John Keats (1795-1821)

Photograph of John Keats‘ life-mask by artist Benjamin Hayden (1786-1846) – photo by Joanna Kane from The Somnambulists: Photographic Portraits From Before Photography

Today (tonight) is fittingly Halloween – and John Keats‘ birthday.
Allen, like any poet, revered Keats, and was particularly taken by this letter/manifesto (from a note written to his brothers, George and Thomas, and dated December 21, 1817) – the notion of “negative capability” –

“I had not a dispute but a disquisition (with [his friend] (Charles Wentworth) Dilke”), Keats writes, “on various subjects. Several things dove-tailed in my mind, and at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean, Negative Capability, that is when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason…”

“The really interesting word here is “irritable””, Allen notes. “which in Buddhism we take to be the aggressive insistence on eliminating one concept against another, so that you have to take a meat-axe to your opponent or yourself to resolve the contradictions…That’s a completely polarized version of the universe – the notion that everything is black and white.”

This Buddhist reading of Keats is further developed in his essay, “Negative Capability – Kerouac’s Buddhist Ethic” (we drew your attention to it here).

Happy Birthday, John Keats!

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