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John Keats


John Keats

John Keats is one of the foremost poets of English literature. He was born in London on October 31, 1795 to a livery-stable keeper, Thomas, who died while Keats was still a child. His worth was largely unrecognized during his lifetime, and he suffered from savage and biased reviews at the hands of publications like Blackwood's Magazine and the Quarterly Review, much of it on the grounds of his association with liberal poet and essayist Leigh Hunt and his 'Cockney School' of poetry. Keats gave up his medical studies to devote himself to poetry, and his first published poem was the sonnet 'O Solitude…', which appeared in Hunt's The Examiner on May 5, 1816.

Keats' first volume of poems was published in 1817, followed in 1818 by the mythological romance Endymion. This same year saw the savage literary attacks on Keats, the illness and death of his younger brother Tom (whom Keats nursed to the end), the seeds of Keats' painful and doomed love for Fanny Brawne, and recurrent throat troubles that were the first signs of his own fatal malady.

In 1820, Keats published the volume that would make his reputation after his death: Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes and other poems. This contained not only the titular romances (Lamia, incidentally, was based on a fabled incident in the life of Apollonius of Tyana), but also the great odes: Ode to a Nightingale, Ode on a Grecian Urn, To Autumn, Ode on Melancholy and Ode to Psyche. By now, Keats was seriously ill with consumption, and set sail for Italy in 1820 in the hope of extending his life by avoiding the harshness of the English winter. He died in Rome on February 23, 1821, and was buried on the 26th in the Protestant Cemetery there. The final words on his unnamed gravestone are those which Keats, disillusioned by his lack of recognition, wanted as his epitaph: 'Here lies one whose name was writ in water.'

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