Keats and the Dramatic Principle

Keats and the Dramatic Principle

Keats and the Dramatic Principle

Keats and the Dramatic Principle

Excerpt

When John Keats died in 1821 at the age of twenty-five, after little more than four years of writing, he left behind him two works: the body of his poetry in three volumes and some miscellaneous pieces; and the body of his life as it was expressed in letter, act, and word. Because of the singular intensity and drama of that life, it has become its own poem -- the poem called Keats. John Middleton Murry sees in the life itself prophetic elements, and a power working in it to make

a perfect work of art, a drama so human, so moving and so profound that one is baffled by the thought, which is nevertheless inescapable, that Keats himself is endowed throughout with a kind of foreknowledge of what is to come: that he collaborated with Destiny, and but for his collaboration the pattern could not have been revealed. He knows, and yet he does not know, how he will be consumed.

But to Keats it was poetry itself that charged his every moment, to which he bent the motions of his life, and in which he burned. It is paradoxical that the very completeness of that submission, combined with the miracle of condensation that marked his brief creative years, formed a drama so poignant that for some it has nearly obliterated his other work, the poetry for which Keats lived.

The work of Keats that was his life, with its palpable design, its legendary brilliance and tragedy, has often been laid over the written poems so that all is seen as one montage, poem and poet mingled. For some, the poem is not an identity: it is only the mirror of the life of Keats. Because it is easy to forget that his creative life was, mysteriously, some forty years telescoped into the four, the montage does blur into occasional false pat-

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