John Keats, 1795-1821

[Mentioned in The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 347]

"I feel assured I should write from the mere yearning and fondness I have for the Beautiful even if my night's labours should be burnt every morning, and no eye ever shine upon them." Keats' words point to his absorption in poetry and his love of beauty. Yet his poetical sense was not apparent in school, where he had a reputation for "terrier courage." high-mindedness, placability, and generosity.

Keats' schooling ended at fourteen when his guardian apprenticed him to a surgeon. Keats, however, went on developing his interest in reading, and in order to increase his knowledge of Latin, he made a prose translation of most of "The Aeneid." During his second year of medical training, Keats was loaned Spenser's "The Faerie Queene." It had a tremendous appeal for him and his first poetry was written in imitation of Spenser's verses.

Although Keats became a licensed apothecary, he gave up his medical studies in 1816, and the next year, encouraged by Leigh Hunt, published his first volume of poems. A series of attacks was launched both on his poems and on him; so when he published his longest poem, "Endymion," he wrote in the preface, "It is as good as I had power to make it by myself.'" Keats believed that "if poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all." In a few hours he wrote his "Ode to a Nightingale." describing his delight in the song of one which nested near his house. In the "Ode on a Grecian Urn," he points to the urn as a symbol of everlasting beauty and truth—the sculptured boughs will never shed their leaves. He emphasizes, "Beauty is truth, truth beauty."

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Signs of the Times
December 8, 1956

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