The Other Keats

This is the world — thus we cannot expect to give away many hours to pleasure — circumstances are like Clouds continually gathering and bursting — While we are laughing the seed of some trouble is put into the wide arable land of events — while we are laughing it sprouts it grows and suddenly bears a poison fruit which we must pluck….

John Keats was born on this day in 1795. Keats’s poems and letters — the above is excerpted from an 1819 letter to his brother, George — are in a tone that often runs parallel to the tragic circumstances of his life. But a number of biographers remind us that “there was another Keats, altogether more vigorous, colorful and animated”:

His mother was a man-hungry teenager; his father — one could never be sure — an innkeeper on the make. Their eldest son, the school bully, grew into a dandy who dressed like Lord Byron, scrawled bawdy rhymes, burned himself with gonorrhea and tried to cure himself with mercury. Delinquent Keats was in the front row at bloody prize-fights, measuring his poetic “reach” like a boxer landing a jab. (John Keats: A New Life, Nicholas Roe, 2012)

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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