Keats. The name is synonymous with great romantic poetry and great romantic poets. A short life but a legacy of works that few, if any, can rival.
John Keats was born October 31st, 1795, in London, England, the eldest of four children
Keats was 8 when his father, trampled by a horse, died. His mother remarried but lost much of the family's assets. When that marriage fell apart she abandoned the family, returning only in 1810 to die of tuberculosis.
At Enfield Academy, where he started to study, shortly before his father's death, Keats was a voracious reader. In the fall of 1810, Keats left Enfield to become a surgeon. After studying in a London hospital he became a licensed apothecary in 1816.
Even as he studied medicine, Keats' appetite for literature never wavered. Through a friend, he met the publisher, Leigh Hunt of The Examiner.
Hunt's radical views and biting pen had seen him incarcerated in 1813 for libelling the Prince Regent. But he had an eye for talent and was quick to recognise the quality of Keats's poetry and became his publisher. He introduced him to other poets, including Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Wordsworth.
In 1817 his first volume was published; 'Poems'. In April, 1818, came 'Endymion,' a four-thousand line epic based on the Greek myth. It was savaged by England's two most respected publications, Blackwood's Magazine and the Quarterly Review.
Keats now departed on a walking tour to the North of England and Scotland. Word that his brother, Tom, had contracted tuberculosis saw him return home to help care for him.
With his brother's passing, Keats finally returned to work only in late 1819, rewriting an unfinished work that now became, 'The Fall of Hyperion,'. 'To Autumn,' a sensuous work published in 1820 superbly demonstrated the style Keats had now constructed.
Surprisingly Keats only published 3 volumes of poetry in his lifetime and they sold a mere 200 copies between them.
For Keats, his end was to be tragically romantic. In 1819 he was returning one night to his home in Hampstead when he coughed. He coughed a single drop of blue blood upon his hand and said 'I know the colour of that blood, it is arterial blood, it is my death warrant, I must die'.
And so it was that tuberculosis took its slow, devastating hold. He moved to Rome, in November 1820, hoping the warmer climate would help and for a few weeks it did, but the end was inevitable.
John Keats died, at the age 25, in the Eternal City on February 23rd 1821.