Ultimate Reading List

Discussion on the works of John Keats.

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Ultimate Reading List

Postby Despondence » Wed Jul 07, 2004 1:31 pm

I propose as a project for this forum to evolve a Keats Ultimate Reading List (KURL). We might have to come up with a better acronym though.

I am constantly reminded of how much there is to read and research, in order to acquire a well-rounded understanding and appreciation of Keats and his poetry. I often ask myself where to look next; what piece of fiction, verse or fact, from Keats' own time, his predecessors or his successors, should I go for? It goes without saying (ergo, I'll say it) that one should read all of Keats; but apart from the poet in question, what else?

Anything can be of interest, be it contemporary to us or to Keats, or ancient history or classical texts that Keats drew inspiration from. Multiple links are allowed (e.g. A wrote B, which Inspired C to write D, which Keats read in 1816...etc).

I will start by throwing a few suggestions out there, at least half of which I think I can motivate for the list (and the other half I can not, but might still qualify). Here goes...


Dante Alighieri
Giovanni Boccacio
Geoffrey Chaucer

Edmund Spenser
William Shakespeare
John Milton
Robert Burton
Alexander Pope
Thomas Chatterton

William Blake
William Wordsworth
Samuel T. Coleridge
Robert Southey
Charles Lamb
Thomas Moore
G.G., Lord Byron
Percy B. Shelly
Leigh Hunt

The goal would be to:
1) refine/complement the author selection
2) supply titles for the most relevant pieces for each author
3) rearrange entries into order of importance
4) inasmuch as we have the patience and stamina, motivate where we can why we think an entry is important.

Here are my nominations first round:
Chapman's Homer
Spenser's Faerie Queene
Shakespeare's Sonnets
Milton's Paradise Lost
Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy

I'd like to hear your suggestions and thoughts on this now; as I have your input I'll start building the actual list. In the end, I hope we'll converge upon a list of the 10-20 most important works to be read by anyone looking for a thorough appreciation of Keats.

Your list is good as it is

Postby Saturn » Wed Jul 07, 2004 10:22 pm

The list you've drawn up is excellent, everything you need to understand Keats is included. It's exactlyt as I would have done it.

Here's a few refinements on the actual pieces that should be recommended and my own ideas as to why they are important:

In the ancient category, You should read Homer's Iliad and Odyssey (preferrably in Chapman's translation as this was Keats only contact with Homer).

Plato's Symposium and Republic should be read as in these Plato expounds his theories of the place of poetry in the community. These also greatly influenced Shelley (indeed he translated the Symposium). I'm not certain that Keats actually read Plato himself though...

Virgil's Aeneid should of course be read since Keats as we know translated it at school. Also interesting are his Ecologues and Georgics which give a real picture of the ancient countryside (albeit poetically) and help construe the mythical landsacpe that Keats tried to create, especially in Endymion.

Ovid's Metamorphoses is essential reading for anyone who cares about poetry. All the most celebrated ancient mythology is contained - a valuable reference point and a great poem in it's own right.

In the Medieval category, Dante's Divina Commedia (or Divine Comedy in the vulgar tongue) is also essential - preferrably Cary's translation as Keats was most familiar with this version.

Boccacio's Decameron as a whole is a fascinating insight into medieval Italy, and concerning Keats obviously the tale of Isabella is in there somewhere (I'm sorry I haven't read it yet, so I don't know where).

One work you did miss out was Tasso's Jerusalem Liberated (haven't read it so can't tell how Keats used this). This was a very fashionable poem of the time influencing Byron, Shelley, and countless others with it's chivalric going-ons.

Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Troilus and Cressidye, and his other poems were greatly formative in Keats' early years with Reynolds. (The original spelling edition, though fiendishly difficult to read is recommended)

In the 1550-1770 category, Spenser's Faerie Queene is without doubt one of Keats' favourite and most inspirational books. It is a mammoth tome, frequently bewildering, but ultimatley poetically satisfying.

Shakespeare, it goes without saying is for any poetry lover absolutely indespensible - just read everything, especially Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, Macbeth, The Winter's Tale, Pericles, The Tempest, The Merchant of Venice and so on....

Also in the same period, the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher were read by Keats (don't know which ones).

Milton's Paradise Lost - the influences are evident in the first version of Hyperion. Indispensible.

Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy - the classic study of mental instability.

Alexander Pope - don't remember anything about Keats reading much Pope, or what he read. I'll Leave this for someone else...

Thomas Chatterton, I think his main work was called the 'Rowley Poems' - never seen anything by him, only read about him - can anyone find any of his work??

Phew, I'll finish this tomorrow and spare yours and my eyes!!!
"Oh what a misery it is to have an intellect in splints".
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Postby Despondence » Thu Jul 08, 2004 1:31 pm

Hey Stephen - thanks for that excellent and detailed commentary, that's precisely what I was looking for. I'll look up some of the references you gave, and (eventually...) offer my own comments (I need to mull over it a bit more than you!). In the meantime I hope that others will contribute their insights and suggestions (although I realize that this is low season, with school's out).

But I can tell you already that the kind of information you provided in a compact format is extremely useful, and that is indeed my hope with building a list like this - to end up with something that is actually useful and informative for a lot of people.

Completion of Keats reading list

Postby Saturn » Thu Jul 08, 2004 9:46 pm

Here's the rest of my comments on Despondence's excellent list:

In the 1770-1820 category, for William Blake, I would obviously recommend the exquisite Songs of Innocence, and Songs of Experience. His Milton and Jerusalem also have a bearing on Keats, being as they are Blake's reactions to one of Keats favourite poets.

For Wordsworth, (despite some detractors on this forum) I would say that almost any of his pre- 1815 works, including The Lyrical Ballads, The Excursion, Intimations of immortality, Peter Bell, The Prelude (the early 'Two-part' version), And of course .....Tintern Abbey.

Coleridge's most famous poems would be sufficient (though those wishing to read further from this visionary poet are heartily welcomed by me). You should check out The Nightingale (some similarities with Keats' ode), Christabel, Kubla Khan, Ode to Dejection, The Rime of The Ancient Mariner and his successful play Remorse.

Southey is a doubtful addition. Not only are his works difficult to find, they are not accounted very good. However in anthologies you may find his excellent Battle of Blenheim and The Devil's thoughts.

Lamb, although primarily known as a critic and journalist was also a minor poet. His prose work that should be consulted is Essays of Elia (his pen name).

Thomas Moore's verse is sadly and unjustifiably neglected, even in his native isle. The books that made his name are The Odes of Anacreon (hence Anacreon Moore), The poems of Thomas Little and Lalla Rook, his Byronic Eastern extravaganza.

Byron's Don Juan and Childe Harold - not much else to say. After an early flirtation with Byronicism (particularly in dress), Keats became gradually more disgusted by his verse - mainly due to their subject matter. A lingering sense of envy for the 'Noble' Lord remained to the end.

Shelley - everything - read it and read it again and again and bask in the wonder of a true fiery and radical genius. Particularly, of course the somewhat romantic Adonais, Hellas, Prometheus Unbound, Alastor, his magnificent Defence of Poetry essay, the astonishing Mask of Anarchy and The Hymn to Intellectual Beauty are just a few starters.
Keats admired his verse, but had reservations about his behaviour and character.

Finally (pant, pant, pant) we come to Keats great friend Leigh Hunt.
Known mostly today for his sterling editorship of the radical Examiner, he was also noted as a poet (indeed blamed for infecting much of Keats early verse). Works which deserve attention are The Feast of Poets and The Story of Rimini.

Sorry to be so brief, I know I'm just skating the surface here.
Perhaps someone else could do a more critical analysis, or a list of modern works relevant to Keats (critical studies etc.) for I prefer not read dull academic studies but the works themselves.

Take your time everybody, it took me at least five years to read most of the stuff on here....what a waste of my youth!!!
"Oh what a misery it is to have an intellect in splints".
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