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Denise Gigante on John Keats

Denise Gigante is a professor in the English Department at Stanford University and teaches eighteenth and nineteenth-century British literature with a focus on Romanticism. Her books include “The Keats Brothers: The Life of John and George” (Harvard UP, 2011), “Life: Organic Form and Romanticism” (Yale UP, 2009), “The Great Age of the English Essay: An […]

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This is KZSU Stanford.
Welcome to entitled opinions.
My name is Robert Harrison.
We're coming to you from the Stanford campus.
You're brought a brother, Christopher and Son and Michael Mamba.
Got your legs, some of my flowers, my paws and burning fire and I.
What's in a name?
It used to be called the Protestant Cemetery of Rome.
Now it's called the non-Catholic cemetery for foreigners in Rome.
We're told that John Keats, the British romantic poet, is buried there.
But that's hearsay.
Keats is an immortal name.
Whereas the grave in Rome holds the remains of an unnamed poet
whose headstone reads, "This grave contains all that was mortal of a young English poet
who on his deathbed desired these words to be engraved on his tombstone.
Here lies one whose name was written in water."
February 24, 1821.
Water meets stone under the Roman sun in a nameless grave.
What is the connection between a name, a person and a corpse?
What does it mean to engrave a tombstone?
Who or what is engrave there?
These are questions that jump out at you when you stand in front of that slight lyrical slab of stone,
behind which looms the massive pyramid of one Gaia's chest juice.
Memory mother the muses they say, but most poets honor the gorgon head.
Petrification is their highest ambition.
What did Keats have against water?
Nothing really except that you can't engrave it, that it's not solid enough to hold names,
which aspire to endure.
Only the hard, the durus, in jurors.
Rome has a way of reminding you of that, having entrusted its legacies to stone
and its memory to marble.
Compared to the obelisks, monoliths, and lapidaries that surrounded him there,
Keats's curly English rhymes were a bit of dust swirling in the air.
When Byron arrived in Rome, he saw the Colosseum and declared,
"While stands the Colosseum, Rome shall stand when falls the Colosseum, Rome shall fall."
And when Rome falls, the world.
Such is the romance of Rome, it engenders a romantic desire to commit once mortal remains
to that Roman earth on which the Colosseum stands, and on to which it will one day fall,
taking the world with it.
A name is not a life, names endure when they are letered in stone, or in the annals of history,
but life is an inner-restable flow, and it keeps flowing even after it's over,
if we heed the epitaph of Percy Bisch Shelley.
Nothing of him that death fade but suffer a sea change into something rich and strange.
These verses inscribed on Shelley's tomb come from Shakespeare's The Tempest,
the most Aquious play in the canon.
A year after Keats met his end in Rome, Shelley in fact drowned in the waters off the coast of Liguria and Italy.
He too is buried in the Protestant cemetery of Rome, name and all,
and at his grave site, water also meets stone.
And the Great Flow continues ten years ago the Beat Poet Gregory Corso,
who would live for many years in Italy, died in Minnesota,
and the Italian authorities granted special permission for his ashes to be buried near those of Shelley.
Corso wrote his own epitaph in close correspondence with Shelley's.
Spirit is life, it flows through the death of me endlessly,
like a river unafraid of becoming the sea.
How beautiful is that?
Spirit is life, it flows through the death of me endlessly,
like a river unafraid of becoming the sea.
Here again, water meets stone.
That's the kind of place the Protestant cemetery in Rome is,
the site of a poetic congruence of earth, water, spirit and fire.
The fire of Dante's heaven of the sun, for example,
which found its way onto the Cyprus plaque commemorating Francesco Carotzini,
whose poetry wrote itself in life, not in verse.
Under his name, Dase luchaine de self-shining from Paredesoten.
If life, unlike immortal names, is a poem written mostly in water,
the challenge for biographers is to transcribe something of its flow in the written medium.
That's what biographies attempt to do.
To reconstruct and disembodied form, the sense or meaning of the flow,
if not the flow itself.
I have with me in the studio a person who has taken on this challenge in an especially bold way.
Her name is Denise Gigante, and some of you may remember the show I did with her a couple of years ago on her book, Life, Organic Form and Romanticism.
During the next hour we'll be discussing her new book about John Keats and his brother, George.
Denise, welcome back to entitled opinions.
Thank you, Robert. Glad to be back.
So I have your brand new book in hand. It's called The Keats Brothers.
The life of John and George, published by Harvard University Press.
Just come out as a big, long book about 450 pages, and it's already got a terrific review in the New York Times.
So congratulations on that.
The subtitle of your book contains that critical word served as the main title of your previous book, Life.
And you call it the life of John and George instead of the lives.
So what made you decide to write a dual biography about the Keats Brothers?
Well, I had stumbled upon an archive here to for unexplored about George Keats.
George Keats was John's younger brother. He was the middle Keats brother.
And George's story had not yet been told, but George was a crucial and extremely important person in John's life.
Prior to his more famous love affair with Fannie Braun, George Keats was a soulmate to John, and he was somebody to whom John began writing poems at the start of his poetic career.
George's absence at a critical moment in 1816, John started John Keats's career, and then George's departure for America in 1818.
When George went to find a better life, tried to make a better life for himself, produced a profound void in John's life.
And that's when John's outpourings of the great Odes, the Ode-Onegretion urn, the Ode-On to a Nightingale that we associate with him, as well as his most lasting epic verse, Hyperion, was produced in the void of George's absence.
So that was a crucially productive year that we're talking about. And so that was the year that George goes to America.
Yeah, the Anis Morabolis, as it's called, the Miraculous Year, in which John Keats produced most of his best poetry after George's departure.
And it also includes narrative poems like the Eve of St. Agnes, written in January of 1819, and Lamea, another narrative long poem that appeared in his last volume. John Keats wrote pretty much all of his poetry in three years, and he died at 25.
The three books that he published, two of the first books were Panned, more or less. The first one was ignored, the second one was Panned, and the third one was praised as the kind of work that we now associate with Keats. That was after George's departure.
John and Tom, who was the youngest Keats brother, had left London. John was still in medical school, and went to Margate, about 70 miles east of London for a summer break before John had a start-up medical school again.
And John worked really hard to find sublimity in nature more or less, and it was really only in two poems to his brother George, his sonnet to my brother George, and his verse of pistol to my brother George, that John's real mature poetic voice, particularly in the sonnet, comes through for the first time.
John had published one poem called "Ossolitude," which Lee Hunt, a romantic journalist and poet, had published in May, but now a few months later, a more mature poetic voice comes across in a poem that's also highly crafted.
We're talking about a poem that he writes to his brother George. Yeah, Tom is 16 about to turn 17. John's 20 about to turn 21, and George is 19.
The boys are already orphans. They've been orphaned for a number of years, and their youngest sisters about 13 at this point.
So I guess the loss of their parents served at the bond with each other even more, no?
Precisely, they clung to each other after the tragic loss, first of their father by a horse-writing accident, then of their mother by the same disease that ended up killing John, Tom, and ultimately George to breakulosis, and the death of their grandparents, and they have found themselves in the guardianship of the
man who may or may not have been well-intentioned, one has to presume he was, Richard Abbey, but he also had no understanding whatsoever of John's poetic sensibility and didn't value that.
So John turned to George primarily and to Tom, but Tom was with him that summer.
So the absence of George who remained behind in London, clerking as an accountant for their guardian tied to his desk in Richard Abbey's counting house of tea business, George's absence allowed John to write in a very straightforward manner, while at the same time using the sonnet form, which is an extremely,
one might say, artificial form full of poetic diction. His sonnet to solitude, he, I believe, addressed to Tom before they went to the beach.
Tom was one kindred spirit, and he took off on more than one occasion with John on his writing retreats, but George was another kind of kindred spirit to whom John communicated his best thoughts in verse and in prose and the letters.
So the sonnet, to my brother George, has three parts, and it talks about the wonders of the son, both sunset and sunrise, the wonder of the ocean, and the wonder of the moon, three sublime qualities of nature, the moon called Cynthia here.
And then in the end, the sonnet turns around and says, but without the social thought of the would be the wonders of the sky and sea.
What are the wonders of nature and what is sublimity if you're alone without the need to communicate and without somebody to communicate to without human bond or connection?
What are the wonders of nature? So the poem reads, "Many are the wonders I this day have seen."
Echoing the opening line of his more famous sonnet on first looking into Chapman's Homer, much have I traveled in the realms of gold.
Many the wonders I this day have seen, the son, when first he kissed away the tears that filled the eyes of mourn, the loyal peers who from the feathery gold of evening lean, the ocean with its vastness, its blue green, its ships, its rocks, its caves, its hopes,
its fears, its voice mysterious, which who so hears must think on what will be and what has been.
Even now dear George, while this for you I write, Cynthia is from herself curtains peeping so scantly that it seems her bridal night and she herself have discovered revels keeping.
But what without the social thought of the would be the wonders of the sky and see? If I would say one thing about this I would say that its inventiveness is already there John Keats who is known for what we call his great ode's,
the ode's, the ode's form out of the sonnet form and here he's already experimental with the sonnet form combining the English and the Italian form of the sonnet so that he turns in the famous way that the Italian sonnet turns in line nine to a kind of resolution.
The turn here is by way of George even now dear George, while this for you I write, the moon is peeping and yet he ends with a Shakespearean couplet at the end of the sonnet and so he managed to turn to George as somebody to whom the sublimity of nature in the context of whom will have meaning.
So when George decides to emigrate to America you and your book you follow his adventures I have to call them that because America is a kind of crazy place, while place in many ways and you can't help but be an adventure when you emigrate from England to America in the early 19th century and they continue to communicate obviously. John misses the presence of his brother George.
And what kind of things would you draw attention to as the most salient?
The basic facts are these in June of 1818 George Keats gets married to George Jana. John Keats goes off to Scotland on a walking tour with his friend Charles Brown, the two brothers part in Liverpool,
John goes north with Brown and George sails across the Atlantic with Georgiana. They land in Philadelphia, travel down over the mountains across the state of Pennsylvania down the Ohio River into what was the heart of unsettled America where land was being given away for two dollars in acre where Native Americans were still battling with settlers for their land.
And George's idea was that he was going to settle in Illinois on this English settlement, he was called the English Prairie and purchased 14,000 acres of land and run in a state and make enough money to come back triumphant to England and support his family which included John Keats.
George wound up in the forests, tramping, slogging through mud. When he got to the settlement he found cabins with dirt floors, windows, if people had cabins, some people were sleeping in the trunks of trees. George decided that was not for him.
George knew nothing about farming and he ended up settling in Louisville and building a sawmill. In the meantime, having put an investment in the famous steamboat with John James Audubon, the naturalist, he lost his inheritance.
And that's why George had to go back to England in 1820 and recuperate the money from Tom's estate, Tom, having died at the end of 1818.
Also, pleads for money, whatever money John can provide him and I think John provides him with anything he had.
And this serve to Sully as reputation a little bit later with biographer, not biographers, even Charles Brown was resentful of the fact that he left Keats penniless and therefore dependent on him, Charles Brown in large part.
So George was or has been the villain in the biographical tradition of the poet, but George was also part of an economy that it collapsed in 1819, part of an effort of many British citizens to remake themselves in America and to try to do so in a way that would allow them to return to make a new life for themselves.
And the people who left England at this time intended to go back, George intended to go back and help John, but was never able to.
Well, I urge all our listeners who are interested in this part of your book to just get the book, read all those great chapters about George and everything that happens to him, but to bring our folks a little bit back a little to John here, you decided to not write the whole life of John, but focus on the years between 1816 and 18.
In 1820, which are obviously the years when he was poetically productive and you mentioned that most of his output, poetic output took place all in three years, which is astonishing when you think back on it and there's that particular year you mentioned the 1819, right?
John, he's not just a born genius that he could discover poetry relatively late. I mean, relatively late. He was a teenager when he started reading Spencer and then Shakespeare and the Homer and then he started writing poetry, as you said in 1816 and within a year or two, he's one of the masterful poets of English literature.
How did that happen?
Well, you know, one could call him a genius, the circle of poets and artists around him from 1816 through 1817, which included Le Hunt, the painter Benjamin Hayden, Percy Shelley himself, all had high hopes for Keats as the next Shakespeare.
They said that he was going to be the golden ornament of the age and had he lived, there is speculation, he would have been the modern Shakespeare and he self-consciously styled himself in the mode of Shakespeare.
He calls the ideal nature of the poet, the chameleon poet with Shakespeare in mind as somebody who empties himself out into his characters, into his work in an opposite manner than, for example, Wordsworth, whom John Keats calls the egotistical sublime.
In Wordsworth's case, everything gets absorbed into the poet, the world becomes the poet who then expands infinitely, in the case of John Keats, the poet empties himself out into the world, empathizing with people and things around him to the extent that he becomes them.
And that was the Shakespearean quality of art that he sought to emulate.
Is that what Keats meant by the famous phrase, "negative capability?"
Pretty much, so negative capability, the capacity of being in mysteries and doubts without any irritable reaching after fact and reason, as he thought, for example, Coleridge tried to do, was the capacity, which is a very difficult one, if you think about human nature, to exist in a condition in which knowledge is not clearly
defined rationally, to be bothered by what Wordsworth calls obstinate questionings and to find productivity in doubt.
Reading Keats, I sometimes feel that there was no doubt that had he lived another 20 years or so he could have become a Shakespeare, like someone of that sort of super human achievement.
But at the same time, what I resist about the notion of becoming a Shakespeare even after what you've just told us is that there's a strong subjectivity in his poetry.
One has a very close connection to the self.
There's an intimacy of the speaking voice of the subject there, where I feel that I never get that in Shakespeare,
when I get it in Shakespeare, I know that he's presenting a mask.
I'm wondering whether the kind of high romanticism that Keats represents or embodies can ever really be conjugated with Shakespeareanism in so far as Shakespeare, the author is always removing himself or detaching himself from the masks, the personae and the voices that speak in his plays.
Whereas Keats, do you agree that he's always kind of there, the person himself, and that's why he's so beloved by so many people?
Right, so I agree with you that not just in the plays, but even in the sonnets where Shakespeare is supposed to be the most deeply pain and autobiographical, he is always slipping away just as you think you're catching him.
And it is true that John Keats is remembered for his sonnets, his odes, and an autobiographical epic in which the speaking voice is very much identified with the poet.
And that sense John is romantic, and in that sense too, that's the reason he becomes the quintessential model of the modern poet in a way that is sort of true of words worth his nearest predecessor, but not completely.
John Keats and Shelley too are sort of legacies to us, not just of the poetry they wrote, but of the myth of the poet, the inspired bard in a world in which that is necessarily a tragic stance.
Shakespeare important for Keats obviously, and I presume that the older generation of romantics were also important influences, and apart from those who were the important literary influences on him.
So Spencer, Edmond Spencer's very queen, was the most important early influence on John Keats among the English poets, and John's early verse prior to my brother George, but even for another year or so beyond that, was Spencerian.
It was in the mode of romance, it contained nymphs and dryads and poetic diction, arcasms, and that was also associated with the kind of verse that his friendly hunt was writing.
He banned into that model at the same time as he abandoned more or less lee hunts who had been stigmatized as a cockney poet, and John Keats was lumped with him as another cockney poet.
So John Keats ran away from Spencer, not exactly, he never ran from Spencer, but he certainly ran from an over identification with Spencerian poetry toward other models.
So Milton became a model for the strong poet in John Keats's Hyperion, which was a fragment of an epic.
He started to write a poem very much in the mode of Paradise Lost, but then abandoned it, and he said he could not go on with the poem because Milton was too powerful of an influence.
He had to leave Milton behind.
When he recast his epic as the fall of Hyperion, after the death of the brother Tom, he turned to Dante as a model, as does Percy Shelley and his own on the Westwind.
And Dante becomes a figure capable of providing the poet with the kind of hellish world in which John thought he was living.
This poem, when I have fears that I may cease to be, I don't know if he had intimations of it, he had contracted tuberculosis when he wrote it because I don't know when it fits into his, he published three books essentially while still alive, right?
The poems, the endymion, and then the third one which has the multiple poem titled, I don't know what the first poem, but I know the eve of,
say, that's a diagnosis part of that title and others. But this one, when I have fears that I may cease to be before my pen has gleaned my teaming brain before high-piled books in character, hold like rich garners, the full ripened grain, and so forth when I behold.
This is a poem which tells us how much he held to the immortality that he, that poetry could provide for a life.
And I know in your book that you say how much he was committed to life and living life as a sublimity and not to abandon that sort of commitment.
But this is a life in the last five years of it which was wholly devoted to poetry that in his conception of it would, the fame or the, there was something that would outlive the actual biological life of the poet, and it would live on in spirit in the words. Is that a fair characterization of what his faith and poetry was?
Yeah, very much so. As for whether at the time of the writing of that poem he had intimations of mortality to paraphrase words worth, you know, I believe that John Keats all along felt a pre-sentiment of mortality.
Now whether that was a paranoid imagination that is ascribed to his friend and rival Percy Shelley or not, you know, one doesn't know, but the sense of a foreboding very near end is there from the earliest poetry really.
So yes, he's writing to posterity. He's writing explicitly to posterity after the publication of his second book. So you rightly say the first book poems published in 1817, his second book, A Long Narrative Romance called In Demian about the mortal whom the moon goddess Cynthia falls in love with.
It was published in 1818 and then the final book of poems in 1820 is the volume upon which his reputation is built. That contains very condensed version of all of his best poetry.
But after the publication of In Demian in 1818 John Keats was ruthlessly mocked as a cockney poet, and this was directly after the departure of George and directly before we're talking about months, the death of Tom Keats.
And at that point John Keats explicitly gives up on writing for fame in his own day, starts writing for survival, but really starts writing for posterity and eternity.
You know, he was always conscious of that, but he did tell George in a letter, his first letter to America, I believe I shall be among English poets when I die. He had a sense of his lasting worth.
There at the end when he chooses that epitaph he realized one whose name was written water, I guess he didn't really believe that, but you can imagine, we'll talk a little bit about what kind of agonies he went through in the last six to eight months of his life dying in Rome and the kind of despair that very poetic I am pentameter line actually represents.
The intimation of mortality, I agree that any poet, especially modern poet, is intensely aware of the finitude of a human existence and is already having is invaded by death, is taken in by the imminent finality of all things and even Shakespeare and his son, it's as full of the kind of impending sense of the loss of life and so forth.
And that's what gives a particular kind of pathos to a lot of romantic poetry, not just John Keats'.
There is one of the odes that we might want to read here, which is the ode to melancholy, that I think it's very interesting because a melancholy, you could characterize as a condition, not just biochemical, it's kind of reductive things that contemporary psychiatry tries to reduce it to,
but rather a mood in which the intrinsic finitude of human existence can come over you and you realize that to be alive is really also to be in touch with death somehow as a principle that's working itself out.
And then you can speak about life as a spirit as life that runs through the death of me and so forth, but this ode on melancholy is very interesting because he there associates this mood with also beauty.
Or he urges himself to do that. So we have a look at that poem and see how that might relate to the life and the last years of John Keats.
Sure, I do agree though that this idea that a lot of the romantics had in particular, the kids that life was not living, if you simply made it from one day to the next, being alive was not equal to living and that did have very much to do with the idea that the life was not living.
The idea that mortality is close.
Well, so that ode has actually three main parts.
We won't, maybe we can just read the last part which talks about she being melancholy, a personification, a melancholy. She dwells with beauty.
Beauty that must die and joy whose hand is ever at his lips bidding adieu and aching pleasure and I turning to poison while the be mouth sips.
I, in the very temple of delight, veiled melancholy, has her sovereign shrine.
Though seen of none, same, save him whose strenuous tongue can burst joy's grape against his palate fine, his soul shall taste the sadness of her might and be among her cloudy, trophies hung.
That can seem highly rarefied, a little bit manufactured, but it's also at the same time very beautiful, I think.
It's the expression of a sincere romanticism, no?
That beauty always has a mortal quality to it and that melancholy is a certain kind of price of admission that you pay for the witness and the testimony of it.
It's also quintessentially key to an idea that you cannot extract pleasure from pain or pain from pleasure and that he says while we are laughing in the letter to George, the seat of some trouble is put into the wide arable land of events while we are laughing at sprouts, it grows and suddenly bears a poison fruit which we must pluck.
This idea that while we are laughing, the seat of trouble is already growing is another thing that we inherit from Keats and it's embedded in the last stanza of the ode to melancholy where in the first stanza, the poet casts away the demons of despair.
It says, don't do that, go away.
In the second stanza says, rather, feed is deeply as you can on beauty.
And this last stanza that you just read is a culmination of the idea that melancholy dwells with beauty and beauty being akin to life,
and the other thing that you can do is to be the most alive as is only the poet who can burst joys great against his pallet fine.
You can squeeze the most out of every pleasure, can experience pleasure most fully. He who can be most alive is also most alive to not just pleasure but pain.
I mean that's the price of living in sublimity.
The pleasure they are not meaning in the crude pseudo-epicurean sense but pleasure in the delight and ecstasy of being in the presence of the beautiful.
And here are the poems often misread actually as an Epicurean statement of sensuous Keats who's all about physical pleasure.
It is about physical pleasure and you wouldn't deny that but it's also about aesthetic delight as you say.
Beauty was a religion among the romantics, right?
Yep, and here it has a temple, right?
It has a temple.
And of course he has his famous conclusion to the ode on the greech and urn about beauty, truth.
Beauty is truth, truth, beauty that is all you know on earth and all you need to know.
So knowledge comes in there as well.
The cult of the beautiful in what way would Keats have inflected it differently than some of his fellow romantics,
Shelley, Byron, even the older generation of words worth.
My feeling is it gets crystallized in a more clear lucid.
There's a kind of translucence to his notion of the beautiful that's not always the case.
Well again, if you think about the lines that you just read in the ode on Melancholy, it's a temple.
So the cult of beauty and Oscar Wilde, you know, later toward America and his so-called cult of beauty that the movement known as aestheticism is based on Keats.
And it is a very religious, really spiritual devotion to an ideal of beauty.
I mean, I think that Keats took that really quite seriously.
And it's a temple to beauty in the ode on Melancholy, but it's also that innermost shrine in the temple.
It's the holy of holies.
It's veiled.
It's the unseeable, unknowable figure of Monetta, the goddess in the fall of Hyperion, and in Hyperion.
The beautiful s, the blind.
And I think that although the sublime and the beautiful are often seen as counterparts or two kind of dialectical ends of a spectrum for Keats, beauty sort of becomes the sublime in its best moments.
So I think that's there, and I think if you talk about differences from other romantic poets, Byron, worshiped beauty, but not explicitly.
Byron would never be found in a temple of beauty.
It would be too embarrassing.
But Percy Shelley would be caught there.
And yet, Shelley's ideal of the beautiful is much more rarefied.
I mean, this is a very physical kind of pleasure when you talk about bursting joys, great, against your palette fine.
It is a kind of gusto that one doesn't really find in Shelley's work.
And I learned from reading your book that Oscar Wilde goes to lecture in the United States, and he goes to Louisville.
It's at Louisville and meets the niece of John, namely George's daughter, Emma, who then shows him the holograph of Keats' poem.
Yes, no, she shows him the sonnet on blue.
So, yeah, Oscar Wilde definitely keeps devotee.
And this thing on beauty you mentioned Hyperion.
I like actually Hyperion more than the fall of Hyperion. My favorite part of it is when Hyperion for those who don't might not know this is a poem about the fallen race of the titans, who preceded the Olympians.
I mean, or that whom the Olympians had defeated the younger generation defeating the older generation from which they were born.
And they're in a vow in the kind of underworld and it's all very melancholic in the bad sense.
And they're a defeated people in a kind of twilight zone.
And the key defeat here being the defeat of the Titan Sun God Hyperion by the Olympian Sun God Apollo, who's also the God of poetry.
And my favorite part of that poem is when the Oceanos, who is the ancestor, or let's say the predecessor of Poseidon, reminds his fellow titans that, wait a minute, we are not the first.
Before us there was chaos and darkness and there was sky and earth and that there was a formlessness and we were born out of that.
And when light made its first appearance with us and our world was a much more beautiful world than the chaos, formless chaos that preceded it.
And likewise, let's be honest with ourselves, these new younger race of gods are more beautiful than we are.
And I have a passage here.
Mark Well as heaven and earth are fairer, fairer, far than chaos and blank darkness, though once chiefs.
And as we show beyond that heaven and earth in form and shape, compact and beautiful in will, in action, free companionship and thousand other signs of pure life.
So on our heels a fresh perfection treads, a power more strong in beauty, born of us and faded to excel us as we pass in glory.
That old darkness, nor are we there by more conquered than by us the rule of shapeless chaos, say doth the dull soil quarrel with the proud forest and so forth.
And it goes on to say that we are such forest trees and our fair bows have bred forth not pale solitary doves but eagles, golden feathered, who do tower above us in their beauty and must reign in right there of.
So it's not by superior power that its beauty has the natural right of inheritance because that's for kites that would be the premise of the religion of beauty.
But you know, this idea that the more beautiful is the most powerful is easily misunderstood, I think it's not really a very silly idea to say I'm worshipping beauty.
Again, if you situate the writing of this poem and the time of kites's life, he was next to his brother Tom nursing him through the last days of his life.
Tom was leading at that point what kites letter says of himself is a posthumous existence Tom outlived himself. John was there George had left very bleak dark autumn for him and in the absence of anything else beauty or the ideal of beauty as he puts it, shall he might call it the spirit of intellectual beauty does become something to hold on to.
This is also the moment when John Keats falls in love and life and beauty are very bound up together with fanny brawn.
Right and gets engaged on the condition the mother approves the engagement on the condition that he make a living eventually.
Well, not precisely the idea was that fanny brawn with whom John fell in love was a lady she was middle class and you cannot get married but you cannot have your love without marriage and you cannot get married unless you're in a financial position to establish a family which means purchasing a property and maintaining it.
And John Keats had no means of income at all at that moment and even left less after George left the second time.
So he had a better sense than most probably more than fanny and more than her mother that there was a kind of doomed quality to that romance.
And shortly after I don't know exactly how shortly but he falls ill and was misdiagnosed he seemed to have known that he was going to die of what his brother died of and his mother died of others were just thought that it was exhaustion and that he needed to get down to the southern
and go to Italy and so he allowed himself to be talked into taking this trip to Rome and you write this is I want to read a paragraph you have in your book about the way in which he decided to go to Rome also because of fanny brawn he didn't want to her to see him undergo this kind of meltdown process.
And at John's one consolation. This is you writing now was the knowledge that by leaving England he would be shielding his lover from the horrors he knew to be coming.
He had seen it all before the gradual wasting of features and of limbs the fevered sleepless nights the sheets and the night shirts drenched in sweat the constant hacking cough and heart palpitations.
The spewing of bloody mucus then would come the chattering teeth the glassy stare of eyes gazing out past the sick room walls the flammed that clumped like clay in the throat blood that poured up from the lungs ever thicker and darker and that final degradation the diarrhea that would wash all sustenance from his system until.
Parched and pale and fevered like his own and dimion he would expire in a fit of convulsions even were he to die more calmly the end would be nothing for his sweet girl to see.
And this is indeed the kind of agony he does go through in his final months in Rome and he doesn't arrive to Rome without undergoing a really arduous sea journey which I didn't know anything about until I you know I read your book on this it took them they depart from grave sin and obviously that that places.
It's a real place but it has a ominous name the grave end or the grave sent sending to the grave Joseph Conrad actually in the heart of darkness grave send is is is also invoked in the very first.
Pages of heart of darkness but from grave sin he and his friend or acquaintance Joseph severan who would.
And actually be his caretaker until the day died and he's someone who was responsible for erecting that tomb stone in Rome that they would get on a.
It's I guess a sailing ship and and they would head out and it would take them six weeks to get to Naples is that right.
Yeah it was a merchant smaller merchant trading ship and.
The description that you read Robert of what the consumptive patient so tuberculosis at the time was still called consumption that description.
Comes directly from Joseph severan's letters describing which on in fact did go through.
Joseph severan when he agreed to sail with John Keats to Italy in September 1820 had no idea what he was about to endure with John Keats John Keats did have an idea of what he was going to endure his idea was he was escaping.
Again not just England but the horror of having to put his beloved through that kind of an end and so he sent Joseph severan off to run some errands before the ship departed grave send.
And asked him to pick up a few things at the pharmacy.
And Joseph severan filled the prescriptions that Keats with his medical background had written one of them being a vial of laudanum which was the liquid form of opium which was used as an over the counter drug as a pain killer but which taken in the right quantity.
Well also under life so John's idea was well when it gets really bad I have an escape patch I have my vial of laudanum and when he had his first major hemorrhage in Rome when he finally reached Rome through Naples in fact reached for the vial of laudanum and just have said he said this day shall be my last.
And Joseph severan wrenched it away from him and not trusting himself to keep it away from Keats gave it to the doctor Dr Clark and so Keats in December of 1820 lost his escape patch and then proceeded to outlive everybody's expectations until February and just of severan undoubtedly if this had happened in January would have given him.
He would have given him the drug he would have let him.
Yeah unintentionally he prolonged the agony by a lot and he was on the one hand an exemplary caretaker but his over concern along with the doctor Clark I from what I gather reading you that they aggravated the situation enormously by starving him on the one hand bleeding him on the other and just for bitting him to read any books that would over excite him and all these kind of things.
And all these kind of weird medical dogmas of the time that don't correspond really to any notion of therapy as he understand it scientifically.
And so these last months beginning with that voyage in which they are sharing a cabin with the captain and also a woman and a young consumptive girl no and so they're actually he has a rehearsal address rehearsal right in front of him during these six weeks on this boat which has storms and then
and then the dry spells and if that's not bad enough when they get to Naples the ship is quarantined for about ten days because there's been an outbreak of something in England and typhus and so not a happy not a happy trip and not a happy time in Rome.
So not only is he suffering from the disease but it's exacerbated by medical practice of the time right which Clark to his credit was simply following which did not know anything about germ theory it didn't know that this disease was contagious and it believed that well diet and in John's case starvation diet will control what's happening inside the body.
You bled the victim as you say you had to get the right air and seven was a Christian he was you know he was also doing the right thing according to everything he had been taught.
And severing this side began with my intro with the tombstone in the Protestant cemetery of Rome or the non Catholic cemetery for foreigners the actual name is Jimmy theo a catoleco so let's let me make a video.
Let me make that clear that it's actually the a Catholic cemetery of Rome in the Italian original that headstone is something that was not erected immediately I gather.
No, in January of 1823 severing is still writing you know trying to get it right hoping the headstone is going to go up it's really a bed of daisies over John's grave.
Now the original wish of John Keats was that it would read only here lies one whose name was written in water.
And the decision to add the narrative frame around it which reads I only read part of it in my opening thing which is this grave contains all that was more of a young English poet who in the bitterness of his heart at the malicious power of his enemies.
He's desired these words being graven on his tombstone and you inform me that it's actually Charles Brown who helped sever and write up that frame right.
And the malicious power of his enemies probably referring to the critics who had panned and I think that they blew it there personally it's still a very moving monument but if it had just been here lies one whose name was written in water with maybe the the the liar symbol that's on the grave.
That would have been something.
There is a sculptor who Joseph severing encountered in Rome who wanted to engrave for the monument for a monument John Keats stringing his liar and being arrested in the moment of stringing the liar by the three fates one who would grab his arm one who would who would snip his threat of life and the other who would pronounce his fate.
And so that's that's an example of the kind of extremism surrounding the monument.
So in other words it could have been much worse.
So it's not bad all in all in fact it's still a very beautiful lyrical.
Yeah just if severing opted at the end for a plain marble slab rather than a more elaborate monument which would have borne sculpture of John Keats that he had designed.
Well we've been speaking with Professor Denise Gigante from the English department here at Stanford about her new book which is called The Keats Brothers the life of John and George and has just come out and I gather that next week is it the Denise that we're having a no a November 7th to be precise you're having a reading or presentation of this here at Stanford.
Yeah it's a celebration featuring the two poets of Anne Boland and Stanley Plumlee and four of the Stegner fellows who are poets at Stanford University are going to be reading and performing Keats's poems.
One of them I understand the poem written to George's first born child whom John Keats hoped would be the first American poet set to music.
Terrific so keep that date in mind November 7th 5 p.m. is it?
Yep 5 p.m.
Building 460.
Building 460 with Denise Gigante and I am Robert Harrison for entitled opinions.
Join us again next week.
Thank you.
Thank you.