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"A Vale of Soul-Making" A Biography of John Keats

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"A Vale of Soul-Making" A Biography of John Keats Pooja Vora John Keats was born on October 31, 1795, in London. He was the first born of Thomas Keats and Frances Jennings. In the next eight years, John's birth was followed by the births of two brothers George and Thomas and a sister, Frances (Fanny). In 1804, John's father, the operator of his father-in-law's stable, Swan and Hoop, died in an accident. The responsibility for the children went to their grandmother on the death of their father and later, their mother. The will that their grandfather left, named two guardians to manage their financial matters. Richard Abbey took an active interest and was the root cause of financial troubles, and its consequences, that Keats lived with. Once Abbey was in control of the money, the sons were sent to a modest school in the village of Enfield. Keats studied Latin, French, History, Math and Literature. The impression he made with his fellow students was that of a warrior, never hesitant to resolve disputes with his fists. Sources: 'The Essential Keats', 'The Life of John Keats', 'Biography by Sir Sidney Colvin' With the help of Charles Cowden Clarke, the headmaster's son, Keats's discovered a passion for poetry and reading. ...read more.


(Trilling, The Selected Letters of John Keats 207) On Keats's return from the highland, another sorrow waited to consume him. He came home to find his youngest brother, Tom, in the last deteriorating stages of tuberculosis, a disease that also caused the death of their mother. Immediately, Keats devotes himself to saving Tom and fighting this inherited curse. Taking the role of eldest brother, he tries to prepare his brother George for the worst in his letters. (Trilling, The Selected Letters of John Keats 154) Tom's sickness began to wear down Keats brave exterior, making him desperate for some relief. Therefore, he wrote to rid himself of images of Tom's pain. He describes his feeling of despair when he wrote, "I am obliged to write and plunge into abstract images to ease myself of his countenance, his voice, and feebleness - so that I live now in a continual fever. It must be poisonous to life, although I feel well. Imagine the hateful siege of contraries' - if I think of fame, of poetry, it seems a crime to me, and yet I must do so or suffer." (Biography by Sir Sidney Colvin Ch 6, John Keats.com) After Tom's death, John lived in a mournful state in Brown's residence, suffering a withdrawal from society due to a growing maturity and self realization. ...read more.


Keats wrote to Charles about Fanny: "The persuasion that I shall see her no more will kill me...I can bear to die -I cannot bear to leave her" (Trilling, The Selected Letters of John Keats 278). As time neared its end, thoughts and memories of Frances, his sister, and Fanny, his love, haunted him, and in his delirious state he would talk about his brother Tom. He was suicidal, and when he woke to find himself alive, he would weep. Finally, on February 23, 1821, he died in Severn's arms, sinking into his death silently and wearily. Thus ended Keats journey in the, world according to him, 'vale of soul-making.' He asked of George in a letter, "Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school intelligence and make it a soul?"(Trilling, The Selected Letters of John Keats 215) Keats suffered and the result was a wealth of poetry that reflects his soul. The death of his brother, his harsh critics, an ill fated love, and his destructive disease were events that led him to make a realization that he expresses with these lines: "Verse, fame and beauty are intense indeed, But death intenser -death is life's high mead. ...read more.

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