John Keats (1795-1821)
From 1800-1829 Literary Anecdotes

THAT night he took away with him the first volume of The Faerie Queene, and he went through it, as I formerly told his noble biographer, `as a young horse would through a spring meadow-rampin!' Like a true poet, too, a poet `born not manufactured', he especially singled out epithets, for that felicity and power in which Spenser is so eminent. He hoisted himself up, and looked burly and dominant as he said, `What an image that is—sea-shouldering whales! !'

Charles Cowden Clarke, Recollections of Writers (1878), p.126.

I observed that every short poem which he was tempted to compose was scrawled on the first piece of paper at hand, and that it was afterwards used as a mark to a book, or thrust anywhere aside. In the spring of 1819 a nightingale had built her nest near my house. Keats felt a tranquil and continual joy in her song; and one morning he took his chair from the breakfast-table to the grass plot under a plum-tree, where he sat for two or three hours. When he came into the house, I perceived he had some scraps of paper in his hand, and these he was quietly thrusting behind the books. On inquiry I found those scraps, four or five in number, contained his poetic feeling on the songs of our nightingale. The writing was not well legible; and it was difficult to arrange the stanzas on so many scraps. With his assistance I succeeded, and this was his Ode to a Nightingale, a poem which has been the delight of everyone. Immediately afterwards I searched for more of his (in reality) fugitive pieces, in which task, at my request, he again assisted me. Thus I rescued that Ode and other valuable short poems, which might otherwise have been lost. From that day he gave me permission to copy any verses he might write, and I fully availed myself of it. He cared so little for them himself when once, as it appeared to me, his imagination was released from their influence, that it required a friend at hand to preserve them.

Charles Armitage Brown, `Life of John Keats', The Keats Circle: Letters and Papers 1816-78, ed. Hyder E. Rollins (Harvard, 2nd edn., 1965), ii. 656.

ONE night, at eleven o'clock, he came into the house in a state that looked like fierce intoxication. Such a state in him, I knew, was impossible; it therefore was the more fearful. I asked hurriedly, `What is the matter?—You are fevered?' `Yes, yes,' he answered, `I was on the outside of the stage this bitter day till I was severely chilled—but now I don't feel it. Fevered! —of course, a little.' He mildly and instantly yielded —a property in his nature towards any friend—to my request that he should go to bed. I followed with the best immediate remedy in my power. I entered the chamber as he leapt into bed. On entering the cold sheets, before his head was on the pillow, he slightly coughed, and I heard him say, `That is blood from my mouth.' I went towards him; he was examining a single drop of blood upon the sheet. `Bring me the candle, Brown, and let me see this blood.' After regarding it steadfastly, he looked up in my face, with a calmness of countenance that I can never forget, and said:

`I know the colour of that blood; it is arterial blood; —I cannot be deceived in that colour; that drop of blood is my death-warrant—I must die.'

Charles Armitage Brown, `Life of John Keats', The Keats Circle: Letters and Papers 1816-78, ed. Hyder E. Rollins (Harvard, 2nd edn., 1965), ii. 73-74.

As Keats lay in his corner room in Rome next to the Spanish Steps, listening night after night to the constant play of water in the fountain outside, the words kept coming back to him from a play of Beaumont and Fletcher (Philaster):

all your better deeds
Shall be in water writ.

Finally, a week or two before he died, he told Severn he wanted no name upon his grave, no epitaph, but only the words, `Here lies one whose name was writ in water.'

Walter Jackson Bate, John Keats (Harvard, 1964), p. 694.

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