Biography of John Keats

Amanda Owens

John Keats, the oldest of five children, one of whom died shortly after birth, was born on October 31, 1795. He was the son of Frances Jennings and Thomas Keats. When John was eight years old, his father was killed in a riding accident. From this point on, Keats’ life was fraught with poverty and tragedy. His mother died seven years later in 1810 of consumption. John was apprenticed to a surgeon, but in 1814 after a quarrel with his master, he left, giving up the profession for good only 2 years later. In May of 1816 his first poem, “The Examiner,” was published in a magazine. A year later he published “Poems,”—his first volume of poetry. Although it was not well received and often criticized, Keats continued to develop his talent.

In December of 1818, his brother Tom Keats died of consumption. This disease, which had already taken the life of his mother, was to take John’s own life only a few short years later. And it was in February of 1820 that the first unmistakable signs of consumption occurred. His previous apprenticeship with the surgeon could not let him deny the truth of his own condition. However, it was not long after this that he fell in love with a neighbor, the young Fanny Brawne. During this period of his intense infatuation with her, he composed some of his most celebrated odes in his poetry volumes, “Lamia, Isabella, &c.” However, he was never able to realize his dream of marrying Fanny Brawne. In the summer of 1820 he moved to Italy on the suggestion of his physician. Six months later on February 23, 1821, tuberculosis took its final toll, and Keats died in Rome in the arms of his friend, Joseph Severn. He was buried in a Protestant cemetery, with a peculiar statement he’d requested engraved on his head stone: “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.”

Keats, though only 25 at the time of his death, remains one of the best-known English poets, known not only for his poems, but for his letters. It is in these letters that he discourses on such critical theories as Imagination and Negative Capability, along with Poetic Identity. These alone are significant contributions to the tradition of literary criticism.

For more information on John Keats, please see these excellent websites:

Return to previous page

Frankenstein Project Page