Keats

Andrew Motion, Author
Andrew Motion, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $35 (576p) ISBN 978-0-374-18100-0
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
John Keats (1795-1821), commonly considered the quintessential English romantic poet, lived and wrote intensely in his short life of 25 years and four months. Emotionally complex, he combined profound self-knowledge with an acute empathy and ""sense of human frailty,"" which informed his poetry. British poet-biographer Motion (Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life) presents a well-researched, straightforward chronological account, tracing Keats's day-to-day movements while giving a valuable portrait of the society in which he lived. Keats, who spurned his medical training for poetry, was torn by continual tension between the demands of living in the world and his inner need to plumb what he famously called ""the vale of soul-making."" This biography is particularly strong in covering Keats's troubled family background, unconventional education, important friendships and baffled passion for Fanny Brawne--the account of Keats's strenuous walking tour to the Lake District and Scotland in 1818 is especially telling of his personality and character. Motion notes Keats's ability to assume a ""`chameleon' character"" in his poetry, and suggests that, in the context of his work, Keats had ""no fixed identity""; the poems conceal his personality as much as they reveal it. Still, for all we learn from Motion about what Keats did, to understand who he was we must return to his poems and letters. Keats admirably supplements--but does not displace--the classic biographies by W.J. Bate and Robert Gittings. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Jan.)
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