Famous Keats? Not in His Lifetime

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John Keats was an amazing poet during England's Romantic Movement. He produced extraordinary work in his short 25 year life span. "...Had he lived it is possible that he would have taken his place among the 'big three' of English Literature - Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton" ("Before You Read" par.1). Keats achieved such a remarkable accolade despite a less than desirable childhood. Born on October 31, 1795, he was raised in Moorsfields, London where he was the eldest of four children. His father, a stable keeper, died when Keats was only eight. Around this time period, he began to attend Clarke's School at Enfield. Keats' mother died when he was fourteen, and soon after, he was sent to live with relatives. He was pulled out of school and apprenticed to a local apothecary. Three years later Keats became a student at Guy's Hospital. The next year, after being licensed as an apothecary, Keats began to write serious poetry. He abandoned his medical career and devoted his life to becoming an astounding poet. Keats was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1820. He died one year later ("Keats' Chronology" par.1). "By the time of his death at the age of 25, he had accomplished more than all but the finest writers have achieved in a full lifetime" ("John Keats" par.1). Analyzing critiques by Elisandra Garza, Wolf Z. Hurst, Jeff Burley, and Alaiy Lazuli allow us to fully comprehend the magnanimity of Keats and his work. John Keats lived in England during its Romantic Movement from 1792-1822 (Lazuli par.1). "In many ways, Keats's life modeled the period he lived in; it was very short, yet still produced some of the most influencial [sic] poetry in the history of the world" (Burley par.1). Keats was a great poet who was never able to see his fame for himself. In many ways, he wasn't able to complete his life. He didn't marry the woman he loved, nor was he able to achieve the fame he dreamed of. This due in part to his untimely demise, and the reaction of the critics to his work. Keats was a determined young man, who had the talent of a phenomenal poet, though society wasn't receptive to work from an untitled citizen. Keats died before he was able to prove himself. He didn't have the popularity with the critics that one would have liked. "Since he was not formerly educated at Cambridge or Oxford nor held a title of any kind, it was easy to label him as being distinctly 'lower class'" (Lazuli par.6). This illustrates society's bigotry toward the lower class, even when presented with an amazing talent such as John Keats. "He was one of the first 'middle class' poets of the then emerging middle class to gain the attention of a public which was then very snobbish about class and social status" (Lazuli par.2). Keats strived to overcome tremendous social barriers, and to a degree, he succeeded, though this success did not become apparent until after his death. "Keats never thought of himself as a great success" (Burley par.7). This is a shame when we now realize just how enormous his value to English literature really is. One of Keats' most renowned poems was La Belle Dame Sans Merci. Keats, like many, if not most poets, expresses his life experiences in his poetry. He displays not only the reality of his life, but also his imagination's take on it, be it paranoia or oblivion. Elisandra Garza's critique on La Belle Dame Sans Merci helps us understand this point. She tells us the classic villainess of the poem is indeed, Fanny Brawne, the love of Keats' life. "...He [Keats] expected much more...perhaps much more than anyone could give" (Garza par.1). He romanticized their relationship to the point of delusion. With Keats' inevitable death nearing, he began to confuse reality with his own insecurities. " ...In some way he [Keats] feels bitter that the love of his life will not be joining him [when he dies]. He wants to have what Romeo and Juliet had--one could not live without the other" (Garza par.3). Keats wanted what was only possible in the fictional world of English literature. Sometimes a poem is just a poem. In Wolf Z. Hurst's critique on La Belle Dame Sans Merci, he concentrates on the poem itself, clarifying what the poetic characters are experiencing, not what they symbolize. He argues that many of the theories that other critics propose, can't be proven. "We only know for certain, however, that the knight is a victim of his supernatural adventure and no longer finds his bearings in the natural world of birdsong, harvest, and decay" (Smith 115). The only absolute that can be deducted from the poem are the feelings of the knight himself. According to Hurst, this is the only viable interpretation of Keats' work. It allows us to see the haggard knight for what he really is, instead of some symbol of Keats' life. "In his vain attempt to die into the life of fairyland the knight separates from the natural order and thus becomes a double loser: cheated of both the wonders of elfin land and of nature, he suffers a kind of death-in-life" (Smith 115). The knight now becomes a helpless man who has lost all purpose to live. It's easy to see now what we might have missed before. This leaves us pondering what will happen to the knight next; the sense of wonderment will never cease. Garza's critique on La Belle Dame Sans Merci tends to be the more relied upon of the two. It's hard to believe that a poem with such ardent emotion doesn't have any spiritual meaning. Keats' actions toward Brawne help support this opinion. As he began to near his inevitable death, Keats' attitude became much more abusive towards her. His expectations of Brawne skyrocketed into near impossibility, though she stayed loyal till the end. "She endured Keats's erratic mood swings and obsessive jealousy with incredible grace, tolerance, and understanding" ("Some Background" par.10). This attitude provides us with some insight into his thoughts and sometimes delusional actions. Perhaps Keats most famous poem was Ode On A Grecian Urn. In this poem, he depicts a fictitious urn that struck him as beautiful. "The urn, itself a product of Keats's imagination, has eternalized the features of the transient passion of mortals, and now Keats's imagination in turn animates the frozen eternity of the urn" (Smith 130). Keats describes the moment of true joy that has been immortalized in the stone of the urn. The moment just before a kiss is of greater pleasure than the actual kiss. The anticipation is often better than the act, and that brief instant is what the urn illustrates. Keats sees this moment as perfect and captures it with the words of his poem. Ode On a Grecian Urn contains the most famous couplet that Keats ever penned. The last two lines of the poem, put in quotes, possible indicating that they are inscribed on the urn, have been pondered by hundreds of critics over the years. "'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,--that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'" Keats believed that these two concepts were interchangeable; that if it was one, it was the other. "Messenger, town, priest, and urn itself did not exist before Keats created them, but being beautiful they are true" (Smith 131). With this philosophy, he created his own imaginary world that he shared with others through his poetry. He also created quite a controversy with his words by what they meant and whether they were accurate. No agreement has been reached as of yet. Keats' use of exquisite imagery ignites the senses. He captures the beauty of the urn with words on paper. A task only accomplished by a poet of Keats extraordinary caliber. Despite this labor, the lines that receive the most attention are the last two. "Beauty is truth," this can be fairly easily explained. "...The highest expression of art are the most sublime expressions of wisdom and truth" (McDaniel par.5). Something that is truly beautiful must be natural. It reflects the most unadulterated truth, for nature cannot lie. However, the second half is debatable. "Truth, beauty," implies that all truth is pure and good. This isn't always the case. Keats himself is a testament to this. He knew he would die from tuberculosis, and he was bitter. This was the truth, yet it was certainly not beautiful. The perpetual optimist might find some beauty

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