the very epitome of sensuousness unsatisfied


Poets who die young often have surprisingly lively posthumous careers. John Keats (1795-1821) provides the most celebrated example: Almost immediately after his death in Rome, at the age of 25, he entered the realm of legend. Though his poetry wasn’t much read at the time, he himself was quickly transformed into a figure of myth. For Shelley — who drowned with a copy of Keats’s last book in his pocket — he was “like a pale flower by some sad maiden cherished,” as he put it in “Adonais,” his elegy for the poet. At the opposite extreme, Shelley’s good friend Lord Byron detested Keats and snubbed him, referring to him in one letter as “a dirty little blackguard.” For the aristocratic Byron, Keats was a “Cockney” upstart — more a rank weed than a pale lily. But for Keats’s admirers, his humble origins only enhanced the pathos of his fate. For William Butler Yeats, Keats was both the “coarse-bred son of a livery-stable keeper” and a woebegone schoolboy “with face and nose pressed to a sweet-shop window,” the very epitome of sensuousness unsatisfied.

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