Why Did He Wait?

The life of John Keats the man: his family, his friends, and his contemporaries.

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Why Did He Wait?

Postby Malia » Mon Jul 10, 2006 11:32 pm

OK, this is perhaps the most morbid and futile question ever asked, :lol: but I'm asking it anyway!

Why did Keats wait to attempt suicide until his final relapse in December, 1820? Why didn't he just get it over with and swallow the laudanum in the ship when everyone was sleeping? Did he have a hope while on board ship that he might somehow recouperate? Severn writes that Keats said he *wanted* to end all while on board ship, and "but for me (Severn)" he would have. I know that certain biographers take this to mean that Keats *did* try onboard ship and Severn dissuaded him--but I don't believe that because Severn *never* mentions such an incident and one would think he *would*--considering it would be fairly big news and he mentioned Keats's attempted suicide in Rome straight out.

Any thoughts?
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Postby Saturn » Mon Jul 10, 2006 11:41 pm

I'm not sure but perhpas the thought of hurting the people that he loved was too much to bear.

[That's the only thing that stops me when I feel like that]

That is an extraordinarily morbid question Malia - even for me :shock:
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Postby Credo Buffa » Tue Jul 11, 2006 12:16 am

It could just be for the simple, human fear of mortality. I have to wonder that, for all the musing that Keats does on death and the sort of romance he has with it in his writing, the fact that he is so in-tune with the living world seems to suggest a contrary view that he was actually very, very in love with life, even if living has to be a painful experience. It seems that someone like Keats would, if only on a subconscious level, prefer the sensation of pain and suffering, the psychological toil of having so little hope at survival, the emotional strain of leaving behind his friends and the woman he loved, to the nothingness of death. I think that also helps explain why Keats tried so desperately in the end to "find God" or some form of religious belief that would offer some comfort and assurance that death wouldn't just be nothing. He was a person who lived so entirely in and dreaming of physical sensations that the idea of "the end" would be enough to make him hold on to life as long as he possibly could, even if by doing so, he would be denying himself release.

If you take this view, you could then form a very romantic notion that Keats's attempts at suicide were a physically manifested symbol of "Keats the poet, who will do anything for a 'life of sensations rather than thoughts,'" versus "Keats the man, who, like so many before and after him, will do anything to make the suffering end." He attempted suicide, but never actually went through with it. Severn claims that he stood in the way, but, like you say Malia, Keats had plenty of opportunities if he'd really wanted to kill himself.

Apparently, "Keats the poet" won in the end.
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Postby Malia » Tue Jul 11, 2006 12:49 am

Credo Buffa wrote:It could just be for the simple, human fear of mortality. I have to wonder that, for all the musing that Keats does on death and the sort of romance he has with it in his writing, the fact that he is so in-tune with the living world seems to suggest a contrary view that he was actually very, very in love with life, even if living has to be a painful experience. It seems that someone like Keats would, if only on a subconscious level, prefer the sensation of pain and suffering, the psychological toil of having so little hope at survival, the emotional strain of leaving behind his friends and the woman he loved, to the nothingness of death. I think that also helps explain why Keats tried so desperately in the end to "find God" or some form of religious belief that would offer some comfort and assurance that death wouldn't just be nothing. He was a person who lived so entirely in and dreaming of physical sensations that the idea of "the end" would be enough to make him hold on to life as long as he possibly could, even if by doing so, he would be denying himself release.

If you take this view, you could then form a very romantic notion that Keats's attempts at suicide were a physically manifested symbol of "Keats the poet, who will do anything for a 'life of sensations rather than thoughts,'" versus "Keats the man, who, like so many before and after him, will do anything to make the suffering end." He attempted suicide, but never actually went through with it. Severn claims that he stood in the way, but, like you say Malia, Keats had plenty of opportunities if he'd really wanted to kill himself.

Apparently, "Keats the poet" won in the end.


I think you're right about wanting to have *some* sensation rather than none at all, Credo. That really sounds like Keats, to me! I suppose he waited until all possible hope was gone before he decided to really go for it.
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Postby Saturn » Tue Jul 11, 2006 10:51 am

Credo Buffa wrote: I think that also helps explain why Keats tried so desperately in the end to "find God" or some form of religious belief that would offer some comfort and assurance that death wouldn't just be nothing.


I'm not too sure about that assertion at all.
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Postby Credo Buffa » Tue Jul 11, 2006 1:38 pm

What's your theory, Saturn?
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Postby Saturn » Tue Jul 11, 2006 3:17 pm

I don't really have a theory.

I agree that he was desparately in love with life despite all his troubles and all the awful things that had happened to him.

There are many reasons why people consider suicide - I'm something of an expert on that. Believe me in a desperate emotional and physical state such as Keats was experiencing it could be something very small and apparently trivial to others.

I think in Keats case he was in such physical pain and he felt the loss of Fanny and the society of his friends, his beloved and his writing keenly and felt that he couldn't go living without all those things that made his life worthwhile.
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Postby dks » Tue Jul 11, 2006 5:09 pm

I think there are two definitive reasons why he didn't 'just end it.'

1. Fanny

2. Fanny

Both Fannys--the love of his life and his sister. In that order. I really think it was a simple choice for him--he'd rather suffer than take the easy way...he had a strong love affair with anguish...it followed almost every good feeling he ever had...he knew he would die anyway...he figured he'd let it happen on its own--it would follow the pattern of a gentle "ceasing to be" for him...I think that's what he wanted.

Don't start. Here I go. :( :cry:
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Re: Why Did He Wait?

Postby AS Ulmer » Sat Oct 04, 2008 7:09 am

Greetings everyone.
This will be my first post to this forum, and I will add that I was stricken with pleasant disbelief of how strong the Keats community is! :D

While I was digging about the dusty archives of my university last Tuesday, I began reading the letters Keats sent to Charles Brown. I feel certain to say that some of you might know the precise letter where this quote originates :wink: , but these words have been on my mind all week, and I feel that they cohere directly to this topic.

"I wish for death every day and night to deliver me from these pains, and then I wish death away, for death would destroy even those pains which are better than nothing. Land and Sea, weakness and decline are great seperators, but death is the great divorcer for ever. When the pang of this thought has passed through my mind, I may say the bitterness of death is passed."
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Re: Why Did He Wait?

Postby Malia » Sun Oct 05, 2008 9:35 pm

Hi AS Ulmer :) Great to have you on board. And thanks for the quote; it certainly fits in this thread and captures, in a heartbreaking way, Keats's struggle with death and despair.
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Re: Why Did He Wait?

Postby chocnuts » Fri Jul 31, 2009 6:34 pm

interesting.. im going to check this one out.. thanks a lot


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