John Keats (31 October 1795 – 23 February 1821) was an English Romantic poet. Along with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, he was one of the key figures in the second generation of the Romantic movement, despite the fact that his work had been in publication for only four years before his death.
John Keats stressed that man's quest for happiness and fulfillment is thwarted by the sorrow and corruption inherent in human nature. His works are marked by rich imagery and melodic beauty.
John Keats lived only twenty-five years and four months (1795-1821), yet his poetic achievement is extraordinary. His writing career lasted a little more than five years (1814-1820), and three of his great odes--"Ode to a Nightingale," "Ode on a Grecian Urn," and "Ode on Melancholy"--were written in one month. [...] In this brief period, he produced poems that rank him as one of the great English poets.
Endymion, a four-thousand-line erotic/allegorical romance based on the Greek myth of the same name, appeared the following year . Two of the most influential critical magazines of the time, the Quarterly Review and Blackwood's Magazine, attacked the collection. Calling the romantic verse of Hunt's literary circle "the Cockney school of poetry," Blackwood's declared Endymion to be nonsense and recommended that Keats give up poetry.
There is actually much of the modern rock-and-roll star in Keats. His lyrics make sense, he tried hard to preserve his health, and he found beauty in the simplest things rather than in drugs (which were available in his era) or wild behavior. But in giving in totally to the experiences and sensations of the moment, without reasoning everything out, Keats could have been any of a host of present-day radical rockers.
...you [could] pick up on the evident rivalry between Byron and Keats. This rivalry was more acutely felt by Keats; Byron was a flamboyant and handsome nobleman whose wit, charm and ancestral title accorded him entry into the most elite circles of English society. Keats on the other hand was a poor and struggling middle-class poet whose work was often savaged by the great critics of the age.
Keats' letters were not published until 1848 and 1878 but provided a fascinating insight into his everyday life and his thoughts about poetry. In them he makes reference to various theories including mansion of many apartments and negative capability. T. S. Eliot regarded them as 'the most important ever written by any English poet'.
Keats was one of the most influential English lyric poets; the archetype of the Romantic writer. Keats' emphasis was that the deepest meaning of life lay in the apprehension of material beauty, although his mature poems reveal his fascination with a world of death and decay.
Keats’s attitude toward women was complicated and changeable throughout his life. While we cannot be sure of his sexual history, his letters suggest that, in keeping with the times, he both visited prostitutes and expected an almost otherworldly purity from the women in his social and domestic circle. He wrote that he struggled to settle his mind about women, by turns adoring them as angels and reviling them as whores.
The tragic, heart-rending tale of John Keats’ short life is one that all but equals the poignancy of the poems themselves: the early loss of his parents; cruelly cheated out of his inheritance; the abandonment of medical studies and the promise of guaranteed income to devote his life instead to poetry; the abject poverty that followed; a beloved younger brother’s prolonged death from tuberculosis; the cruel and savage attacks on his work; a fiery love affair with Fanny Brawne never to be consummated; his own battle with the dreaded “White Plague”… all of which led inexorably to his embittered, premature death in Rome.
What Keats so greatly gives to the Romantic tradition in the Nightingale ode is what no poet before him had the capability of giving - the sense of the human making choice of a human self, aware of its deathly nature, and yet having the will to celebrate the imaginative itchiness of morality. The Ode to a Nightingale is the first poem to know and declare, wholeheartedly, that death is the mother of beauty.
Keats is difficult because he insists upon asking awkward questions about the pretensions of art, and about the basic human fears. How is the knowledge that we are to die, probably in pain, to be related to our pleasure in the world and our senses? [...] The ultimate literalness of Keats's mind is that of the common reader. The directness and uncomforting honesty of the questions he proposes allow neither the poet nor his readers to slip past them.
It had been agreed by friend and foe alike that Keats had died before his promise had been fulfilled; obviously, therefore, it would not be fair to apply the rigors of criticism to a body of work unfit to be criticized. To the extent that its many faults allowed, Keats's poetry could be enjoyed and wondered at, but not analyzed or judged. […] with rare and brief exception, the constructive phase of Keats criticism did not even begin until after 1860.
Keats wrote that his "greatest ambition" was to effect "a revolution in modern dramatic writing." Unfortunately, he would never rival his beloved Shakespeare with plays of his own, which is not only his personal loss but the loss of those generations that followed.
The nature of Keats's reception has increasingly come at a cost both to his place in a wider Romantic culture - in relation to which he tends to be seen as the unworldly counterpart to more culturally competent and commercially successful figures such as Byron, Scott and Moore - and to understandings of his poems, which are still frequently read as escapist alternatives to an unsatisfactory political, cultural and social reality.
Keats soon becomes obsessed with his fears of the capriciousness of Fanny Brawne, and which his poems to her may represent new levels in love poetry, because of the personal nature of the poems they were more important to Keats and to Fanny than they are to modern readers.