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2 September 2014
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John Keats

Keats' life was cut short due to ill health but his poems have stood the test of time, even if he didn't believe they would.

Keats - Fact File

  • 1795: Born in London
  • 1814: Gives up his surgeon apprenticeship
  • 1816: Publishes his first poem
  • 1820: Moves to Italy to improve health
  • 1821: Dies in Rome

John Keats

Keats is the tragic figure of the Romantic movement who died young, but during his brief life he created some of the best known and enduring poetry of the 19th century.

Born in London in 1795 Keats pursued a medical career as an apprentice surgeon but gave up the practice shortly after performing his first operation in 1816, an experience that affected him profoundly.

His friendship with editor Leigh Hunt and his literary circle of friends encouraged Keats to write poetry. He suffered much criticism after his first major effort, Endymion, which was published in 1818, but Keats continued to write and examined his work more closely. Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems, published in 1820, is widely regarded as some of the best poetry to have been written during the period.

But in 1820 the first signs of consumption occurred. Despite moving to Italy to try and improve his condition Keats knew from his own medical training that his cause was lost. He died in Rome in 1821 at the tender age of 25. Keats wrote his own epitaph, which describes his belief that he would not be remembered: "Here lies one whose name was writ in water".

His death was to influence Shelley in particular, who wrote the poem Adonais in his honour and attacked critics for their harsh treatment of Keats' early work.

Image: National Portrait Gallery, London

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