- When I have fears that I may cease to be
- Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
- Before high-piled books, in charactery,
- Hold like rich garners the full ripen’d grain;
- When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
- Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
- And think that I may never live to trace
- Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
- And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
- That I shall never look upon thee more,
- Never have relish in the faery power
- Of unreflecting love; — then on the shore
- Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
- Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.
John Keats (1795–1821) was one of the greatest English poets of the 19th Century. Although he died young from tuberculosis and published only three slim volumes of poetry, he is one of the most loved and honored poets in our language. But during his own lifetime he was frequently attacked by the literary critics. John Gibson Lockhart called him an “upstart Cockney poetaster” and characterized his work as mawkish and bad-mannered; while John Wilson Croker characterized his poetry as consisting of “the most incongruous ideas in the most uncouth language.”
In 1804 Keats’s father, the owner of a livery stable, died following a stumble his horse took. Keats’s mother remarried unhappily, lost some of her inheritance to her second husband, and died of tuberculosis in 1809. In 1811 John was apprenticed to a surgeon. An avid reader, it was apparently Spenser’s The Faerie Queen that awakened his genius for poetic composition. He became friends with the political “radical” editor Leigh Hunt and became enthralled with the idea of democratic reforms in Great Britain.
Keats spent the summer of 1818 on a walking tour in Northern England and Scotland, and after returning home to care for his brother, Tom, who suffered from tuberculosis, he fell in love with Fanny Brawne, a love cut short by his own tuberculosis. Keats went to Rome with his friend, the painter Joseph Severn seeking a warm climate for the winter and died there on February 23, 1821, at the age of 25.