Ode to Keats


I went to see Jane Campion’s new film Bright Star about John Keats, and I’m not sure which was harder to watch—the doomed love affair between Keats and young Fanny or the slow physical decline of a brilliant young poet who died much too young. Either way, Campion’s film is gorgeous and highly recommended.

I was really struck by the poverty Keats lived in during his life. His work is now considered some of the best poetry to emerge from the Romantic period and is included in every anthology out there. I guess it’s the same old story. If only he had received greater recognition in his lifetime, maybe he could have afforded a warmer coat during that trip to London! His poverty clearly hastened the decline of his health.

I did a little research and, as it turns out, one in four deaths in England were due to Tuberculosis in 1815 (Keats lived from 1795-1821). In fact, it wasn’t until a specific antibiotic was created in 1946 that treatment (aside from a trip to the sanatorium) was available for this disease. The list of writers and poets who have died from Tuberculosis, also known as consumption,  is a long one. Balzac, Chekhov, E.B. Browning, Kafka, D.H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, de Maupassant, Orwell and Thoreau to name a few. Holy smoke.

He was so prolific during his short life. Keats seemed to accept his fate; it’s the rest of us who have such a hard time with it.


~ by Valerie Palmer on October 14, 2009.

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