Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A City Poet, A Sylvan Mind


The name, to anyone remotely familiar with English poetry, conjures images of a maudlin young man, pouring out verse, dying tragically young and never marrying his beloved Miss Brawne.

Not these things aren't true, but perhaps they're not the truest representations of a complex poet.

Keats was distressed about many things in life: money, love, success... but aren't these aspects of existence which would play on anyone's mind, especially before the days of the welfare state as we know it? It's strange how someone who lived largely in the city, could create such poignant portrayals of the natural world.

Keats was criticised in his own time, and though for the most part modern scholarship lauds him as a great writer, I still feel criticism haunts about some of his works.

The odes of 1819 are the subject of most study, and praise, but they were only five works among what is an impressive number of poems for one whose professional life was cut short so soon. And don't mistake my words, I adore the odes deeply. However, I find their eloquence in much of his earlier work, too. Just because something does not have the critical seal of approval, doesn't mean it doesn't merit reading. Sometimes, it's quite the contrary. Though perhaps Keats' earlier work doesn't always have the polish of his most widely loved pieces, there is still the same inky trail of that same brilliant mind.

What Keats wrote earlier in his life is in some ways more impressive. He didn't have the practised art of an old bard, he had the rough-hewn talent of a feeling-filled young man desperate to make his mark. In some ways this is more edgily wonderful.

So, if you chance upon a Keatsian anthology, do read the odes. Do. But don't only read the odes.
You might save time, and in today's world time is of the essence, but if you do have the time to read more of Keats poems, you might discover a different essence: a rare, raw talent in the very midst of its own germination.

Keats may not have painted the natural world à la Wordsworth, but he gave us art of a different kind. He let us hear the melodies of the imagination. It's a track I keep putting on repeat.

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