Ah, Keats! John Keats, whose name is synonymous with poetry for some people. For me too, even though there are many poets who mean as much to me as the short-lived Londoner.
Keats was born, as the Chronology in this wonderful compendium of Keats` writings tells us, `at Swan and Hoop Livery Stables, Moorfields Pavement, London` on 31 Oct, 1795. He died in Rome at the absurdly young age of 25. (Even Mozart and Keats` contemporary Schubert were granted a few more years than he was.)
Clearly laid out with Contents, Introduction, and 100 pages of Notes, Further Reading, and a welcome Glossary by Elizabeth Cook, the bulk of this reasssuringly big book consists of nearly 350 pages of poems along with a generous 200 pages of Keats` letters, which are not only of great value to any lover of the poet, but a treat in themselves.
I can think of few more quotable poets, so will have to rein myself in. So many of his poems begin with, or include, lines that have entered the language.
A thing of beauty is a joy forever (Endymion)
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense (Ode to a Nightingale)
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves (Ibid)
She stood in tears amid the alien corn (Ibid)
Thou still unravish`d bride of quietness (Ode on a Grecian Urn)
O what can ail thee knight at arms
Alone and palely loitering? (La Belle Dame Sans Merci)
One could go on, of course. Keats was prolific on a Mozartian scale in such a brief glimmer of a life, and so much of what he wrote is, once read, unforgettable.
Pretty much all you need is here, in one fat, inexpensive paperback. Even the cover painting (by my least favourite artist, the luridly gaudy Holman Hunt) is well chosen, relating to Keats` poem Isabella, and the book is well-printed, which is not always the case with OUP paperbacks.
Let John Keats of London have the last word. Here he is extolling the wonders of a first reading of Chapman`s Homer (with a last line I still find haunting), but it could easily be a reader who has recently discovered Keats:
Much have I travell`d in the land of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen[...]
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star`d at the Pacific - and all his men
Look`d at each other with a wild surmise -
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.