John Keats Bicentennial

‘John Keats on his deathbed, at 26 Piazza di Spagna, Rome – drawing by Joseph Severn – The inscription at the bottom is in Severn’s hand, and reads (in partial shorthand): ’28 Janry 3 o’clock mng. Drawn to keep me awake – a deadly sweat was on him all this night.’

Keats passed away on Friday, 23 February 1821, around 11:00 pm. This is the last known portrait of the poet.

Severn announced Keats’s death to Charles Brown in a letter dated 27 February 1821:

Rome. 27 February 1821.

My dear Brown,

He is gone–he died with the most perfect ease–he seemed to go to sleep. On the 23rd, about 4, the approaches of death came on. “Severn-I–lift me up–I am dying–I shall die easy–don’t be frightened–be firm, and thank God it has come!” I lifted him up in my arms. The phlegm seemed boiling in his throat, and increased until 11, when he gradually sunk into death–so quiet-that I still thought he slept. I cannot say now-I am broken down from four nights’ watching, and no sleep since, and my poor Keats gone. Three days since, the body was opened; the lungs were completely gone. The Doctors could not conceive by what means he had lived these two months. I followed his poor body to the grave on Monday, with many English. They take such care of me here–that I must, else, have gone into a fever. I am better now–but still quite disabled.

The Police have been. The furniture, the walls, the floor, every thing must be destroyed by order of the law. But this is well looked to by Dr C.

The letters I put into the coffin with my own hand.

I must leave off.

J. S.

This goes by the first post. Some of my kind friends would have written else. I will try to write you every thing next post; or the Doctor will.

They had a mask – and hand and foot done –

I cannot get on –

The hand and foot disappeared but two casts of the face remained. Here’s one of them:

John Keats’ Bicentennial –   The anniversary today, two hundred years ago today, since his tragic death in Rome, (aged a mere twenty-five), dying, famously, of consumption, in the house (26 Piazza di Spagna), at the foot of the Spanish Steps, that now houses the Keats-Shelley House (Keats-Shelley Museum.)

The Museum has arranged a number of on-line events for this important day – see here,
notably, “The Death of Keats”, an “immersive video story” narrated by Bob Geldof

See Geldorf’s narration for an “immersive video” of the Museum’s collection:

Speaking of Keats Museums – did we mention London (Hampstead)’s  Keats House ?

The death of Keats, despite Severn’s compassionate account  (“he died with the most perfect ease”) was not an easy one – he actually endured weeks of suffering and agony, whilst, it now transpires, doctors misdiagnosed and mistreated his condition. The end, when it came, was thus a blessed relief.

Keats’ grave in Rome

His body was buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome. His last request was to be placed under a tombstone bearing no name or date, only the words, “Here lies One whose Name was writ in Water.” Severn and Brown erected the stone, which under a relief of a lyre with broken strings, includes the epitaph:
This Grave / contains all that was Mortal / of a / Young English Poet / Who / on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his Heart / at the Malicious Power of his Enemies / Desired / these Words to be / engraven on his Tomb Stone: / Here lies One / Whose Name was writ in Water. 24 February 1821

Here’s “Writ in Water”– by Michelle Stacey –  “the enduring mystery of Keats’ last words” –

Here’s more on The “vital” death of John Keats”

Sultana Raza‘s provocative essay from last May, “Keats in the Time of Coronavirus” is a timely and pertinent analysis of Keats from the perspective of death and loss (contemporary death and loss)

& Allen’s essay “Negative Capability – Kerouac’s Buddhist Ethic” in Tricycle from back in the Fall of 1882,  a vital and intelligent Keatsian reading – Keats’ famous phrase (“negative capability”), transported and applied to Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation.

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