“La Belle Dame sans Merci,” written in 1819 and published the next year in a form slightly different from. Told in the form of a dialogue, the poem recounts the experience of loving dangerously and fully, of remaining loyal to that love despite warnings to the contrary, and of suffering the living death of one who has glimpsed immortality. At the beginning and end of the poem, theknight remains on “a cold hill’s side,” a world devoid of happiness or beauty, waiting for his love to return. Some readers maintain that the poem is really about Keats’s confused feelings for Fanny Brawne, his fiancée, to whom Keats could not commit fully or as other say the fact that Keats was confuse and extremely jealous of Fanny’s love because of the rumors of her flirting with more than onemen. Others claim the story is symbolic of the plight of the artist, who, having “fallen in love” with beauty, can never fully accept the mundane. Either way, the conclusion is the same: however self-destructive intense love may be, the lover has little choice in the matter. Further, the more one entertains feelings of beauty and love, the more desolate and more painful the world becomes.
The son of a livery stable keeper, Keats attended school at Enfield, where he became the friend of Charles Cowden Clarke, the headmaster's son, who encouraged his early learning. Apprenticed to a surgeon (1811), Keats came to know Leigh Hunt and his literary circle, and in 1816 he gave up surgery to write poetry. His first volume of poems appeared in 1817. It included "I stood tip-toe upon alittle hill," "Sleep and Poetry," and the famous sonnet "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer."
Endymion, a long poem, was published in 1818. Although faulty in structure, it is nevertheless full of rich imagery and color. Keats returned from a walking tour in the Highlands to find himself attacked in Blackwood's Magazine-an article that criticized him for belonging to Leigh Hunt's "Cockneyschool" of poetry-and in the Quarterly Review. The critical assaults of 1818 mark a turning point in Keats's life; he was forced to examine his work more carefully, and as a result the influence of Hunt was decrease. However, these attacks did not contribute to Keats's decline in health and his early death.
Keats's passionate love for Fanny Brawne seems to have begun in 1818. Fanny's letters toKeats's sister show that her critics' contention that she was a cruel flirt was not true. Only Keats's failing health prevented their marriage. He had contracted tuberculosis, probably from nursing his brother Tom, who died in 1818. With his friend, the artist Joseph Severn, Keats sailed for Italy shortly after the publication of Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems (1820), whichcontains most of his important work and is probably the greatest single volume of poetry published in England in the 19th cent. He died in Rome in Feb., 1821, at the age of 25.
In spite of his tragically brief career, Keats is one of the most important English poets. He is also among the most personally appealing. Noble, generous, and sympathetic, he was capable not only of passionate love but alsoof warm and steady friendship. Keats is ranked, with Shelley and Byron, as one of the three great Romantic poets. Such poems as "Ode to a Nightingale," "Ode on a Grecian Urn," "To Autumn," and "Ode on Melancholy" are unequaled for dignity, melody, and richness of sensuous imagery. All of his poetry is filled with a mysterious and elevating sense of beauty and joy.
Keats's posthumously publishedpieces include "La Belle Dame sans Merci," in its way as great an evocation of romantic medievalism as his "The Eve of St. Agnes." Among his sonnets, familiar ones are "When I have fears that I may cease to be" and "Bright star! Would I were as steadfast as thou art." "Lines on the Mermaid Tavern," "Fancy," and "Bards of Passion and of Mirth" are delightful short poems. Some of Keats's finest...