Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology

Mapping Keats’s Progress
A Critical Chronology

  • Jan: Keats’s younger brother George returns from America, seeking family money; Upon the whole I dislike Mankind; I am very idle; Otho the Great rejected for early production, now submitted to Covent Garden, to be turned down; T wang-dillo-dee; feels the vapidness of the routine of society; poem: Ode on a Grecian Urn published
  • Feb: George returns to America; hemorrhage: Keats worries it is a death-warrant; to Fanny Brawne: a rush of blood came to my Lungs . . . at that moment thought of nothing but you; thinks about annulling engagement to Fanny; I am recommended not even to read poetry much less write it. I wish I had a little hope; I have left no immortal work behind me—nothing to make my friends proud of my memory—but I have lov’d the principle of beauty in all things; claims he has not had a tranquil day for six months; fevered, depressed, and anxious
  • Feb-May: Keats’s longing and sometimes agonizing letters to Fanny Brawne: to Fanny in Feb: all we have to do is be patient; to Fanny: How illness stands as barrier betwixt me and you!
  • March-April: fever, heart palpitations, tight chest, anxiety, nervousness, depression
  • March: Brown: Poor Keats will be unable to prepare his Poems for the Press for a long time; Brown reports that Keats desires to be remembered; poem: works a little on Lamia
  • April: doctor tells Keats there is nothing the matter with me except nervous irritability and a general weakness of the whole system which has proceeded from my anxiety of mind of late years and the too great excitement of poetry
  • April-May: Keats: tight chest; bad medical diagnosis: illness is due to anxiety associated with writing poetry, not a real illness
  • May: poem: La Belle Dame sans Merci published; moves to Kentish Town; to Fanny Brawne: I am greedy of you
  • June: Keats: serious hemorrhages; moves to live with Leigh Hunt, to be taken care of; entertains taking up medical profession; upset with preface to final collection, written by others; increasing money difficulties
  • July: publication of Keats’s last collection; great worries about his health; advised to relocate to Italy
  • July-Aug: jealous, fevered feelings about Fanny Brawne: I have been occupied with nothing but you . . . You are to me an object intensely desirable . . . I cannot live without you; Nothing is so bad as want of health
  • Aug: the world is too brutal for me; acknowledges the kindness of the Hunts; moves back to Wentworth Place, cared for by the Brawnes; in a very anxious condition and precarious health; makes a will; A winter in England would . . . kill me; decides to go to Italy, hopes Brown can go with him July; Shelley invites Keats to winter in Italy with him, Keats declines; has hopes of cheating the Consumption; My Imagination is a Monastery and I am its Monk; to Shelley: an artist must serve Mammon—he must have self concentration selfishness perhaps
  • Sept: positive reviews of Keats’s last volume are appearing; assigns copyright of his three volumes to Taylor & Hessey, receives some money; Keats: I wish for death every day and night to deliver my from these pains; sails to Italy, with Severn; pained by separation from Fanny Brawne, wishes for death
  • Oct: Keats: his condition declining, more hemorrhaging; arrives in Naples, Italy, with Severn; I do not feel in the world; O what a misery it is to have an intellect in spints; his ship quarantined
  • Nov: Keats: fears, anxiety, unrelenting fever; arrives in Rome, takes rooms with Severn; I will endeavor to bear my miseries patiently [ . . . ] It surprised me that the human heart is capable of containing and bearing so much misery; I have an habitual feeling of my real life having past, and that I am leading a posthumous existence; despair is forced upon me as a habit; last known letter (to Brown) ends, I can scarcely bid you good bye even in a letter. I always made an awkward bow. / God bless you! John Keats
  • Nov-Dec: Keats extremely ill, suffering, vomiting blood; Severn, increasingly stressed, exhausted, cares for Keats
  • Dec: according to Severn, Keats says the continued stretch of his imagination has already killed him
  • 1820: death of King George III—his son, the Prince Regent, becomes George IV; trial of Queen Caroline so that George IV can divorce her (acquitted); failure of the Cato Street Conspiracy and other civil unrest, including the Radical War; London Magazine first published; Hunt publishes The Indicator; general election increases Tory majority; Regent’s Canal completed; Shelley publishes Prometheus Unbound and writes To a Skylark; Blake completes his prophetic books; Wordsworth tours Switzerland and Italy, publishes The River Duddon, Miscellaneous Poems (4 vols.), and second edition of The Excursion; Florence Nightingale and Friedrich Engels born; revolts in Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Greece; Antarctica discovered; first digital mechanical calculator patented (the Arithmometer)

January 1820: George Comes, George Goes; Hope despite T Wang-Dillo-Dee; Urn Published

Wentworth Place, Hampstead

Click the map to see a larger versiontrue
Click the map to see a larger version

Keats’s younger brother, George, arrives from America early in the month; he leaves 1 February. George’s mission is to clear up and make his claims for his share of family funds, which in part is now tied to the death of their younger brother, Tom, and the resulting redistribution. George aims to re-finance himself, having lost most of his money in a dubious business venture in America.

In December, Keats, aged twenty-four, works hard to help George by meeting with the usually truculent trustee of the family money and family guardian, Richard Abbey. When George’s deal is worked out, George reports that Abbey behaved very kindly to me (30 Jan). Keats feels very differently: Abbey, he believes, has been stingy in even allowing Keats open access to meeting with the youngest of the Keats siblings, Fanny—and also denied her pocket money. Keats also notes that Abbey, By detaining money from me and George when we most wanted it he has increased our expenses. Keats’s conclusion: Abbey has not behaved well (letters, 14 Feb). The general feeling (with Keats himself and a few of his friends) is that George somewhat aggressively assumes more than his fair share of the estate, though this may not have been the case. (One of Keats’s closest friends, Charles Brown, believed George swindled Keats out of money.) To the end of his life, Keats never trusts Abbey. Keats is never aware that a significant inherited sum (perhaps around 800 pounds, via his maternal grandfather) is waiting for him through the court, where it has been accumulating interest. It appears Abbey himself might likewise not have known about these other funds.

George Keats, by Joseph Severn, c.1817 (Keats-Shelley House, Rome)
George Keats, by Joseph Severn, c.1817 (Keats-Shelley House, Rome)

Besides dealing with Abbey during January, George and Keats socialize quite a bit with mutual friends—dancing, dining, and partying. George makes some copies of Keats’s poetry, including Ode to a Nightingale (at this point it seems to be called The Nightingale).

Despite the activity, Keats feels idle and unsettled; in writing to George’s wife in America over 13-28 January, he expresses, somewhat playfully, that, Upon the whole I dislike Mankind, and, in particular, self-interested types. He also notes the boring predictability in socializing with certain friends, as well as a vague dullness and disenchantment with life, and London life in particular. Keats’s conclusion: like people for their good parts and ignore the dull process of their every day Lives (letters, 15 Jan). He has thoughts of retiring to the country, where he can avoid news. Somewhat whimsically, he also wishes he had money enough to do nothing but travel about for years. He nonetheless takes time to have some fun in his long journal letter, including a brilliantly humorous typology of three of his witty friends, as well as having some fun at those who have no wit at all, each distinct in his excellence. T wang-dillo-dee, Keats writes eight times to encapsulate random examples and sites of nonsense he observes, including modern poems, some lords, London, and Earth itself (letters, 17 Jan). This is, in fact, pretty funny.

Wentworth Place (now Keats House), Autumn
Wentworth Place (now Keats House), Autumn

In January, Keats, aged twenty-four, still maintains hopes for making some money from a play, Otho the Great, co-written with his generous and very close friend Charles Brown, his roommate at Wentworth Place. Keats initially believes the play will make him a badly needed 200 pounds, while also raising his name above the vulgar reputation he felt he had with the literary fashionables (letters, 17 Sept 1819). Keats records that the play, though accepted by Drury Lane for later in its theatre season, has been withdrawn since they want it staged sooner; with Brown, some revisions are now made in order to submit it to Covent Garden. Nothing, however, comes of the play,* and Keats during this cold winter writes almost nothing.

First publication of Ode on a Grecian Urn, in Annals of the Fine Arts, Jan 1820, IV, No.15, pp.638-39.
        (Click image to enlarge.)true
First publication of Ode on a Grecian Urn, in Annals of the Fine Arts, Jan 1820, IV, No.15, pp.638-39. (Click image to enlarge.)

The only good news, in a way, is that one of his best poems, Ode on a Grecian Urn, is published in Annals of The Fine Arts. The poem, probably written in the spring of 1819, and perhaps May, reflects Keats’s mature and much-desired ability to capture a subject with controlled intensity, and it articulates and achieves what Keats posits in his poetics, that beauty is not bound by truth, fact, or reason, and thus beauty has its own unalterable value that will surpass knowing and outlast time. Thus art is a high ideal that counters and even distinguishes our mortal station. The unknowable but beautiful urn, in fact, is a symbol of the kind of poetry that Keats himself attempts to put before us: we do not know the truth of the urn (who are these figures? where are they going? what are they doing? who made the urn?), but we nonetheless know the urn is beautiful and possesses imaginative potency that speaks beyond its own material and historical circumstances: it takes us out of ourselves and beckons our own imaginative capabilities. The urn’s qualities, then, mirror Keats’s poetic aspirations: to write poetry that defies mortal time and rational knowing—poetry that will evermore remain a friend to man (line 48) despite the burden that our existence puts upon us. The poem pushed in this direction is an allegory of Keats’s writing.

These powerful conclusions have been on Keats’s mind since late 1817, when he writes that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes over other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration (letters, 21/27 Dec. 1817). Keats by 1819 has become that great poet, though his greatness will only begin to be (so to speak) writ large until after his death. Characteristically, Keats’s epistolary poetics both anticipate and propel his poetic progress. For the first two or three years of his life as a declared poet (approximately late 1816 to late 1818), rather than finding that mature voice, Keats too often ineffectually writes about desiring to be an enduring poet, or he writes poetry that, too self-consciously, he hopes will prove that he can simply write poetry. He’s a poet in search of a justification of his purpose as a poet. Those earlier years are, then, his apprentice years—could they be anything else?—and the vast majority of the poetry lacks direction in subject, voice, and form. By 1819, Keats finds his stance of the great poet mainly via lyric forms that often pit binaries both against themselves yet simultaneously blended; he achieves this via a kind of poetic equipoise that often, in complex ways, revolves around the tensions of thought and sensation, which might be called his primary blended binary. By late 1919, Keats seems to have neither peace of mind nor strength of body to find this voice again.

*Otho the Great is not staged in the US until June 2016 (in Chicago, produced by Frank Farrell, and running 11-25 June); the play’s title is slightly jigged: The Dark Ages: Otho the Great. Reviews were generally quite good. The play’s world premiere is in London, 26 November 1950, put on by the Premier Theatre Club, St. Martin’s theatre; Robin Bailey plays Ludolf.

🗙

Ode to a Nightingale

1

  • My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
  • My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
  • Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
  • One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
  • ’Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
  • But being too happy in thine happiness,
  • That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
  • In some melodious plot
  • Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
  • Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

2

  • O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
  • Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,
  • Tasting of Flora and the country green,
  • Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
  • O for a beaker full of the warm South,
  • Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
  • With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
  • And purple-stained mouth;
  • That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
  • And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

3

  • Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
  • What thou among the leaves hast never known,
  • The weariness, the fever, and the fret
  • Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
  • Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
  • Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
  • Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
  • And leaden-eyed despairs,
  • Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
  • Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

4

  • Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
  • Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
  • But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
  • Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
  • Already with thee! tender is the night,
  • And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
  • Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays;
  • But here there is no light,
  • Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
  • Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

5

  • I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
  • Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
  • But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
  • Wherewith the seasonable month endows
  • The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
  • White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
  • Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves;
  • And mid-May’s eldest child,
  • The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
  • The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

6

  • Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
  • I have been half in love with easeful Death,
  • Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
  • To take into the air my quiet breath;
  • Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
  • To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
  • While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
  • In such an ecstasy!
  • Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
  • To thy high requiem become a sod.

7

  • Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
  • No hungry generations tread thee down;
  • The voice I hear this passing night was heard
  • In ancient days by emperor and clown:
  • Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
  • Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
  • She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
  • The same that oft-times hath
  • Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
  • Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

8

  • Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
  • To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
  • Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
  • As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.
  • Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
  • Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
  • Up the hill-side; and now ‘tis buried deep
  • In the next valley-glades:
  • Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
  • Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?
🗙

Ode on a Grecian Urn

1.

  • Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness, 
  • Thou foster-child of silence and slow time, 
  • Sylvan historian, who canst thus express 
  • A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme: 
  • What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape 
  • Of deities or mortals, or of both, 
  • In Tempe or the dales of Arcady? 
  • What men or gods are these? What maidens loth? 
  • What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape? 
  • What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

2.

  • Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard 
  • Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on; 
  • Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d, 
  • Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone: 
  • Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave 
  • Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare; 
  • Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss, 
  • Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve; 
  • She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, 
  • For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

3.

  • Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed 
  • Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu; 
  • And, happy melodist, unwearied, 
  • For ever piping songs for ever new; 
  • More happy love! more happy, happy love! 
  • For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d, 
  • For ever panting, and for ever young;
  • All breathing human passion far above, 
  • That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
  • A burning forehead, and a parching tongue. 

4.

  • Who are these coming to the sacrifice? 
  • To what green altar, O mysterious priest, 
  • Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies, 
  • And all her silken flanks with garlands dressed? 
  • What little town by river or sea shore, 
  • Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel, 
  • Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn? 
  • And, little town, thy streets for evermore 
  • Will silent be; and not a soul to tell 
  • Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

5.

  • O Attic shape! Fair attitude! With brede 
  • Of marble men and maidens overwrought, 
  • With forest branches and the trodden weed; 
  • Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought 
  • As doth eternity. Cold Pastoral! 
  • When old age shall this generation waste, 
  • Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe 
  • Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st, 
  • “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,”—that is all 
  • Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

[Text based on the published version in Keats’s 1820 collection.]

🗙

La Belle Dame sans Merci:
A Ballad

I

  • Oh, what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
  • Alone and palely loitering?
  • The sedge has withered from the Lake,
  • And no birds sing!

II

  • Oh, what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
  • So haggard and so woe-begone?
  • The squirrel’s granary is full,
  • And the harvest’s done.

III

  • I see a lily on thy brow,
  • With anguish moist and fever-dew,
  • And on thy cheeks a fading rose
  • Fast withereth too.

IV

  • I met a Lady in the Meads,
  • Full beautiful, a faery’s child,
  • Her hair was long, her foot was light,
  • And her eyes were wild.

V

  • I made a Garland for her head,
  • And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
  • She looked at me as she did love,
  • And made sweet moan.

VI

  • I set her on my pacing steed,
  • And nothing else saw all day long;
  • For sidelong would she bend, and sing
  • A faery’s song—

VII

  • She found me roots of relish sweet,
  • And honey wild and manna dew,
  • And sure in language strange she said—
  • I love thee true.

VIII

  • She took me to her elfin grot,
  • And there she wept and sigh’d full sore,
  • And there I shut her wild wild eyes
  • With kisses four.

IX

  • And there she lullèd me asleep,
  • And there I dream’d—Ah! woe betide!—
  • The latest dream I ever dream’d
  • On the cold hill side.

X

  • I saw pale kings, and princes too,
  • Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
  • They cried—‘La belle dame sans merci
  • Thee hath in thrall!’

XI

  • I saw their starv’d lips in the gloam
  • With horrid warning gapèd wide,
  • And I awoke, and found me here
  • On the cold hill’s side.

XII

  • And this is why I sojourn here,
  • Alone and palely loitering,
  • Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
  • And no birds sing.

🗙 Cite this page:

MLA Style: Works Cited

Blank, G. Kim. “January 1820: George Comes, George Goes; Hope despite T Wang-Dillo-Dee; Urn Published.” Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology. Edition 3.3 , University of Victoria, 5 September 2020. https://johnkeats.uvic.ca/1820-01-01.html.

Chicago Style: Note

G. Kim Blank, “January 1820: George Comes, George Goes; Hope despite T Wang-Dillo-Dee; Urn Published,” Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology, Edition 3.3 , last modified 5th September 2020. https://johnkeats.uvic.ca/1820-01-01.html.

Chicago Style: Bibliography

Blank, G. Kim. “January 1820: George Comes, George Goes; Hope despite T Wang-Dillo-Dee; Urn Published.” Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology, Edition 3.3 , last modified 5th September 2020. https://johnkeats.uvic.ca/1820-01-01.html.