Keats: A Temporary Life in Nine Poems and A single Epitaph by Lucasta Miller review 


he poet John Keats died, horribly, two hundred a long time ago this thirty day period, his lungs so ravaged by tuberculosis that the health professionals in Rome who carried out the autopsy could not comprehend how he had breathed at all in his final months.

He was only 20 five, but had lived a restless, driven daily life, much of it ‘in sorry company’, as Wordsworth mentioned, and struggling to be recognised as a poet even though instruction and doing the job as a junior medical doctor at Guy’s. For this kind of a youthful man, he was incredibly prolific in his most productive 12 months, 1819, he wrote thirty 4 will work, together with performs and epic poems that were hundreds of lines very long. 

Some of individuals lines are extremely familiar, probably way too considerably so, argues Lucasta Miller, ace biographer of Letitia Landon and the Brontes. ‘A detail of elegance is a pleasure forever’, ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’, ‘Beauty is reality, truth of the matter beauty’ –  they have sunk almost to greetings-card level. 

To really encourage us to have another glance, Miller has had the outstanding strategy of conversing us through nine of Keats’s most famed poems and carefully unpicking some of the ideas and visuals in them, while giving the tale of his lifetime a shake-up at the exact same time. Keats would have approved: ‘God forbid we should settle‘, he once instructed his mistress, Fanny Brawne. 

You believed Keats was ‘a disciple of pure beauty’? Not at all Miller reveals the younger city health practitioner as absolutely embodied, impatient, greedy for sensation and for roast beef sandwiches (which he craved ‘a dozen or two’ at a time). ‘Romantic’? Not in any comfy sense, with his powerful appetite for sex (and his syphilis) the good poet of enjoy was additional laddish and opportunistic than courtly, not losing the chance to ‘warm with’ his acquaintance Mrs Jones each time she’d tolerate it, and even in his relations with his great love, Fanny Brawne, he could be egocentric and cruel.  Modern? Weirdly not, despite his progressive politics and outsider position. His obsession with medieval poetry and Shakespeare retained him stuck in anything of an antique rut. 

Getting the nine poems reproduced in the textual content is really useful, and encourages you to read them in a different way. The odes now seem to me streets forward of the lush romances Keats wrote just a year or two earlier, like ‘Isabella or the Pot of Basil’ (female digs up lover’s corpse and cuts its head off so she can maintain it in a patio planter we’ve all been there), ‘The Eve of St Agnes’ or ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’. I imagined I understood what was going on in that poem, but now am not so sure. Are the sedge and the lake and the birds really sexual symbols? The lake could be a pudendum and ‘Birds singing was an earthy outdated trope … to show male orgasm’, Miller tells us, but then immediately says this would be to more than-interpret.   

The sedge thing keeps taking place, simply because this guide is all about diversions. There’s a story about Keats aged about five trying to quit his mother leaving the dwelling by threatening her with a sword that looks much much more about his fears than his aggression, but most of Miller’s dialogue in this part is about what kind of actual sword it may well have been.

There is also a ton about the doable connections of the imagery in ‘To Autumn’ (‘rosy-hue’, gleaning, stubble-plains) and the Peterloo massacre Miller’s technique is always to tease out the materials in this way, no matter if she agrees with a thesis or not.  

Eventually it challenges us to make up our very own minds about the self-styled ‘chamelion poet’. If he experienced lived, would he have given up poetry, discouraged by attacks from his critics (his headstone includes the claim that he died in ‘bitterness of heart’ at his inadequate assessments)? 

Would he have married Fanny Brawne if he had occur back nutritious from Rome – or maybe settled down with her mother? ‘The Keats who stays for us is never a fastened entity’, Miller claims. And that’s why we like him. 

Keats: A Brief Everyday living in 9 Poems and A person Epitaph by Lucasta Miller (Cape, £17.99)