I came across John Keats for the very first time in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. In the book Virginia talks of John Keats with admiration and hints that had the necessary education and financial independence he would have achieved greater heights and would have stood on par with Lord Byron and William Wordsworth – two of the greatest Romantic poets that England has produced. This statement aroused my curiosity and I was determined to read Keat’s poetry. It took me nearly two years to satisfy my curiosity though I purchased this complete collection of Keats’s poetry with eager enthusiasm.
The very first thing I must say about this collection is that I’m privileged to have read his poems. I have not read so many beautiful lines ever in my life. They moved me to such a degree that I cried for its sheer beauty. It may sound foolish, but such was the effect that his poetic expression had on me.
John Keats is a poet of the Romantic Movement. Most of his poetry touches on love and longing. Whether it is a happy poetic romance or a poetic tragedy, the varying and appropriate tones and emotions are captured so beautifully and so wonderfully by his rich words. Keats’s expression is rich and beautiful, and also passionate and erotic. The latter quality in his poems earned severe criticism for John Keats in his days, many critics dismissing them mercilessly as vulgar. Perhaps it is true for the time period in which it was written, but sadly the critics have failed to look beyond Keats’s choice of words to his overall tone and expression which naturally and unreservedly poured from within.
Keats wrote from the depth of his heart and soul. His honest expression easily touches the reader and makes him immediately connect with the poems. From the very first line, I knew I was going to go through a pleasant journey with Keats. He took me on a journey which is more than pleasant. It was fantastical. The subjects and characters are chosen from real life and Greek mythology, so the poems vary between reality and fantasy. They take the reader into a wonderful realm. Be it a sonnet, or a few short lines, be it a long poetic love story or a poetic tragedy or be it a poetic play, the effect Keats creates in the mind of the reader and the emotions he arouses in the reader is astonishing. Only an extraordinarily gifted and skilled poet can do that.
It is no exaggeration to say that I enjoyed every poem in the collection. And I loved most of them including Endymion – a poetic romance, Lamia – a poetic tragedy, the Eve of St. Agnes and the six Odes: Ode on Indolence, Ode on Melancholy, Ode to a Nightingale, Ode on a Grecian Urn, Ode to Psyche and To Autumn. Through the reading of his poems, I really felt closer to their author. I really wished (though unattainable) to have known that amazing poet. So far in my reading life, a book of poetry has not graced my ‘favourite’ shelf. And I’m really grateful to Keats for helping me to rectify that defect.
It is a real pity that the beauty of his poems and his remarkable gift for writing were not appreciated in his lifetime. It had even been speculated that his death was quickened by the severe and merciless criticism exacted on his work. However, Keats’s wish to ‘be among the English poets after my death’ came true posthumously. Today he stands considered as one of the greatest romantic poets who influenced a later generation of poets.