John Keats was an English poet who belonged to the period of Romanticism in English literature- dedicated himself to the perfection of poetry. His poetry is marked by the intense use of imagery of classical legend articulated by philosophy. John Keats was born on 31st October 1795. Along with Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron, he was one of the prominent figures of the Romantic poets of the second generation. However, his works were published four years before his death. He died of tuberculosis on 23rd February 1821 at the age of 25.

Though the critics of his time did not receive his work very well, his reputation as the greatest Romantic grew after his death. At the end of the 19th century, he was regarded as one of the most beloved English poets, of all poets. He influenced a significant number of poets and writers significantly. For instance, Jorge Luis Borges, an Argentine short-story writer, poet, essayist, and translator, commented that the most significant literary experience he had in his life was his first encounter with the work of Keats.  

A Short Biography of John Keats

John Keats was born in Morefield. He was the son of a hostler and stable keeper, thus born in the stable of the swan and Hoop Inn, London. His father, Thomas Keats, died when he was just eight years old. Adding to the misfortune of John Keats, his mother, Frances Jennings Keats, was also diagnosed with tuberculosis when he was fourteen years old. His life and metal health was greatly influenced by these tragic events and brought him closer to his siblings. He has two brothers Tom and George, and one sister, Fanny.

Keats tried to find ease and escape in art and literature when his parents died. He was an insatiable reader at the Enfield Academy.  Keats was closely associated with the headmaster, John Clark, of the academy as he proved to be a fatherly figure to Keats. Clark encouraged him to develop his interest in the young orphan in literature and art.

In 1810, John Keats withdrew from the Enfield Academy and started pursuing the career of a surgeon. In 1816, he completed his medical education and was appointed as the certified apothecary in the hospital in London. Despite pursuing the medical career, Keats’ devotion to literature and art never ended. In the meantime, through a close friend Cowden Clarke, he became familiar with the editor Leigh Hunt of The Examiner. In 1817, he shifted back to London. However, his friendship with Hunt still continued.

The year 1819 is marked with the ups and downs for John Keats. He received very harsh criticism from the critics on his long poem “Endymion,” which discouraged him a lot. When he moved to Hampstead, he met with the Brawne family. Fanny Brawne, the daughter of the Browne family, was a beautiful girl. Though she was five years younger than Keats, he fell in deep love with her. Soon after, Keats and Fanny Brawne got engaged. It was during this period that Keats wrote his famous poem “Ode to a Nightingale” and Ode to Grecian Urn.”

In 1820, Keats was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He was very well nursed by Fanny Brawne. Though he was severely ill, he tried his best to finish the last poem, and ultimately it received the admiration of a lot of people. However, he gave up writing poetry due to his ailing condition and shifted to Italy for treatment with friend Joseph Severn. He could not survive the disease and died. He was buried in Rome.

John Keats’ Writing style

The writing style of John Keats is overwhelmed by poetic devices such as personification, alliteration, metaphors, assonance, and consonance. These devices are put together, which creates the music and rhythm in the poems. For example, his poem “Ode to the Nightingale” is full of literary devices. Similarly, his poetry is also characterized by sensual imagery. His poems “Lamia,” “Hyperion,” “Ode to the Nightingale,” and “Endymion” are the best examples of sensual imagery.

Moreover, the diction used by Keats is also connotative.  For example, in the poem, “Ode to the Grecian Urn,” Keats implied formal diction: 

“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard

Are sweeter: therefore, ye soft pipes, play on …”

The uses of formal diction “ye” in the above lines.

 The odes written by Keats are a unique achievement in poetry. Keats’s odes are usually a lyrical reflection on something that stimulates the poet to encounter his own inner desires, to think about his own longings and their relationship with the harsh reality of the outer world. 

Being the last romantic poet, he shows the typical aspects of Romanticism in his poetry. Though Keats wrote for only three years, the poems he wrote in these three years become the hallmark of the literary canon and make him one of the greatest and most celebrated poets in English Literature. Though the themes of his poems are not concerned with nature, he implied the poetic devices to make his poetry gentle and romantic. Misery, death, love, and nature are the main aspects of Romantic poetry, and the readers also find these aspects in the poetry of Keats’ as well.

Similarly, in Romanticism, we also find the appreciation of past writers, mythology, and Latin. We observe that Keats’s poetry also observes these rules.

Though Keats’ style of writing poetry is unique, his manner of poetry is immensely suggestive of Edmund Spenser. Keats and other traditional Romantics would likely focus on the remote past, ancient myth, and fairy tales to escape from the harsh realities of life and the unwelcoming modern 19th century. The material of Keats’ poem “Endymion” is found in remote antiquity instead of the Middle Ages. In essence, he used the manner of Middle Ages poetry in his poems “Eve of St. Agnes” and “La Belle Dame sans Merci.” 

 Keats writes his poetry in rhymed iambic pentameter; however, it is not exactly like the simple heroic couplet used by the poet of the previous century. We seldom find end-stops at the end of the poetry. He uses enjambment normally as his verses flow into one another, particularly in a narrative poem. For example, in the poem “Ode to the Nightingale” has the poetic device enjambment as follows: 

 “My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,

Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains.”

 To present the individual characters in the poem, Keats never coupled the narrative and the dramatic power. He would display the characters with expressive moods as he had mastered the lyrical powers. The moods were often romantic, pensive, lethargic, sadness, or ecstatic delight. These moods can greatly be observed in his odes.

The following are the characteristics of Keats’ poetry.

Quest for Beauty

Like other Romantic poets, Keats also focused on understanding and exploring the beauty of nature in his poems. According to Keats, there is beauty in every object of the universe, and as a poet, it is his job to look for it and incarcerate it in his poetry. According to Keats, a person becomes aware of the truth when he identifies and understands the concept of beauty. In his poem “Ode to Grecian Urn,” he writes in the final lines that

 “Beauty is truth, truth beauty — that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

 Emphasis on Ordinary Things

Keats, unlike the Romantic poets, emphasizes on the ordinary and common things in his poetry, particularly in efforts to understand beauty. Though famous Romantic poet, P.B. Shelley wrote about imperceptible things in his poetry, Keats emphasizes the identifiable and close object such as the dew of the season in autumn. Once Keats wrote, in his letter that “If a sparrow comes before my window, I take part in its existence and pick about the gravel.” This proposes that Keats always look for beauty in the ordinary things like sunset, sunrise, mountain, and valleys, etc. 

Exclusion of Self

While exploring and identifying the beauty of ordinary things in his poetry, Keats disposed of his personality that would dictate his exploration. In doing so, he aligned himself to the father of English Drama, William Shakespeare. Keats found Shakespeare to be able to write about ordinary things as he refrained from expressing fondness to anything.

Odal Hymns

The six odes that Keats wrote to the physical objects is one of the most famous sets of Keats poetry. These odes are to the urn, autumn, a nightingale, indolence, psyche, and melancholy. These odes are lyrical and are devoted to praising something, thus fall in the Literary and poetic tradition of English odes. The odes are the representatives of the obsession of Keats with exploration and understating the notion of beauty in ordinary things. These odes are the extended imageries, blended with illusory tales about the thing on which they are focusing on. Keats divulges each object and the notion of beauty through the interchange of narration and description.

Works Of John Keats