What Is John Keats Best Known For?
John Keats (1795-1821), was an English poet. A contemporary of Byron and Shelley, he was influenced by Wordsworth and Coleridge. Apart from Endymion (1818), nearly all his greatest work was written in the year 1819, including the long narrative poems, The Eve of St. Agnes, La Belle Dame sans Merci and Hyperion, as well as his famous odes To a Nightingale, On a Grecian Urn, etc. He died of tuberculosis when he was only twenty-five years old.
Writing some of his finest poetry between 1818 and 1819, Keats mainly worked on “Hyperion,” a Miltonic blank-verse epic of the Greek creation myth. He stopped writing “Hyperion” upon the death of his brother, after completing only a small portion, but in late 1819 he returned to the piece and rewrote it as “The Fall of Hyperion” (unpublished until 1856). That same autumn Keats contracted tuberculosis, and by the following February he felt that death was already upon him, referring to the present as his “posthumous existence.”
In July 1820, he published his third and best volume of poetry, Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems. The three title poems, dealing with mythical and legendary themes of ancient, medieval, and Renaissance times, are rich in imagery and phrasing. The volume also contains the unfinished “Hyperion,” and three poems considered among the finest in the English language, “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” “Ode on Melancholy,” and “Ode to a Nightingale.”
The book received enthusiastic praise from Hunt, Shelley, Charles Lamb, and others, and in August, Frances Jeffrey, influential editor of the Edinburgh Review, wrote a review praising both the new book and Endymion. The fragment “Hyperion” was considered by Keats’s contemporaries to be his greatest achievement, but by that time he had reached an advanced stage of his disease and was too ill to be encouraged.
He continued a correspondence with Fanny Brawne and—when he could no longer bear to write to her directly—her mother, but his failing health and his literary ambitions prevented their getting married. Under his doctor’s orders to seek a warm climate for the winter, Keats went to Rome with his friend, the painter Joseph Severn. He died there on February 23, 1821, at the age of twenty-five, and was buried in the Protestant cemetery.