To Darkness, it begins, and then goes on


Rome, November 30, 1820. John Keats, who at the age of twenty-five has less than three months to live, is writing to his friend Charles Brown in England:

I have an habitual feeling of my real life having past, and that I am leading a posthumous existence. God knows how it would have been—but it appears to me—however, I will not speak of that subject.

The word that rotates, “but,” is rounded upon, in its turn, by the word “however.” Keats, with a courage that is something better than unflinching (for the unflinching may be not so much courageous as foolhardy), declines to speculate on what might have been his prospects in love and in art, and on what those prospects now are, here and hereafter. He makes deeply real, within real life, a line of thought that has become the shallowest of modern injunctions: Let’s not go there. His unwavering decision, painful and pained, is to treat his friend with the utmost, the uttermost, decorum.

more from Christopher Ricks at the NYRB here.