Biography of Famous English Poet John Keats

About the famous English poet John Keats, biography and history of his poetry.

John Keats (1795-1821)

"I am a coward. I cannot bear the pain of being happy."

John Keats was born in London, in his father's livery stable, on October 31, 1795. When Keats was 9, his father died in a fall from a horse. His mother left her 4 children with their grandmother and vanished with a new husband.

Keats was of slight build, just 5' tall, delicate, with attractive features, large hazel eyes, and strawberry-blond curls. At school he refused to be bullied and "he would fight anyone, morning, noon, and night."

With the death of his grandmother when he was 15, his guardian apprenticed him to an apothecary surgeon. After 4 years he went to study in a London hospital where he received his certificate to practice medicine.

It was during lectures that he 1st attempted writing poetry, scribbling rhymes in the margins of his notes. Shortly after his graduation he decided to abandon medicine and pursue his true vocation--poetry. Through a friend he was introduced to Wordsworth and Shelley, and under their influence he published a volume of sonnets. This book sold poorly, despite favorable reviews, and Keats was disappointed but not discouraged. But when his 2nd volume, Endymion, was scorned by the critics he retreated to Scotland and Ireland for an extended walking tour.

He returned to England with his health badly impaired by the cold, wet weather he had encountered. He soon diagnosed his own symptoms as tuberculosis, the same disease which had claimed his mother and brother.

As his condition worsened, Keats went to live in the country with a friend. The 23-year-old poet soon fell hopelessly in love with a beautiful neighbor girl. Fanny Brawne, who was just 18, made up for her lack of interest in poetry with her devotion to the ailing poet.

Aware of the fact that he was dying, Keats felt that marriage with Fanny was impossible. In these painful circumstances he produced his best poetry, including Ode on a Grecian Urn and Ode to a Nightingale.

His condition grew steadily worse and he began to use laudanum to relieve his pain. When Shelley heard of Keats' condition, he invited the invalid to Pisa, in the hopes that the warmer Italian climate might help Keats to rally.

Although in despair over leaving Fanny, Keats headed for Italy. His correspondence with Fanny and friends in England includes some of his most beautiful writing and helped him to win a reputation, after his death, as the greatest letter writer in English literature. Keats never reached Pisa, for he died in a small room above the Spanish Steps in Rome, on February 23, 1821, at the age of 25. At his request, no name was written on his tomb, which bears only the enigmatic inscription: "Here lies one whose name was writ in water."

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