October 31, 1795
Born In: Moorgate, London
Died On: February 23, 1821
Career: English Poet
Rich imagery and melodic beauty are the right terms that define the distinguished and fine works of English romantic poet, John Keats. Considered to be one of the most influential and greatest English language poets, Keats centered on converting sorrows and corruption, existing in human nature, to love, joy, peace and happiness. Keats was one of those struggling poets who tasted success during the last years of his life and after his death. Yet, poverty, hardships and grief did not destroy his passion for poetry or stop him from contributing to poetry. ‘Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems’ is considered to be his best-written work throughout his life that contains some best-known and oft-quoted poems, such as ‘Hyperion’, ‘To Autumn’, and ‘Ode To A Nightingale’. Find out more about this passionate and romantic poet in the following lines.
Childhood & Education
John Keats was the eldest of five children (out of which only four survived) born to Thomas Keats and Frances Jennings Keats in Moorgate, central London. His father, Thomas worked as a manager at a livery stable close to the Swan and Hoop Inn, which was later run by him and became a dwelling for the Thomas family for few years. Young John attended a local dame school after which he was shifted to John Clarke’s boarding school in Enfield. However, he did not live a happy childhood as his father died in a riding accident after falling off from a horse and fracturing his skull in 1804.
His mother re-married two months later, but the marriage did not last for long. Hence, they separated and Keats along with his mother and siblings moved to the village of Edmonton to stay with his maternal grandmother, Alice Jennings. There was, however, more agony awaiting the Keats siblings. In 1810, Frances died of tuberculosis leaving the children in the custody of their grandmother. The demise of his mother increased Keats’ closeness with his brothers, George and Thomas, especially. Two London merchants, Richard Abbey and John Rowland Sandell were appointed as guardians by their grandmother.
A year after his mother’s death in 1811, Keats was removed from school to apprentice with Dr. Thomas Hammond, a surgeon in Edmonton. Here, he learned to trade with little or no pay in return. Also, these were the years when Keats first tried his hand at writing. At a young age of 19 in 1814, Keats wrote his first surviving poem titled ‘An Imitation of Spenser’, which comprised of four stanzas. These verses were apparently inspired by Edmund Spenser’s poem ‘Fairie Queene’. Next year in 1815, Keats enrolled in Guy’s Hospital as a medical student. Just a month after his course started, he was recruited for a dressership position in the hospital, thereby increasing his responsibility and workload leaving less time for poetry.
Though he always had a keen interest in poetry and was often drawn by fellow poets, like Leigh Hunt and Byron, due to family financial crisis, Keats was forced to keep his ambition aside and hence, suffered from periods of deep depression. Although Keats attained his apothecary’s license in 1816, he expressed his desire to be a poet rather than being a surgeon. However, he continued to work at Guy’s Hospital, but always penned poems in his leisure time. In the same year, Keats managed to publish his sonnet ‘O Solitude’ in Leigh Hunt’s magazine The Examiner. With this, began Keats’s long-desired career of writing. ‘Calidore’, ‘Poems’, ‘Three Young Poets’, and ‘On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer’ were some works that followed.
In 1818, Keats moved to Wentworth Place in Hampstead Heath, owned by childhood friend Charles Armitage Brown. It was there that he developed most of his mature works. Until ‘Endymion: A Poetic Romance’, Keats continued to receive mixed reactions for his works. But with the publishing of this work in 1818, Keats was successful at achieving what he had waited for long. The critics were forced to keep mum with this highly-acclaimed epic poem. Next came in ‘Isabella’ that focused on the nature of human knowledge and beauty and greatness of tragic love. ‘Hyperion’, ‘Eve of St. Agnes’, ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’, ‘Ode to Psyche’, ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’, ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, ‘Ode on Indolence’, and ‘Ode on Melancholy’ were some great works that followed. His only drama ‘Otho the Great’ came up in later 1819.
Relationship With Fanny Brawne & Isabella Jones
Keats met Frances “Fanny” Brawne between September and November in 1818. Though both developed an intimate relationship, they parted ways. Before the end of the year, he met another lady Isabella Jones who was considered to be very close to him though their intimacy remains unclear till date. In 1819, Brawne moved to the Wentworth Place along with her widowed mother. This drew both towards each other, but due to Keats’s health, both parted ways as Keats had to move to Italy. But, little did both know that they would never meet each other again as Keats passed away after five months.
In 1820, Keats started showing significant symptoms of tuberculosis and also suffered two lung hemorrhages in early February 1820. ‘Lamia’ was the last long poem written by him. His third and last volume ‘Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes and Other Poems’ was published in July 1820. During his deteriorating health, he was nursed by Hunt and moved to Italy on being requested by doctors along with friend Joseph Severn. He boarded the ship for Gravesend on September 13 and wrote the poem ‘Bright Star’. By the time the ship reached Rome, the summer winds started to blow and his health further declined. Keats died on February 23, 1821 in the villa of Spanish Steps in Rome at the age of 25. He was buried in the Protestant Cemetery, Rome.
Imitation of Spencer, 1814
First Looking into Chapman’s Homer, 1816
Endymion: A Poetic Romance, 1818
Otho The Great: A Dramatic Fragment, 1819
Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems, 1820
1795: John Keats was born in Moorgate, London
1814: Keats wrote his first poem ‘An Imitation of Spenser’
1815: Registered in Guy’s Hospital for apothecary course
1818: Released ‘Endymion: A Poetic Romance’
1819: The only drama ‘Otho the Great’ was published
1821: Keats died in Rome, Italy aged 25