cover image Keats: A Brief Life in Nine Poems and One Epitaph

Keats: A Brief Life in Nine Poems and One Epitaph

Lucasta Miller. Knopf, $30 (368p) ISBN 978-0-525-65583-1

Critic Miller (The Brontë Myth) considers the life of English poet John Keats (1795–1821) via nine of his poems in this detailed and original study. Melding biography, close reading, and personal essay, Miller creates an intimate account of Keats’s endeavor “to use the abstract medium of language to bring body and soul together.” Miller examines each poem and the circumstances of its composition, alongside key events in Keats’s life. Her reading of “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer” tells of the deaths of several of his family members during his childhood; “Endymion” sheds light on Keats’s decision as a young man to leave his apothecary apprenticeship and pursue poetry; and the epitaph, titled “Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water,” offers insight into his death in Rome at the age of 25, which he viewed as his “only comfort.” Miller conveys a strong personal connection with the poet (having “lived in Keats’s stomping ground”), and shares anecdotes about her research, her visit to one of Keats’s residences, and her attempt to find a bench he once supposedly sat on. These personal sections bring in some levity to balance her taut analysis. This penetrating and charming study will enchant Keats’s fans. (Mar.)