In his poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn”– which much of us possibly initially come across in high school English class– John Keats asks readers to consider a various conception of time. The speaker is seeing an ancient urn on which there are styles of males and females who are going after one another in a circle, playing instruments and surrounded by leafy fringes. He questions the story behind the styles, asking the urn about the figures. The urn supplies no responses to his concerns– however considering his connection with the ancient figures does offer access to a method of both extending time out and connecting throughout history.

Both the urn and the reflection of it recommends timelessness, or, as Keats calls it, “sluggish time.”

Like much about Keats, this poem has a specific resonance today, offered our own historic scenario. Much of us discover ourselves not able to do the important things we as soon as considered given; our lives can look like they are on time out or captured in a minute of prolonged suspension. A number of us might feel as though we’re running in slowed-down time.

Keats, naturally, resonates today for other factors too: He passed away on Feb. 23, 1821, in Rome of tuberculosis, a breathing infection that ended up being an epidemic in Europe and the United States in the 19 th century. After understanding in 1818 that he had most likely contracted the illness, he had actually taken a trip to Rome for his health, far from his liked ones who stayed in England. There, he stayed in quarantine for a while, as he felt his body getting weaker, prior to he ultimately passed away.

It is barely the unfortunate, wilting Keats taught in high school English classes.

Keats still cuts a terrible figure– passing away painfully young, at the age of 25, very few months after he had actually crafted a few of the most carefully wrought poems composed in the English language. Naturally, the story of his sudden death has actually controlled his posthumous track record; he stays for numerous a minor figure, permanently in the grasp of the breathing illness that eliminated him. Readers have actually typically hypothesized that his remarkable poems, like “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” were enabled by Keats’ conflict with his own death. He was, after all, trained in the medical occupation and had actually nursed his cherished sibling as he initially suffered and passed away of tuberculosis. Therefore, he acknowledged each of his own coughs as a prospective sign of the deadly illness.

However appealing as it is to think that Keats’ life and work are specified by his understanding of his own pending death, as we approach the 200 th anniversary of his death, his own words advise us that instead of the catastrophe of Keats’ death, the hope discovered in his life speaks most strongly.

For the previous 6 years, I have actually been associated with a task that has actually been digitally recirculating Keats’ letters on the anniversaries of the date they were very first sent out and asking scholars and poets to react to them. The Keats that emerges from these letters is not a desolate figure cut off in his prime, however an energetic, crucial boy, starving for the world and efficient in picturing brand-new methods to be in it.

The variations of Keats in which his sudden death retrospectively color the story of his life miss out on the pure delight of living showed in his amazing letters.

A number of us discover ourselves not able to do the important things we when considered given; our lives can appear like they are on time out or captured in a minute of prolonged suspension.

They miss out on, for instance, the more earthy and bawdy pressure that runs throughout his correspondence; that is especially vibrant in a letter he composed to his siblings, George and Tom, on Jan. 5,1818 In it, he informs his siblings of a dance he went to, which included some heavy drinking and some full-blooded discussion about toilets (along with the derivation of numerous terms for genital areas).

It is barely the unfortunate, wilting Keats taught in high school English classes.

That variation likewise misses out on Keats’ limitless punning and wordplay– his large sense of silliness and enjoyable. In one letter, Keats composes, “I ask leaf to withdraw all my Puns– they are all wash, and base uns,” (a play on “cleaning basins,” for those not familiar with Victorian vernacular). In another, Keats composes, “I will not trick myself that Guy must be equivalent with Jove– however believe himself extremely well off as a sort of scullion-Mercury and even a modest Bee,” supplying both a word play of “modest” and “bumble bee” and a ridiculous conflation of the god Mercury with a scullery house maid, and recommending human beings may consider themselves as lower gods appointed routine jobs.

This silliness, however, can sometimes buckle down. In one letter, Keats discusses his concept of “the poetical character.” The poetical character, he states, “is not itself– it has no self– it is whatever and absolutely nothing– It has no character.” The name he offers to this lack of character is the “chameleon poet,” other than he spells it “camelion poet,” implying part camel, part lion. This is a severe conversation of what makes a great poet, however it’s likewise a little bit of ridiculous wordplay.

The originality of wordplay allows Keats to make connections based upon the sonic qualities of words that would not otherwise show up. Wordplay might be silly, however it’s likewise crucial, particularly if you’re a poet.

Keats’ consistent creation is statement to a cheerful, abundant mind, constantly trying to find brand-new methods to integrate concepts.

To consider Keats as a “severe” poet constantly mindful of his death and constantly near the point of death is not just to miss what makes Keats enjoyable, however it’s likewise to misconstrue what makes him severe. He’s major not in spite of the silliness, however due to the fact that of it. His poetry is continuously approaching big philosophical concepts about the nature of charm of fact, however he arrives through his experiences of remaining in the world, of tooling around early 19 th-century London, living as completely– as funnily and as punnily– as he could.

This is why Keats is the poet we require for today: not due to the fact that of the disaster of his death, however since of the vigor of his life. Keats’ consistent innovation is statement to a happy, abundant mind, constantly trying to find brand-new methods to integrate concepts.

In his “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” the poem in which Keats gazes most straight into the void of eternity, there is a picture of 2 fans on the side of the urn ready to kiss. They are suspended in time; their lips are predestined to never ever touch. Keats sees this, however, not as something to grieve over, however a reason for event. While the love will never ever be consummated, the female figure will constantly be gorgeous, and the male will constantly remain in love.

What matters, then, is not the length of time you have or our capability to suspend it, however how you fill the time you have. And there is sufficient proof from Keats’ letters that he would have filled it with life, with energy and with enjoyable– not, as we have actually frequently portrayed him, with his wrist on his forehead in a sickly swoon.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here