This Day In Literary History
On May 5th, 1816, O Solitude, the first published poem by the legendary English poet John Keats, appeared in The Examiner, which at the time was England's leading liberal magazine.
Keats, the son of a bartender, began writing poetry at the age of eighteen. In 1815, he was studying medicine at Guy's Hospital, (now part of King's College, London) but his true passion was writing.
The hospital was more interested in Keats' medical skills - they offered him a position as junior surgeon. This increased his workload and cut into his writing time, causing him to fall into a depression.
Determined to become a poet, Keats spent his precious spare time honing his writing skills and studying the works of others. In May of 1816, his sonnet O Solitude was accepted for publication by The Examiner.
This was a milestone in Keats' career and a great source of encouragement, as The Examiner's editor was poet Leigh Hunt, one of Keats' literary idols. O Solitude introduced Keats' distinctive style and helped establish him as one of the greatest Romantic poets of all time:
O SOLITUDE! if I must with thee dwell,
Let it not be among the jumbled heap
Of murky buildings; climb with me the steep,-
Nature’s observatory - whence the dell,
Its flowery slopes, its river’s crystal swell,
May seem a span; let me thy vigils keep
’Mongst boughs pavillion’d, where the deer’s swift leap
Startles the wild bee from the fox-glove bell.
But though I’ll gladly trace these scenes with thee,
Yet the sweet converse of an innocent mind,
Whose words are images of thoughts refin’d,
Is my soul’s pleasure; and it sure must be
Almost the highest bliss of human-kind,
When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee.
Five months after his poem was published, Keats was introduced to the man who published it, his literary idol Leigh Hunt, by his friend, writer Charles Cowden Clarke. Impressed by Keats, Hunt brought him into his literary circle, which included such legendary poets as Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron.
After Keats' first poetry collection, Poems, was published in 1817, he gave up medicine and devoted himself exclusively to writing. In his short life, he would become one of the greatest poets of his generation, writing many classic poems. Sadly, he contracted tuberculosis and died in 1821 at the age of 25.
During his short life, Keats' works were trashed by critics, who drove him to despair. It wasn't until after his death that he was finally recognized as one of the greatest English Romantic poets of all time. His works remain hugely influential to this day.
Quote Of The Day
"Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one's soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself, but with its subject." - John Keats
Today's video features a reading of John Keats' classic poem, Ode to a Nightingale, performed by actor Robert Donat. Enjoy!