron, far less admiring of the poetry of Keats than Shelley and generally more cynical in nature, was here probably just as much poking fun at Shelley's interpretation as he was having a dig at the critics.

The largest collection of the letters, manuscripts, and other papers of Keats is in the Houghton Library at Harvard Universitymarker. Other collections of such material can be found at the British Librarymarker; Keats Housemarker, Hampsteadmarker; the Keats-Shelley Memorial Housemarker in Romemarker; and the Pierpont Morgan Librarymarker in New Yorkmarker.

The 2009 film Bright Star, written and directed by Jane Campion, focuses on Keats' relationship with Fanny Brawne.


Additional works

See also



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  • Monckton Milnes, Richard, ed. (Lord Houghton) (1848). Life, Letters and Literary Remains of John Keats. 2 vols. London: Edward Moxon.
  • Rossetti, William Michael (1887). The Life and Writings of John Keats. London: Walter Scott.
  • Colvin, Sidney (1917). John Keats: His Life and Poetry, His Friends Critics and After-Fame. London: Macmillan.
  • Lowell, Amy (1925). John Keats. 2 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Brown, Charles Armitage (1937). The Life of John Keats, ed. with an introduction and notes by Dorothy Hyde Bodurtha and Willard Bissell Pope. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Gittings, Robert (1954). John Keats: The Living Year. 21 September 1818 to 21 September 1819. London: Heinemann.
  • Parson, Donald (1954). Portraits of Keats. Cleveland: World Publishing Co.
  • Richardson, Joanna (1963). The Everlasting Spell. A Study of Keats and His Friends. London: Cape.
  • Ward, Aileen (1963). John Keats: The Making of a Poet. London: Secker & Warburg.
  • Bate, Walter Jackson (1964). John Keats. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
  • Gittings, Robert (1964). The Keats Inheritance. London: Heinemann.
  • Gittings, Robert (1968). John Keats. London: Heinemann.
  • Hewlett, Dorothy (3rd rev. ed. 1970). A life of John Keats. London: Hutchinson.
  • Colvin, Sidney (1970). John Keats: His Life and Poetry, His Friends, Critics, and After-Fame. New York: Octagon Books.
  • Richardson, Joanna (1980). Keats and His Circle. An Album of Portraits. London: Cassell.
  • Coote, Stephen (1995). John Keats. A Life. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
  • Motion, Andrew (1997). Keats. London: Faber.
  • Walsh, John Evangelist (1999). Darkling I Listen: The Last Days and Death of John Keats. New York: St. Martin's Press
  • Kirkland, John (2008). Love Letters of Great Men, Vol. 1. CreateSpace Publishing.
  • Plumly, Stanley (2008). Posthumous Keats. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

External links





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