So much has been written about Keats, from the original biography by Richard Monckton Milnes, Lord Houghton, in 1848 to Andrew Motion’s more recent interpretation in 2003, and I do not want to repeat what you can read through other more qualified sources.
For a longish summary on-line of his life and authorship try: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/john-keats
For his poems on-line try: http://www.poemhunter.com/john-keats/poems/
What I’d like to do is to give a personal impression which is one of a young man, and scarcely a man when he wrote many of his poems, with a tortured soul born of the distresses he had had to face throughout his short life.
At the age of eight he lost his father in a tragic accident, followed five years later by his mother who died of TB. He and his siblings were appointed a guardian whose apparent miserliness with the Estate ensured that he was unable to fulfil his potential, having to struggle financially whilst trying to move in circles which could have furthered his literary career. His early works were lambasted by the critics who described them as products of a ‘cockney’ poet.
His younger brother Tom also contracted TB and it was caring for Tom that brought Keats to Teignmouth in 1818 for a few months. Tom died later that year after they returned to Hampstead from Teignmouth.
Keats fell in love with Fanny Brawne to whom he became engaged but they were never able to marry because Keats felt he did not have the financial standing required those days to provide for Fanny. Early in 1820 Keats realised his own contracted TB was well advanced and distanced himself further from Fanny. He left that winter for Rome where he remained until his death in February 1821, aged only 25. On his grave was written “Here lies one whose name was writ in water”.
I wonder if he used poetry as a form of escapism from worldly suffering – a release, a world of Romance, a world where he could express his frustrations, his desires, his repressed feelings perhaps with hints of eroticism.
Whilst in Teignmouth Keats completed ‘Endymion’, wrote ‘Isabella’ (aka ‘The Pot of Basil’) and three pieces of “doggerel” verse which he included in letters to his friends, most notably the artist B R Haydon. These were ‘Teignmouth’, ‘Dawlish Fair’ and ‘The Devon Maid’. He also wrote in other letters ‘The Human Seasons’, ‘The Epistle to John Hamilton Reynolds’ and ‘Mother of Hermes! and still youthful Maia!’.
Of these ‘Endymion’, ‘Isabella’, ‘The Human Seasons’ and ‘Mother of Hermes! And still yourhful Maia’ are of interest because Keats wrote them whilst here and you can read these on other sites. But they are not of direct relevance to Teignmouth. The others I will be including in this blog.
‘Teignmouth’ is of most relevance but even that poem refers mostly to locations on the banks of the river Teign. ‘The Devon Maid’ was most likely influenced by people Keats met during his journeying around the area; ‘Dawlish Fair’ is about Dawlish, on the coast about 3 miles NE of Teignmouth but I have included it because such a fair would have been an attraction to people all around the area, including Teignmouth, in much the same way that the Teignmouth and Dawlish carnivals today attract an audience from all around. Finally I have only included an excerpt from the ‘Epistle to John Hamilton Reynolds’, which is a section related directly to the sea where Keats may have been inspired in imagery by his experiences in Teignmouth.
Keats read Shakespeare. I wonder if Keats in his dying days might have identified with Richard III about whom the bard wrote “so wise, so young they say do never live long”.