One of the Most Startling Creative Surges in Humankind’s Cultural Annals: In hommage to John Keats

One of the Most Startling Creative Surges in Humankind’s Cultural Annals: In hommage to John Keats

Photo by Magda V on Unsplash

It is difficult;

To get the news from poems;

Yet men die miserably every day;

For lack;

Of what is found there.

William Carlos Williams

John Keats is known as one of the most eminent lyric poets in English. He died when he was just 25. Keats developed as a poet with astonishing rapidity and experienced one of the most startling creative surges in humankind’s cultural annals. In a twelve-month span, he wrote some of the greatest poems in the English language.

He also left a treasure trove of letters. John Keats’ letters contain a remarkable record of his intimate thoughts on his career and its relation to the history of poetry.

During his all too brief career, he produced iconic poetry and posthumously gained recognition as one of the most renowned voices of the English Romantic movement. This tribute explores and celebrates his dazzling achievement.

He had neither the advantages of birth nor education in an age where class distinctions drastically suppressed opportunities. But his aspirations to emulate greatness fueled a determination to study and write.

In 1816, at the age of twenty, he met Leigh Hunt, who published some of Keats’ early verse and introduced him to a wide circle of literary and artistic friends. Finding his tribe provided him support, encouragement, inspiration, and confidence in his worth and the worthiness of his pursuit.

Over the next four years, he produced his great works, including The Eve of St. Agnes, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, and the great odes: Ode to Psyche, Ode to a Nightingale, Ode to a Grecian Urn, Ode on Melancholy, and To Autumn. This body of work is a staggering output of the highest quality literary achievement produced by a very young person.

And then, to our incalculable loss, he died.

Keats was also a prolific letter writer, and many of them shed light on his development and ideas. His letters are among the liveliest in the English language and illuminate his verse with thrilling self-discovery and poetic theory discussions. No other great writer has left such a candid and insightful trove.

It is a remarkable achievement of a remarkably compressed life where development is measured in months, and creative evolution is chronicled in letters and poems.

Hearing the poetry is where the real richness of the verse experience lies. You have to listen to the music. I have deeply enjoyed Keats’ poems ever since I first heard them read by the great English actors Robert Speaight and Robert Edison. It was a revelation.

Poetry is meant to be heard. The words on a page don’t do justice to the sonorous music. You can listen to some on YouTube. I hope that together they can help you get the news from poems.

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