John Keats – English poet extraordinaire who, along with fellow troubadours Shelley and Byron, came to define the style of a generation of writers – was born on the thirty-first of October in the year of our lord seventeen-hundred and ninety five.
Keats’ odes (on Melancholy, to a Nightingale) are still among the most beloved pieces in English Lit. His poem that begins “Bright star! would I were steadfast as thou art— ” has no doubt launched a million burgeoning relationships with the wish to be “Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast, / To feel for ever its soft fall and swell.” He is, for better or worse, probably the source of many of our “romantic” notions of the male poet: lying beneath shady bowers of a civilized country home on a sick-bed contemplating Homer in frilly shirts and ending auspiciously in a Roman swan song within sight of the Spanish Steps.
But, that all comes much later. On this day a bouncing baby boy entered the world in Georgian England (the poor country was under the reign of Crazy King George III who besides losing his marbles had lost the American Colonies). Keats’ papa ran a hotel and pub called “The Swan and Hoop” and Keats was baptized soon after birth at St. Botolph-without-Bishopsgate. In the midst of such great everyday language use is it any wonder he blossomed into such fame? Well, yes. Mostly because he kicked the bucket at age 26 and got a heck of a lot of pretty words down on paper first (his letters, which introduced the concept of ‘negative capability’ to the world, are almost as revered as his poems). So raise a bucket of All Hallows Eve treats to the precocious young gent who brought us the “Eve of St. Agnes” and other such tasty intellectual morsels in his brief, bright life.
With a little shout out to Arizona State University’s hometown namesake here are some lines from “Ode on a Grecian Urn” that also seem apropos for this spirited day:
“What leaf-fringed legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?”
Possible cheeky contemporary answer: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.