Random Keats Questions

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

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Re: Random Keats Questions

Postby Raphael » Thu Sep 16, 2010 11:49 pm

jesleeall wrote:I realize this topic petered out some time ago, but I thought I'd add my bit.
I don't understand John's words to Benjamin Bailey, either, and I don't know Petrarch, but I think Aileen Ward helped shed a little light on the comment by putting it into context. When she described Keats' earlier stay with Bailey at Oxford, she talked about how fine the weather was and how the two young men would work all morning and then go out in the afternoons to walk or take a boat out on the Isis, talking all the while. She said they talked of a hundred things, including women, and one of the topics that "vexed these young idealists--innocent and helpless as they believed women to be--" was the question, "Why should Woman suffer?" It was a good time for Keats, a time of new ideas and books and companionship, and he was writing easily every day.

By the time of his letter to Bailey, six or seven months later, Keats was "ten thousand fathoms deep into gloom again." He had come back from Teignmouth with Tom, who was not getting better. George had told him of his plans to emigrate to America - "He did not know when he might lose Tom; but now, within a month, he would lose George--his first and in some ways still his closest friend." She suggests that George's approaching marriage was stirring up all Keats' old sexual anxieties. He had just discovered that his inheritance was dwindling faster than he had thought. A leading magazine had just printed "a slashing burlesque of a review" of Endymion, which "made the poem out to be both nonsensical and immoral." And in the May issue of Blackwood's Hunt had been ridiculed as "the King of the Cockneys," "surrounded by a court of would-be poets and crowned by 'the delicate hand of young Mister Keats--an amiable but infatuated bardling,'" referring to the laurel-crowning incident that had so embarrassed Keats.

To top all this off, Bailey had just published a "fulsome tribute" comparing Keats to Shakespeare and Milton, and embarrassing Keats further. So he "thanked" Bailey by telling him in the letter that he was "too simple for the world," and that the world was "malignant enough to chuckle at the most honorable simplicity." In other words, Keats was telling Bailey that Bailey had just given the world another reason to mock Keats. Then he added the comment about how he would reject a "petrarchal coronation--on account of my dying day, and because women have Cancers."

I still don't quite understand it, but the comment about women and cancers may have been just a way of expressing his feelings at the general malignancy of the world.

Very interesting post ! I have always thought the "women have cancers" comment could well have been an experience he had had at Guy's- maybe he saw a woman patient with breast cancer- kind of makes sense to me in a way as he glorified and even honoured women's breasts in some of his poems- they were comforting, life giving (milk), erotic etc. It might have horrified a sensitive young man as he was to have seen such an horrific disease during his medical training, especially given the way he felt about breasts. The "why should woman suffer" question would fit with this.
John....you did not live to see-
who we are because of what you left,
what it is we are in what we make of you.

Peter Sanson, 1995.
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