February 23


Keats died today, in Rome, just twenty-five years old. 

Of consumption, though in those days they called it tuberculosis. 

His younger brother Tom had died of it just two years earlier, and John the trained apothecary had taken personal care of him throughout; so more than likely, if must have been contagious.

From my book: "A Small Drop Of Ink - a life of Lord Byron"


Keats died in Rome. Tuberculosis first,
Compounded by two brain haemorrhages.
He’d come to Italy to flee the worst
Weather for his condition, a pilgrimage
Too, to be with his fellow-peers in verse.
He coughed up blood. The mental ravages
Were almost harder. Until he asked “How long
Is this posthumous existence to go on?”

February the 23rd, 18-
21, just twenty-five years old, one
Of the greatest poets there had been
In any land or language. For Byron
And Shelley it was shattering. They’d seen
Him in Rome, were friends, admirers. “Adon”
They called him, “Master” or “Lord”, and Shelley
It was who wrote John Keats’ eulogy.

“I weep for Adonais - he is dead!
Oh, weep for Adonais! though our tears
Thaw not the frost which binds so dear a head!
And thou, sad Hour, selected from all years
To mourn our loss, rouse thy obscure compeers,
And teach them thine own sorrow, say: ‘With me
Died Adonais; till the Future dares
Forget the Past, his fate and fame shall be
An echo and a light unto eternity!’”

I would include the whole poem, but it is rather long - click here and read it at the Poetry Foundation

As to Keats' legacy. There is the endless imposition of his verse on reluctant "A" level students, compelled to vivisect live matter until it lies mordant in an examination essay (no one else but "A" level students, and other poets, ever read poetry any more). There is the lovely house in Hampstead with its adjacent library (students there too, though few visit the house). And a really very charming memorial, in the back garden of Thomas Guy's House in Southwark.

Guy was the man who founded and left his name with Guy's Hospital, not a hundred yards from where that other glory of English poetry, Geoffrey Chaucer, set the opening of his Canterbury Tales, the Tabard Inn, next to the still-standing George Tavern, opposite the best food-market anywhere on Earth, Borough Market: go down the narrow side-street where the Uni of Beds has its Hall of Residence named Chaucer House (but surprisingly no plaque, no streetboard), and keep going, just a few more yards, through White Hart Yard specifically, onto Guy's campus of King's College, the Italianate Collonade of the old Counting House, known officially as The London Bridge Niche, with honour plaques to John Fry and Wittgenstein, a statue of Lord Nuffield...  and dominant amid all this splendour, seated lonely on a bench under a domed portico like the pianist Glenn Gould on its street-bench outside the CBC building in Toronto, John Keats (he was an apothecary at Guys Hospital in 1816): "sure a poet is a sage; a humanist, physician to all men" - Moneta's words in "Fall of Hyperion. A Dream", engraved on the bench. What a shame that poetry alone is insufficient as a cure for consumption.

An autumnal addition to this wintery obituary can be found on September 19, and a Shelley-inspired political reworking of his "Ode: On A Grecian Urn", on February 6

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