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A long time ago I wrote about Keats and the saddest life story: one of the most romantic poets, living a very short and unhappy life, and now being tragically undervalued by, well, by most people (except Percy Bysshe Shelley but even that was not much of a consolation!)

I found this funny remark in E.M.Forster’s A Room with a View, referring to Keats as a writer of beautiful romantic things.

“Isn’t Romance capricious! I never notice it in you young people; you do nothing but play lawn-tennis and say that Romance is dead, while the Miss Alans are struggling with all the weapons of propriety against the terrible thing. ‘A really comfortable pension at Constantinople!’ So they call it out of decency, but in their hearts they want a pension with magic windows opening on the foam of perilous seas in fairylands forlorn! No ordinary view will content the Miss Alans. They want the Pension Keats.”

A Room with a View, by the way, is a very pleasant book to read. In describing the life and choices of a young girl it shows the difference between Victorian values and the new, more free attitude of the turn of the century, and how this affects people in their everyday dealings.

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I am not a big fan of the poetry of John Keats (my professor says “of course, noone likes Keats” but that might be an overstatement) but his lifestory is so beautiful and sad and romantic that I wanted to share it here.

john keats

John Keats was an English poet who lived from 1795 to 1821, he died at 26 leaving an impressive amount of high-quality poetry. Before he was 15, his mother, father, and grandfather had died. When his grandmother died, he was entrusted with the care of his brother Tom, who suffered from tuberculosis, the same illness that had killed his mother. Keats left for a journey through Scotland and Ireland, but the physical exhaustion and bad, wet weather proved to be bad for his health. He had to return early, suffering from a sore throath, and what were probably the first signs of tuberculosis. When he returned, he found his brother Tom’s condition had deteriorated, and he died in 1818.
Keats moved house and fell in love with his neighbor’s daughter, the eighteen-year old Fanny Brawne. It was a very unhappy affair: while the couple did get engaged, they knew they would probably never marry because Keats was very poor (the little money he made he send to his other brother in America, who was almost bankrupt due to an unwise investment) and his health was quickly worsening.
In 1820 he was invited to spend some time in Italy by Percy Bysshe Shelley, but he writes back that he might not be able to visit, because he thinks he might die before that time. Finally he did move to Italy, where he died in 1821.

Keats was a very sensitive person, and it is said that his health was influenced by bad reviews on his poetry, which were above all motivated by politics, not by the poetry’s quality. Shelley called Keats “a pale flower” and Byron, who disliked him, said he was “snuffed out by an article.” Keats’ death later inspired Shelley to write the poem Adonais, and when Shelley’s drowned body was found (a year after Keats’ death) it had an open book of Keats’ works upon it.

Keats’ letter to Shelley can be read here.

(Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keats, the Norton Anthology of English literature, Vol II, 8th Edition.)

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