Letters to an artist : John Keats

John Keats!

They made me read you and after Chaucer and Donne (who I ended up liking eventually), I wanted to refuse.

I loved poetry having fallen in love with Milton’s, “On His Blindness” and John Masefield’s, “Sea Fever,” but even after having written poetry of my own, the reluctance was strong towards this one.

I balked at the flowery, old-fashioned way you had of saying too little using too many words in too much time. Unlike my teenage poetry at that time, no, not me.

 I resisted the dry dissection of iambic pentameter, similes, allegories and allusions. Only when did the teacher mention assonance did I listen.

Until I strayed from the prescribed studied texts and decided to find out for myself. I borrowed the Wollongong Reference Library copy of the Complete Keats, opened it at a random page. “I stood tiptoe on a little hill, the air was quiet and very still…” After that I disappeared.

That book and your poetry became my post-school meditation. That book probably got me through the dreaded Higher School Certificate. I would open that book and lose myself.

I slowly realised your struggle as I read your biography. How you cupped and held a small spark against the encroaching darkness of surrounding death. How the tragedy around you focussed you more and more on the task at hand which was to write words that vaulted over and above everyday life.

Yet your struggle was with your inadequacies, obviously health and later love but also how to best call out your talent. Only many years, when I read what you wrote about Negative Capability (See https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/11/01/john-keats-on-negative-capability) did I fully understand.

I realised that your touch carried across generations when my daughter appropriated my personal copy of the Complete Keats. I didn’t ask for it back. I thought perhaps she was studying him, but I couldn’t or wouldn’t ask. Besides I hoped it might have a similar comfort and inspiration to her as it was for me.

She did return it to me.

Only recently I realised when I found again my love of poetry that she had found hers. It must have come from somewhere. Perhaps it was you.

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