The Fall of Hyperion | Study Guide

John Keats

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John Keats | Biography

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Early Years

John Keats was born October 31, 1795, in London, England. Keats received fairly little formal education as a child. His mother quickly remarried when his father died in 1804. His mother's second marriage broke up, and Keats and his siblings went to live with their grandmother in Edmonton, Middlesex. Keats attended a nearby school, and in 1809 he became interested in reading literature. When Keats's mother died in 1910, the children's grandmother decided to put the affairs of the children in the hands of a guardian named Richard Abbey (1765–1837).

Abbey arranged an apprenticeship for Keats under a surgeon in Edmonton in 1811. Keats abandoned his apprenticeship in 1814 and left for London. There he worked at Guy's and St. Thomas's hospitals as a junior house surgeon. Keats's first mature poem "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" was published in 1816. By 1817 Keats had fully devoted himself to writing poetry.

Early Career

Keats's time at Edmonton had introduced him to the work of the English poet Edmund Spenser (1552–99). Spenser's allegorical poem The Faerie Queene (1590) is considered one of the greatest in the English language. Keats was also introduced to the journalist and poet Leigh Hunt (1784–1859) who had a great influence on Keats's 1817 collection Poems. That year Keats went on a trip to the Isle of Wight and Canterbury to begin working on his first long poem Endymion which was published in 1818. Keats returned to London and moved into Hampstead with his brothers.

Personal Life

During the summer of 1818 Keats went to the Lake District of northern England and Scotland for a walking tour and experienced the first symptoms of tuberculosis. This disease is a bacterial infection that typically attacks the lungs and was incurable at the time. Keats returned to London and faced brutal criticism of his early work in two major publications but he took this criticism in stride. His brother passed from tuberculosis in the autumn of 1818. Around this time Keats fell in love with Fanny Brawne (1800–65) who was a nearby neighbor in Hampstead. The two became engaged in October 1819.

1819

It was in the year 1819 that Keats wrote all of his greatest poems including "Lamia," "The Eve of St. Agnes," and the great ode poems ("On Indolence," "On a Grecian Urn," "To Psyche," "To a Nightingale," "On Melancholy," and "To Autumn"). These works were composed as Keats grew increasingly sick. These poems are considered to be among the greatest achievements of Romantic poetry due to their rich and sensuous detail and contemplative depth. The Romantic movement occurred in the late-18th and the mid-19th centuries and was characterized by a deep appreciation of nature, the value of emotion over reason and intellect, and an emphasis on the imagination of the artist.

The Fall of Hyperion

Keats's fragmentary poem Hyperion has two versions, and he eventually abandoned the first in April 1819. The Fall of Hyperion is Keats's attempt at the revised edition and includes the addition of a long prologue in a new style. Both poems embody a time of intense personal and poetical experience for Keats. Keats composed the poem during his increasingly severe illness and sought to confront the themes of absolute value and moral decay. The poem was undoubtedly inspired by English poet John Milton (1608–74) and his 1667 epic Paradise Lost. The Fall of Hyperion was also inspired by Dante Alighieri (c. 1265–1321) and his narrative poem The Divine Comedy that was written circa 1308–21.

Final Years

Little further information on Keats's poetic career is recorded. His poems "Lamia," "Isabella," "The Eve of St. Agnes," Hyperion, and his odes were published in his 1820 volume that appeared in July. That year his tuberculosis became more evident and Keats realized that sustaining his work would be impossible. In September 1820 Keats sailed to Rome, where he died on February 23, 1821. It is challenging to estimate what contributions to literature were lost with Keats's early demise. His reputation rose throughout the 19th century and his influence can be seen within the Romantic verse of the Victorian era.

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