“Talking of Pleasure, this moment I was writing with one hand, and with the other holding to my Mouth a Nectarine – good God, how fine. It went down soft, pulpy, slushy, oozy – all its delicious embonpoint melted down my throat like a large beatified Strawberry.” Whereas Byron drank soda water to preserve his figure and Shelley wrote a treatise on the natural diet, Keats ate his nectarine, and we taste it 200 years later. Keats was always the man for me. I read his letters in my mid-teens, before I knew much of his poetry. He was warm, earthy, self-mocking, funny and endlessly interested in gossip, weaving a brilliant weft under and over the letters’ darker warp of sickness, death and mental anguish. In the Keats-Shelley house in Rome, you can stand in Keats’s bedroom and see the flowers on the ceiling that he saw when he lay dying. All the furniture was burned, as it had to be by law, because he had died of tuberculosis. He’d foreseen the whole ugly business from the first moment that he coughed up arterial blood, because his medical training forbade self-deception as much as his nature forbade self-pity. “I cannot be deceived in that colour; – that drop of blood is my death-warrant; – I must die.”
more from Helen Dunmore at The Guardian here.