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The International Writers Magazine: Keats in Europe

Musings on John Keats
• Uri A Jurist

I’ve often pondered why I’m so enthralled with the poetic works of John Keats. What is it about the agony and yearning in his poems that calls out to me? Why did I visit Keats’ last home in Rome, Italy to gaze upon a reproduction of the poet’s death mask and stand in the tiny room where he drew his last breath?

Keats Room

Why did Keats’ interminable struggle with heartache and longing for the famed Fanny Brawne dilate the very crevices of my heart? Why do I feel a profound and abiding connection to the deceased English poet? I have more questions than I have answers.

My high school Humanities teachers first introduced me to the written word of John Keats and my life hasn’t been the same since that fateful introduction. “La Belle Dame sans Merci”, the first Keats poem upon which I fixed my eyes, immediately captivated me. The words of the poem drew me into Keats’ world of a love unfulfilled. I felt pity for the poet’s “knight-at-arms”, but marveled at how quickly he was bewitched by the fairy temptress. (Keats lines 13-40). “La Belle Dame sans Merci” whetted my appetite for Keats’ works and nearly two decades later, satiation evades me.

I wish I understood the magnetic pull I feel towards Keats. The sorrow I experience when I think about the poet’s brief and tortured life is incapable of being articulated. The crushing weight I feel on my bosom when I read Keats’ poems is undeniable. In fact, I’ve read the poet’s “When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be” over and over again until recitation became possible and my tears flowed amply. No other poet’s words have elicited my tears, and I query whether any other poet’s words ever will.

© Uri A. Jurist May 2012

Extract: La Belle Dame sans Merci by John Keats (1795–1821).

Met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light, 15
And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She look’d at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan.

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