“Seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness”, exclaim the opening lines of “Ode to autumn” by poet John Keats. These striking first words are infamous, evoking the beauty of nature that Keats was so fascinated by. However, with knowledge of Keats’s troubled life, we can gain a deeper understanding of his beautiful poetry. Who was the man behind these verses?
John Keats was a Londoner, born October 31 1795 in Moorgate. He was the eldest son of parents Frances and Thomas Keats. However, from the early age of eight began Keats’s troublesome lie. His father, a stable-keeper, was trampled by a horse and killed instantly. One can only imagine the traumatic nature of such an incident – young Keats was scarred. Yet, his father’s death had a more profound effect on the boy. Following this death, Keats began to contemplate life and death, and this tragedy helped to shape Keats’s understanding of the human condition. This understanding would soon be one that he expressed through his poetry. Had his father not died, Keats’s poems may have never taken place.
Thomas Keats’s death however, sparked a series of misfortunes. Keats’s father’s death greatly affected the family’s economic situation, and His mother began to lose control of the family. She remarried, and then subsequently fell apart, leaving the family behind. Keats and his three siblings were left with his grandmother. Years later, she returned to the family. However, she was in poor mental and physical health. Soon after, she died of tuberculosis, and Keats was left orphaned.
Keats was at an extremely low point in his teenage years. Like many going through hardship, he found comfort in the creative arts. He would read an incredible amount of books, and began to be a great intellectual. He joined Enfield Academy before his father’s passing, and began at this point to become incredibly studious. He made friends with the school's headmaster, John Clarke, who became a paternal figure to the orphaned boy. It was at this point in his life that Keats really began to flourish and develop his ability to write. This flourishing was cut short however, when Keats was pulled out of Enfield. Whilst nobody really knows who removed him, Keats left school in 1910 and began to study as a surgeon. Soon he began to study medicine at London hospital, and became a licensed apothecary.
Underlying his medical studies were a burning passion for literature. Keats attempted to focus on his medical career, but it never took off. His devotion to literature remained, and soon, through his friend Cowden Clarke, Keats met published Leigh Hunt. Hunt was a controversial writer whose radical ideas had gotten him arrested in 1813. He was an accomplished writer however, and spotted Keats’s talent early. Hunt became Keats’s first publisher, and introduced him to worlds of political thought and controversial writing. This world was alien to Keats, and through Hunt, Keats expanded his themes and knowledge. He even wrote a sonnet in honour of Hunts titled “Written on the day that Mr. Leigh Hunt left prison.” Keats soon got to know other English poets such as Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Wordsworth, and began writing more. In 1817 Keats’s first body of work was published, titled “poems by John Keats”.