Although John Keats’ life was short-lived, his influence on poetry and literature certainly was not. Born in London on October 31st, 1795, Keats was interested in literature and translation at a young age. Little did he know that he would write up to fifty-four poems before he died of tuberculosis in 1821. To celebrate the impression he has left, we have taken a closer look at Keat’s life and career in our series, Most Influential Poets of All Time.
Early in his schooling years, Keats lost his father in a terrible horse accident. His mother was unstable and even left the children for some time. When she passed, Keats, now the oldest and caretaker of the household, was fueled by the pain he was feeling and used it to excel in school. He was constantly winning awards for his thought-provoking essays, earning compliments from his headmaster for his curiosity about the literary world.
Keats knew, however, that a career in literature was hardly possible. He began studying to be a surgeon and even took up an apprenticeship. With a mind as curious as to his, Keats could not stand the confinements of an operating room. He frequently visited his former headmaster’s home and borrowed any books he found stimulating. Just like that, Keats fell back in love with literature and finished translating the Aeneid in French.
Swept up in the politics of the time, Keats shared his beliefs through sonnets. These views caused him to leave his apprenticeship, but Keats was still dedicated to being a surgeon and poet on the side. Around 1816, Keats met Leigh Hunt of The Examiner, who began publishing his sonnets. He began to write more poems about politics, friends, depression, and his relationship with poetry in the following years.
In 1817, Keats published his first volume of works, simply titled Poems. A year later, he released Endymion, a four thousand line romance. Unfortunately, both pieces were met with unfavorable reviews. On top of that, Keats developed tuberculosis. He pressed on, publishing his most famous and best work, Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems, in 1820 and received much praise for it before his death a year later.
What Makes Keats Unique?
Perhaps what made Keats stand out from the Romantic crowd was how he talked about the mundane. He was a more relatable writer in this respect because he was able to take the ordinary things in our everyday life and use vivid imagery to make them beautiful.
Keats was also admired for the amount of content he produced in his twenty-five years of life. As if his stamina to write Endymion wasn’t enough proof of this, Keats wrote around fifty-four poems throughout his life. It is even more astonishing that he was able to write all of this while simultaneously studying and apprenticing to become a surgeon.
Keats’ Lasting Legacy
Though the world was robbed of more work from John Keats, his impact on poetry is undeniable.
He influenced the poets in his circle, such as Percy Shelley and future poets like Oscar Wilde. To this day, works like “Ode on a Grecian Urn” and “Ode to a Nightingale” still inspire and teach us about art and mortality.
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