John Keats



"Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?"


London, England


Clarke's School, Enfield; Guy's Hospital

Other jobs

After his mother's death in 1810, Keats's guardian apprenticed him to a surgeon/apothecary. In 1814 he fell out with his master and enrolled as a student at Guy's Hospital, and by the summer of 1816 he had become a dresser of wounds and a Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries. By the end of the year, however, he had thrown up his medical studies altogether in order to pursue his literary ambitions, much to his guardian's dismay.

Did you know?

Keats was only just over five feet tall, and very sensitive about his stature. Upon reading a favourable review of arch-rival Lord Byron's work, he is said to have exclaimed: "You see what it is to be six foot tall and a Lord!"

Critical verdict

Though he is now widely regarded as one of - if not the - greatest of the English Romantic poets, Keats's work received a far less enthusiastic reception in his own brief lifetime. Much to the young poet's chagrin, he was lumped in with Leigh Hunt in the supposed 'Cockney School' of verse, and the influential Blackwood's magazine snobbishly urged the "uneducated and flimsy stripling" to return to the apothecary shop floor. Traditionally thought of as the most otherworldly of the Romantics, recent criticism has attempted to demonstrate that Keats's poetry is in fact as alive as any of his contemporaries' to the concerns of history and politics. Keats's claim to greatness also rests upon his letters, which are among the most entertaining and perceptive of any literary figure's, and contain numerous insights into the nature of the creative process.

Recommended works

Keats is most celebrated for the Odes of 1819 - 'Ode On A Grecian Urn', 'Ode To A Nightingale' and 'Ode on Melancholy' being the most famous and a good place to start reading. Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, both unfinished, show Keats at his most ambitious, and the Collected Letters are endlessly fascinating.


Keats's greatest influence was Milton, from whose long shadow he spent most of his literary career attempting to escape, but he also drew inspiration from his nearer contemporaries Wordsworth and Coleridge. He had a great fondness for the works of the mysterious 17th-century poet Thomas Chatterton, who poisoned himself at 17.

Now read on

Shelley's Adonais is a posthumous elegy to Keats by the contemporary to whom he was probably closest in spirit. Any reading of the Hyperion poems will be greatly enriched by visiting Milton's Paradise Lost.

Recommended biography

Robert Gitting's 1968 biography, John Keats, has long been the standard introduction to the poets' life. For a more recent perspective, Andrew Motion's Keats (1998) attempts to illustrate how fundamentally the social and political environment of the day influenced the man and his work.

Useful links and work online

Work online
· A large selection of poems and letters, plus a lengthy biography and a discussion forum
· Good collection of images of original manuscripts, including 'Ode To A Nightingale'

· Critical essays on Keats
· Keats-Shelley House, a museum devoted to Keats and the Romantics who lived in the house in Rome in which Keats died

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