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Writ in Water: The Enduring Mystery of Keats’s Last Words

What makes a short poem short? For my purposes here, there are super short poems fewer than 10 lines and short-ish poems 10—15 lines. And because poetry exists beyond the page nowadays, taking on visual or spoken word or both, I have a few examples of those for you to enjoy as well. And then the day came, when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. My life has been the poem I would have writ But I could not both live and utter it.

Curtains forcing their will against the wind, children sleep, exchanging dreams with seraphim. The city drags itself awake on subway straps; and I, an alarm, awake as a rumor of war lie stretching into dawn unasked and unheeded. The rose is a rose, And was always a rose. The dear only knows What will next prove a rose. You, of course, are a rose — But were always a rose. Some biographers suggest that this is when tuberculosis, his "family disease," first took hold. Keats "refuses to give it a name" in his letters. It was on the edge of Hampstead Heath , ten minutes' walk south of his old home in Well Walk.

The winter of —19, though a difficult period for the poet, marked the beginning of his annus mirabilis in which he wrote his most mature work.

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He composed five of his six great odes at Wentworth Place in April and May and, although it is debated in which order they were written, " Ode to Psyche " opened the published series. According to Brown, " Ode to a Nightingale " was composed under a plum tree in the garden. Keats felt a tranquil and continual joy in her song; and one morning he took his chair from the breakfast-table to the grass-plot under a plum-tree, where he sat for two or three hours. When he came into the house, I perceived he had some scraps of paper in his hand, and these he was quietly thrusting behind the books.

On inquiry, I found those scraps, four or five in number, contained his poetic feelings on the song of our nightingale. First stanza of " Ode to a Nightingale ", May With biting sarcasm, Lockhart advised, "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 plasters, pills, and ointment boxes".

The dismissal was as much political as literary, aimed at upstart young writers deemed uncouth for their lack of education, non-formal rhyming and "low diction". They had not attended Eton , Harrow or Oxbridge and they were not from the upper classes. In , Keats wrote " The Eve of St. In September, very short of money and in despair considering taking up journalism or a post as a ship's surgeon, he approached his publishers with a new book of poems. Agnes, and Other Poems , was eventually published in July It received greater acclaim than had Endymion or Poems , finding favourable notices in both The Examiner and Edinburgh Review.

It would come to be recognised as one of the most important poetic works ever published. Wentworth Place now houses the Keats House museum. She is described as beautiful, talented and widely read, not of the top flight of society yet financially secure, an enigmatic figure who would become a part of Keats' circle.

He writes that he "frequented her rooms" in the winter of —19, and in his letters to George says that he "warmed with her" and "kissed her".

The themes of "The Eve of St. Like Keats' grandfather, her grandfather kept a London inn, and both lost several family members to tuberculosis.

The Poem I Would Have Writ

She shared her first name with both Keats' sister and mother, and had a talent for dress-making and languages as well as a natural theatrical bent. On 3 April , Brawne and her widowed mother moved into the other half of Dilke's Wentworth Place, and Keats and Brawne were able to see each other every day. Keats began to lend Brawne books, such as Dante 's Inferno , and they would read together. He gave her the love sonnet " Bright Star " perhaps revised for her as a declaration.

It was a work in progress which he continued at until the last months of his life, and the poem came to be associated with their relationship. Their love remained unconsummated; jealousy for his 'star' began to gnaw at him. Darkness, disease and depression surrounded him, reflected in poems such as "The Eve of St. Agnes" and "La Belle Dame sans Merci" where love and death both stalk. In one of his many hundreds of notes and letters, Keats wrote to Brawne on 13 October "My love has made me selfish. You have absorb'd me. Tuberculosis took hold and he was advised by his doctors to move to a warmer climate.

In September Keats left for Rome knowing he would probably never see Brawne again.

"The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost

After leaving he felt unable to write to her or read her letters, although he did correspond with her mother. None of Brawne's letters to Keats survive. It took a month for the news of his death to reach London, after which Brawne stayed in mourning for six years. In , more than 12 years after his death, she married and went on to have three children; she outlived Keats by more than 40 years. During Keats displayed increasingly serious symptoms of tuberculosis , suffering two lung haemorrhages in the first few days of February.

It is arterial blood. I cannot be deceived in that colour. That drop of blood is my death warrant. I must die. He lost large amounts of blood and was bled further by the attending physician. Hunt nursed him in London for much of the following summer. At the suggestion of his doctors, he agreed to move to Italy with his friend Joseph Severn.

On 13 September, they left for Gravesend and four days later boarded the sailing brig Maria Crowther , where he made the final revisions of "Bright Star". The journey was a minor catastrophe: storms broke out followed by a dead calm that slowed the ship's progress. When they finally docked in Naples, the ship was held in quarantine for ten days due to a suspected outbreak of cholera in Britain.

Keats reached Rome on 14 November, by which time any hope of the warmer climate he sought had disappeared. Keats wrote his last letter on 30 November to Charles Armitage Brown; "Tis the most difficult thing in the world to me to write a letter. My stomach continues so bad, that I feel it worse on opening any book — yet I am much better than I was in Quarantine. Then I am afraid to encounter the proing and conning of any thing interesting to me in England. I have an habitual feeling of my real life having past, and that I am leading a posthumous existence".

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Despite care from Severn and Dr. James Clark , his health rapidly deteriorated. The medical attention Keats received may have hastened his death. Clark eventually diagnosed consumption tuberculosis and placed Keats on a starvation diet of an anchovy and a piece of bread a day intended to reduce the blood flow to his stomach. He also bled the poet: a standard treatment of the day, but also likely a significant contributor to Keats' weakness. What Severn didn't realise was that Keats saw it as a possible resource if he wanted to commit suicide.

He tried to get the bottle from Severn on the voyage but Severn wouldn't let him have it. Then in Rome he tried again Severn was in such a quandary he didn't know what to do, so in the end he went to the doctor who took it away. As a result Keats went through dreadful agonies with nothing to ease the pain at all. He repeatedly demanded "how long is this posthumous existence of mine to go on? The first months of marked a slow and steady decline into the final stage of tuberculosis.

Keats was coughing up blood and covered in sweat. Severn nursed him devotedly and observed in a letter how Keats would sometimes cry upon waking to find himself still alive. Severn writes,. Keats raves till I am in a complete tremble for him [68] The phlegm seem'd boiling in his throat, and increased until eleven, when he gradually sank into death, so quiet, that I still thought he slept.

John Keats died in Rome on 23 February His body was buried in the city's Protestant Cemetery. His last request was to be placed under a tombstone bearing no name or date, only the words, "Here lies One whose Name was writ in Water. Severn and Brown added their lines to the stone in protest at the critical reception of Keats' work.

Hunt blamed his death on the Quarterly Review ' s scathing attack of "Endymion". As Byron quipped in his narrative poem Don Juan ;. For public health reasons, the Italian health authorities burned the furniture in Keats' room, scraped the walls, made new windows, doors and flooring. Describing the site today, Marsh wrote, "In the old part of the graveyard, barely a field when Keats was buried here, there are now umbrella pines, myrtle shrubs, roses, and carpets of wild violets".

When Keats died at 25, he had been writing poetry seriously for only about six years, from until the summer of ; and publishing for only four. In his lifetime, sales of Keats' three volumes of poetry probably amounted to only copies. Agnes and other poems was published in July before his last visit to Rome. The compression of his poetic apprenticeship and maturity into so short a time is just one remarkable aspect of Keats' work.

Although prolific during his short career, and now one of the most studied and admired British poets, his reputation rests on a small body of work, centred on the Odes , [74] and only in the creative outpouring of the last years of his short life was he able to express the inner intensity for which he has been lauded since his death. Aware that he was dying, he wrote to Fanny Brawne in February , "I have left no immortal work behind me — nothing to make my friends proud of my memory — but I have lov'd the principle of beauty in all things, and if I had had time I would have made myself remember'd.

Keats' ability and talent was acknowledged by several influential contemporary allies such as Shelley and Hunt. The loveliest and the last, The bloom, whose petals nipped before they blew Died on the promise of the fruit. Although Keats wrote that "if poetry comes not as naturally as the Leaves to a tree it had better not come at all", poetry did not come easily to him; his work was the fruit of a deliberate and prolonged classical self-education.

He may have possessed an innate poetic sensibility, but his early works were clearly those of a young man learning his craft. His first attempts at verse were often vague, languorously narcotic and lacking a clear eye. Indeed, during Keats' few years as a published poet, the reputation of the older Romantic school was at its lowest ebb.

Poem of the week: The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

Keats came to echo these sentiments in his work, identifying himself with a 'new school' for a time, somewhat alienating him from Wordsworth, Coleridge and Byron and providing the basis from the scathing attacks from Blackwoods and The Quarterly. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun Conspiring with him how to load and bless With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run; To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees, And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core; To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells With a sweet kernel; to set budding more, And still more, later flowers for the bees, Until they think warm days will never cease, For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

First stanza of " To Autumn ", [82] September By the time of his death, Keats had therefore been associated with the taints of both old and new schools: the obscurity of the first wave Romantics and the uneducated affectation of Hunt's "Cockney School". Keats' posthumous reputation mixed the reviewers' caricature of the simplistic bumbler with the image of the hyper-sensitive genius killed by high feeling, which Shelley later portrayed. The Victorian sense of poetry as the work of indulgence and luxuriant fancy offered a schema into which Keats was posthumously fitted.

Marked as the standard-bearer of sensory writing, his reputation grew steadily and remarkably. Agnes", "Isabella" and "La Belle Dame sans Merci", lush, arresting and popular images which remain closely associated with Keats' work. Ridley claimed the ode "is the most serenely flawless poem in our language. The largest collection of the letters, manuscripts, and other papers of Keats is in the Houghton Library at Harvard University.

Since the British Keats-Shelley Memorial Association have annually awarded a prize for romantic poetry. Not only will we be posting stuff about Writ Large Press, CCM, and Entropy AKA The Accomplices here, but we will be sharing with you things that of interest in the publishing world, stuff about friends, tidbits we are learning, and other useful information.

Author Writ Large Press. Announcement News. Here is some info: This award recognizes an author and translator team for an original short sci-fi story translated into English from another language. The story must follow The Roswell Award guidelines. We are looking for great, unique sci-fi stories that are clearly well-translated and have been edited and polished before submission. The winning story will be read on stage at LitFest Pasadena on Saturday, May 18, , and the writer and translator will officially be recognized at the event.

January 19, My grandma would slam windows: truth. We often use fruit to describe a bruise, like plum or blackberry: truth. She loves peaches: that is the truth. September 26, Our friends of the incredible Women Who Submit have released this statement: There can be no literary justice without immigration justice.

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Full statement at WWS. July 11, Hosted by Mike the PoeT. Stay tuned for Poetic Pyrotechnics Sat.