John Keats


'Here Lies One Whose Name Was Writ in Water'

John Keats is buried in the Protestant Cemetery, Rome, Italy. His grave is in a quiet corner close to the Pyramid. (Shelley is also buried in this cemetery.)

Gravestone of John Keats

Grave of Keats and Severn

After leaving Clarke's school in Enfield, Keats became apprenticed to Thomas Hammond - an apothecary-surgeon in Edmonton. In 1814 he left Hammond and began studying at St. Thomas's and Guy's Hospitals. It was at this time that he began to write poetry - influenced, in particular, by Spenser and Milton. In 1816 he became licensed to practice as an apothecary but abandoned it to take up poetry full time. Blackwood's Magazine - pejoratively referred to this decision as Keats joining the  Cockney School of poetry.

At this time Keats met with many of the leading poets and artists of the day including: Leigh Hunt, Shelley, Wordsworth, Charles Lamb and Benjamin Haydon.

In 1819 he became engaged to Fanny Brawne but by the winter of that year he had started to develop tuberculosis.

Keats left England in 1820, on the advise of his doctors, and headed for Italy with his friend Joseph Severn. By now, he was in the final stages of consumption. He arrived at Naples and then proceeded to Rome where he rented a house on the Spanish Steps. He died on the 23 February, 1821 aged only 25.

Keats requested that only the phrase:

Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water 

be inscribed on his headstone. However, his two close friends Joseph Severn and Charles Brown, who cared for him during his illness, decided to add the following:

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

Brown and Severn felt that Keats had been badly treated by the critics - in particular by harsh reviews of Endymion which appeared in Blackwood's  and the Quarterly Review. However, both men later regretted adding their own words to the headstone.

Severn is buried near to Keats and between them lies Severn's son. Shelley wrote a long elegy for Keats entitled Adonais. 

John Keats 

Keats' short life was beset with tragedy. His father died when he was eight and his mother when he was fourteen. In 1818, his younger brother Tom also died.

Keats' letters were not published until 1848 and 1878 but provided a fascinating insight into his everyday life and his thoughts about poetry. In them he makes reference to various theories including mansion of many apartments and negative capability. Eliot regarded them as 'the most important ever written by any English poet'.

See also assonance, romanticism and synaesthesia.

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
  What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
  Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last grey hairs,
  Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
    Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
                        And leaden-eyed despairs;
  Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
    Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

From Ode to a Nightingale  (complete poem)  


Read more of Keats' Poetry






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