On this date in 1795, Romantic poet John Keats was born in London, the son of a livery-stable manager. His father died in an accident in 1804 and his mother died of tuberculosis in 1810. Keats' childhood was necessarily very unsettled but he was educated at Clarke's School in Enfield and apprenticed to be a surgeon-apothecary. Keats studied surgery in London but was inclined to pen verses instead of taking notes during class. His first real poem was written in 1814. Keats met Leigh Hunt, editor of The Examiner, and through him other Romantic poets, including Shelley. Keats' first book, Poems, was published in 1817. Keats first long poem, Endymion, was published when he was 21, followed by some of his most famous poems, including "Ode to a Nightingale" and "Ode on a Grecian Urn." In 1818, Keats nursed his brother as he was dying of tuberculosis. That winter he began work on "Hyperion." His second volume of poetry appeared in 1820, to critical acclaim. By then, Keats was ill himself with tuberculosis, and depressed over his thwarted romance with Fanny Brawne, a spirited young acquaintance (who considered Keats too poor to be marriageable). Keats' death was a tortured, drawn-out ordeal of more than a year. He ended his days in Italy. Although invited by Shelley to visit him in Pisa, Keats instead traveled to Rome, where he died, at only 25, requesting of a friend that his tombstone be engraved with only one line: "Here lies one whose name was writ in water." The last years of his life and his relationship with Fanny Brawne is chronicled in the 2009 film "Bright Star." Keats was a critic of religion who eschewed religious ritual before his death, and expressed his views in his many letters against "the pious friends of Religion" (cited by Encyclopedia of Unbelief edited by Gordon Stein). His famous poem, written in 1816, "Written in Disgust of Vulgar Superstition" (see quote) predicts Christianity is "dying like an outburnt lamp." D. 1821.
Sonnet Written in Disgust of Vulgar Superstition
The church bells toll a melancholy round,
Calling the people to some other prayers,
Some other gloominess, more dreadful cares,
More hearkening to the sermon's horrid sound.
Surely the mind of man is closely bound
In some black spell; seeing that each one tears
Himself from fireside joys, and Lydian airs,
And converse high of these with glory crown'd.
Still, still they toll, and I should feel a damp,--
A chill as from a tomb, did I not know
That they are dying like an outburnt lamp;
That 'tis their sighing, wailing ere they go
Into oblivion;--that fresh flowers will grow,
And many glories of immortal stamp.
Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor; Photo by Neftali, Shutterstock.com
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