I am so pleased to have the opportunity to share with you a new book about John Keats on the anniversary of his death. The wondrous Suzie Grogan just published this amazing book of her journey in his footsteps and influence of the landscape on his work. Over to you Suzie.
John Keats has been with me for many years, since my teens in fact, as a poet, as a man of letters and as a wise companion – his letters are full of the most wonderful insights into matters both worldly and personal. He has taken me on a journey with poetry that has given me a love of the art and an appreciation of what makes a poem a ‘good’ one. I have studied him in depth, but my appreciation is not just academic. Following in his footsteps has taken me into landscapes both historical and contemporary, with poets famous, and less well known. I would always advise even the most cynical person to find a poet who speaks to them as Keats does to me. As I say in my book, John Keats: Poetry, Life & Landscapes, ‘poetry distils the very essence of what it means to be human and to experience the joy, pain and occasionally sheer routine of being alive.’ It is not mere dreaming. It comes from somewhere deep within us.
Keats is not known as a poet of ‘place’ as Wordsworth is for example but walking with him it soon became clear that he was as influenced by landscape as any poet. The ‘landscape’ of London for example – both central and outer limits (he was born in Moorgate, trained at Guy’s Hospital and is best known for living in Hampstead) and of the home counties – Oxford, Chichester, Winchester, The Isle of Wight. In 1818 on a walking tour of the Lake District and Scotland he wrote no ‘classic’ great poetry, but images he absorbed on that journey are crucial to his development as a poet and appear in work he wrote the next year. ‘I never forgot my stature so completely;’ he wrote: ‘I live in the eye, and my imagination, surpassed, is at rest.’
As impressed as he may have been by a view, however, he was still influenced by daily events of personal, local and national importance, as many poets are.
When we are at school, we are often required to read poetry out of context and without knowing much about the poet, their motivation or biography. This doesn’t always matter – poetry can speak to us on such a deep personal level that it is almost as if we had written it ourselves - but it is why so many still think of Keats as a poet ‘out of this world’, alive only as he reads the classics and dreams of the past. His place as a poet of landscape and of history, affected as much by contemporary events as his peers, like Shelley, has been the focus of the most recent scholarly work and has established Keats as a robust and pugnacious man, a loyal friend, a keen traveller and a poet of place. It is time we dispelled forever the myth of the consumptive youth, lying limp on a sofa in Hampstead and being nursed in Rome until his death from TB aged just 25.
Thanks Suzie. It is interesting how people are parceled up into simple ciphers that can easily be sold to the public.
You can read reviews of her book [and purchase a copy] here. It is an excellent read, treat yourself.
Until next time.