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John Keats

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John Keats

English Literature Biographical Speech

Keats, John (1795-1821)

English poet, one of the most gifted and appealing of the 19th century and a seminal figure of the romantic movement.

Keats was born in London, October 31, 1795,and was the eldest of four children. His father was a livery-stable owner, however he was killed in a riding accident when Keats was only nine and his mother died six years later of tuberculosis. Keats was educated at the Clarke School, in Enfield, and at the age of 15 was apprenticed to a surgeon. Subsequently, from 1814 to 1816, Keats studied medicine in London hospitals; in 1816 he became a licensed apothecary (druggist) but never practiced his profession, deciding instead to be a poet.

Early Works

Keats had already written a translation of Vergil's Aeneid and some verse; his first published poems (1816) were the sonnets "Oh, Solitude if I with Thee Must Dwell" and "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer." Both poems appeared in the Examiner, a literary periodical edited by the essayist and poet Leigh Hunt, one of the champions of the romantic movement in English literature. Hunt introduced Keats to a circle of literary men, including the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley; the group's influence enabled Keats to see his first volume published, Poems by John Keats (1817). The principal poems in the volume were the sonnet on Chapman's Homer, the sonnet "To One Who Has Been Long in City Pent," "I Stood Tip-Toe upon a Little Hill," and "Sleep and Poetry," which defended the principles of romanticism as promulgated by Hunt and attacked the practice of romanticism as represented by the poet George Gordon, Lord Byron.

Keats's second volume, Endymion, was published in 1818. Based upon the myth of Endymion and the moon goddess, it was attacked by two of the most influential critical magazines of the time, the Quarterly Review and Blackwood's Magazine. 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.

Last Works

In 1820 Keats became ill with tuberculosis. The illness may have been aggravated by the emotional strain of his attachment to Fanny Brawne (1801-65), a young woman with whom he had fallen passionately in love. Nevertheless, the period 1818-20 was one of great creativity. In July 1820, the third and best of his volumes of poetry, Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems, was published. The three title poems, dealing with mythical and legendary themes of ancient, medieval, and Renaissance times, are rich in imagery and phrasing. The volume also contains the unfinished poem "Hyperion," containing some of Keats's finest work, and three poems considered among ...

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