30 Poets/30 Days: John Keats

Ode on Melancholy

Keats

From our friends at Poetry.org:

John Keats, who died at the age of twenty-five, had perhaps the most remarkable career of any English poet. He published only fifty-four poems, in three slim volumes and a few magazines. But at each point in his development he took on the challenges of a wide range of poetic forms from the sonnet, to the Spenserian romance, to the Miltonic epic, defining anew their possibilities with his own distinctive fusion of earnest energy, control of conflicting perspectives and forces, poetic self-consciousness, and, occasionally, dry ironic wit. In the case of the English ode he brought its form, in the five great odes of 1819, to its most perfect definition.
In his own lifetime John Keats would not have been associated with other major Romantic poets, and he himself was often uneasy among them. Outside his friendLeigh Hunt’s circle of liberal intellectuals, the generally conservative reviewers of the day attacked his work, with malicious zeal, as mawkish and bad-mannered, as the work of an upstart “vulgar Cockney poetaster” (John Gibson Lockhart), and as consisting of “the most incongruous ideas in the most uncouth language” (John Wilson Croker). Although Keats had a liberal education in the boy’s academy at Enfield and trained at Guy’s Hospital to become a surgeon, he had no formal literary education. Yet Keats today is seen as one of the canniest readers, interpreters, questioners, of the “modern” poetic project-which he saw as beginning with William Wordsworth—to create poetry in a world devoid of mythic grandeur, poetry that sought its wonder in the desires and sufferings of the human heart. Beyond his precise sense of the difficulties presented him in his own literary-historical moment, he developed with unparalleled rapidity, in a relative handful of extraordinary poems, a rich, powerful, and exactly controlled poetic style that ranks Keats, with the William Shakespeare of the sonnets, as one of the greatest lyric poets in English.

And, since this a convenient Romantic moment (and because we didn’t feature Keats’s critical nemesis Byron this month), here’s something non-melancholic to make you chuckle from the Immortal Kate Beaton:

Ava

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