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Take Your Poet to Work: John Keats

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Take Your Poet to Work John Keats

What if you could take your favorite poet to work with you? Maybe your poet could help you run those important tests in the lab, or squeeze in between your favorite pens in your shirt pocket when you dash off to that big meeting in the afternoon. We can’t wait to see what our favorite poets will be doing in your workplaces next month.

Take Your Poet to Work Day is coming July 16

To help you play and celebrate with us, we’re releasing poets each week in a compact, convenient format you can tuck in your pocket, tool belt, or lunchbox. Last year, we gave you Sara Teasdale, Pablo Neruda, T. S. EliotRumi, Edgar Allan Poe, and the reclusive Emily Dickinson (for folks who work at home). We even released a full collection, The Haiku Masters: Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, and Kobayashi Issa.

This year, we’re building on the collection, adding one new poet each Wednesday, up until the big day. We started the celebration over the past two weeks with Langston Hughes and Adrienne Rich. Today, we punch in with John Keats.

Take Your Poet to Work: John Keats

John Keats Take Your Poet to Work

 

Click here for a downloadable version of  John Keats: Take Your Poet to Work that you can print, and color and cut out for the big day.

John Keats

I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of the Imagination.

John Keats was an English Romantic poet born in London in 1795. After losing both parents at a young age he went on to study medicine and earned his apothecary license, entitling him to work as a surgeon. He was determined to write poetry instead.

Keats was welcomed into the literary circle of publisher Leigh Hunt where he became acquainted with Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Reynolds. Hunt published his sonnets “On First Look into Chapman’s Homer” and “O Solitude” in The Examiner in 1816. He later published Keats’ first collection, Poems, in 1817, which was met with bad reviews. He published Endymion in 1818. The epic poem was also harshly received, with critic John Wilson Hartgrove writing, “It is a better and a wiser thing to be a starved apothecary than a starved poet, so back to the shop, Mr John, back to the plasters, pills, and ointment boxes.” Some believed he never quite got over the critical rejection, Lord Byron among them, who later wrote that Keats was “snuffed out by an article.”

Later, he moved in with his friend Charles Brown, during which time he met and fell and love with Fanny Brawne, whose family rented half of the house. It is believed that at some point they were engaged to be married, but that Keats would not move forward until he could provide properly for her. He fell ill in 1920 and moved to Rome for its warmer climate. The same year, he published his third and final volume of poetry, Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems. It was much better received than his first two collections and is now known as one of the most important works ever published.

Though he is widely regarded as one of the finest lyric poets in history, Keats would have been as surprised as his early critics to find himself in the company of the other Romantic poets. He died in 1821 at the age of 25 still believing “I have left no immortal work behind me—nothing to make my friends proud of my memory” and insisted that his friends inscribe on his gravestone “Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water.”

Bright Star

Bright star! would I were steadfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night,
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like Nature’s patient sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.

To—

Had I a man’s fair form, then might my sighs
   Be echoed swiftly through that ivory shell
   Thine ear, and find thy gentle heart; so well
   Would passion arm me for the enterprise;
   But ah! I am no knight whose foeman dies;
   No cuirass glistens on my bosom’s swell;
   I am no happy shepherd of the dell
   Whose lips have trembled with a maiden’s eyes.
   Yet must I dote upon thee—call thee sweet,
   Sweeter by far than Hybla’s honied roses
   When steep’d in dew rich to intoxication.
   Ah! I will taste that dew, for me ‘tis meet,
   And when the moon her pallid face discloses,
   I’ll gather some by spells, and incantation.

 

Learn more about Take Your Poet to Work Day and our featured poets

Check out our Poetry at Work Day Infographic and help spread the word

Learn more about John Keats

Post and illustrations by LW Lindquist.

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Your Comments

5 Comments so far

  1. L. L. Barkat says:

    Ack. There must be a better way than nasty critique and ruining tender souls.

    Or maybe we writers need to ignore the critique.

    Such a shame that he did not have a sense of his own genius, if even in small part (I know… sometimes those with awareness of genius are insufferable! :) )

    • LW Lindquist says:

      Of course, reviews in Keats’ day were not known for their “political correctness.” Even so, there are some indications that his two earlier volumes weren’t quite ready for publication. Shelley had cautioned him not to publish the first collection until he had a more mature body of work, but he wasn’t all that fond of Shelley and disregarded his advice. And even now, critics will say that Endymion is uneven, at times lapsing into self-indulgence, etc.

      Keats was surrounded by a group of poets who were very supportive of him and his work, and saw his great potential. It’s interesting to read the full epitaph on his grave:

      This Grave
      contains all that was mortal
      of a
      YOUNG ENGLISH POET
      who
      on his Death Bed
      in the Bitterness of his Heart
      at the Malicious Power of his Enemies
      Desired
      these words to be engraven on his Tomb Stone

      “Here lies One
      whose name was writ in Water.

      Feb 24th 1821

      Seems his friends wanted to honor his request, but weren’t willing to actually make the statement themselves that his name was “writ in water,” knowing that was not to be the case.

      Fascinating story of a man.

      • L. L. Barkat says:

        A good reminder to writers who are keen to get a book written before its time. (And a good reminder to listen to experienced writers’ advice). Even so, I think it’s hard to know when to hold back, when to go forward. Honest, yet supportive writing friends… are gold.

  2. Zachary Garripoli says:

    Except for the first line, Endymion does suck. Ode to a Nightingale, however, is peerless.


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  1. Take Your Poet to Work: Christina Rossetti | - July 2, 2014

    […] day. We started the celebration over the past few weeks with Langston Hughes, Adrienne Rich and John Keats, and William Butler Yeats. Today, we introduce one of the most prominent Victorian poets, […]

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