by Prachi Mahima
A literary critic once said that literature is necessary for us to retain sanity. The universe is complex in its entirety and literature helps us to seek order in the chaos of this ever-expanding universe. Over the centuries, a number of writers have exercised their literary genius to produce the best of literature which adds to our knowledge and comprehension of existence. Among these geniuses, the name of John Keats remains immortally engraved in the history of all literature for its grandeur and sheer sublimity.
Born on 31st October, 1795, John Keats belonged to the second generation of the English romantics. Although Keats remained unappreciated in his short lifetime of 25 years, the aesthetic supremacy of his limited but valuable poetry eventually rendered it relevant and incomparable in its beauty to all readers of literature in all eras. Keats’ was a life of struggle throughout. He experienced loss and pressure of responsibility, being the eldest at a very young age. Nevertheless, these hardships could not refrain him from marking his name among the best of the English poets.
Contribution to literature
John Keats was an eighteenth-century poet who belonged to the second generation of Romantic poets alongside P.B. Shelley and Lord Byron among others. The romantic period in English literature is marked particularly with the characteristic of exploring truth and beauty in nature and Keats established his expertise in doing that. He attempted several poetic forms including sonnets, epics and odes where the power of his imaginative faculty, self-consciousness and incomparable wit came to the fore. Keats’ exploration of beauty in the simplest of things was manifested profoundly in his odal hymns which were addressed to the ordinary things and creatures of nature and also to abstract ideas vis-a vis a nightingale, an urn, psyche etc.
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty” said Keats in his ode to the Grecian urn which to some extent summarizes his endeavor as a poet of English literature. He proved to be a true representative of the soul of the romantic age of literature. He once said- “If a sparrow comes before my window, I take part in its existence and pick about the gravel”. It is easy to perceive beauty in grand natural phenomena of sunrise or sunset or in the heavy showers of rain, but Keats established his grandeur as a poet by finding beauty in something as common as the melody of a nightingale by retreating to the peace and quiet of a forest. Following the footsteps of Wordsworth, he composed poetry on the beauty innate in the most ordinary of things, which after being bathed in the light of his imagination and fancy, came out extraordinary and divinely beautiful. Keats’ poetry forces one to rise above the all-encompassing and ceaseless human sufferings to look for this omnipresent beauty and truth. It invokes emotions which overwhelms one to think, feel and then draw reason and judgement. His work is characteristic of the juxtaposition of what is and what might be in images of anything and everything which surrounds us.
Each era of history explores the previous eras to acquire better understanding of things in the present and to ensure the survival and betterment of humankind. The answers to most of our existential questions is covered in literature by great thinkers who had a better understanding of the functioning of our universe at an aesthetic and spiritual level. John Keats was one such great thinker and poet to have tread the earth who unconsciously provided answers to our predicaments as humans of the modern society which boasts of violence, chaos and prejudices against each-other only to deconstruct itself step by step. Wars, religious dogmas, authoritarian governments and social fallacies are present in all ages of history and our age is no exception. But the true essence of living is to find beauty and meaning in the most chaotic of situations and Keats’ poetry inspired us to do exactly that. We who claim to be the romantic generation of young adults have actually missed the deeper and profound beauty around us against the superficial indulgence in things. Revisiting the poetic genius of an actual romantic like Keats, one can be inspired to look through the fires and hell into the ideal beauty which is right in front of us, though unnoticed.
Keats said “Poetry should surprise by a fine excess and not by singularity- it should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance”. He remained honest to his idea of poetry throughout as a thorough reading of Keats’ poetry acquaints us with our own highest thoughts indeed which may have been previously an unknown realm. John Keats was a true genius artist who instructed us humans belonging to the pestilence-stricken world centuries ago, through his words, to live ideally – aware of the immortal beauty innate in the mortal world.
Prachi Mahima is a writing analyst at Qrius.
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