Sunday, April 6, 2008

John Keats

I picked up a lovely volume of John Keats poetical works the other day that I thought I'd share! (I wish it was a better photo). I instantly fell in love with the little art nouveau roses on the cover. It was printed in 1908 and while the binding has faded, the rest of it is in great shape! I just love beautiful old books and when I came across this one I had to have it.

In John Keats short life (1795-1821) he wrote some of the most beloved poems of the romantic movement. Keats died of Tuberculosis (as did his grandmother, mother and brother), but poets Percy Shelley and Lord George Gordon Byron blamed his death on the scathing criticisms of his work.

Keat's poetry is brimming with emotion, which is hardly surprising, since he was just a teenager when many of his most famous poems were written. His insight is staggering nonetheless (though a trifling juvenile). When I look at how much he accomplished in his short life, there are no words.

His poem, When I have fears that I may cease to be (1818), is one of my favourites. I love the way he expresses his fears that he may die never having experienced "high romance." You could cut through the emotion with a knife! Keats is so dramatic and so honest about his feelings--no wonder the Pre-Raphaelites loved him.

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charactry,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the fairy power
Of unreflecting love;—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

Both Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Ruskin were huge fans of John Keat's poetry and helped contribute to a revival of his work in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Rossetti's favourite poems by Keats were "La Belle Dame sans Merci" "The Eve of Saint Agnes" and "Isabella." These poems were popular subjects for paintings by the Pre Raphaelites and their followers.

Of Keat's poems, La Belle Dame sans Merci had by far the most influence on the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Tomorrow I'll be doing a post on various artists' rendition of this work!


Grace said...

What a gorgeous find!

wanderlustandpixiedust said...


You're lucky you found this book before I did. It's a good thing we don't treasure hunt in the same nooks and crannies!