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Posthumous Keats : A Personal Biography
A Los Angeles Times Favorite Book and a Washington Post Best of 2008: "A book worthy of Keats--full of feeling and drama and those fleeting moments we call genius."--Ted Genoways, Washington Post Book World
John Keats's famous epitaph--"Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water"--helped cement his reputation as the archetype of the genius cut off before his time. In this close narrative study, Stanley Plumly meditates on the chances for poetic immortality, an idea that finds its purest expression in Keats. Incisive in its observations and beautifully written, Posthumous Keats is an ode to an unsuspecting young poet--a man who, against the odds of his culture and critics, managed to achieve the unthinkable: the elevation of the lyric poem to sublime and tragic status.
The great English poet John Keats (1795-1821) wrote his last complete poems in the fall of 1819; already ill from tuberculosis, he traveled to Italy with his friend Joseph Severn in a doomed attempt to get well, and died in Rome after a year of getting worse. The prolific and widely honored poet Plumly (Old Heart) offers seven informative, overlapping chapters that consider aspects, consequences and echoes from that sad last year of Keats's life. Plumly discusses artists' portraits of the poet (among them Severn's arresting deathbed sketch). He examines the lives and motives of the people closest to Keats, such as the faithful Severn (who outlived the poet by decades), the perhaps faithless (but perhaps not) Charles Brown and Keats's fianc?e, Fanny Brawne. He considers Keats's love letters, Keats's medical training, Keatsian and Shelleyan landmarks in Rome, the fate of Keats's manuscripts and, finally, Keats's sense of his own life, as bound up in the poems. Plumly's linked essays incorporate old-school scholarship, but never seem dry or academic in the bad sense: the result feels personal indeed, if never autobiographical. At times Plumly seems unsure for whom he is writing. At other times, though, his unstinting admiration and evocative prose promise to create Keatsians yet unknown. (May)
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W. W. Norton & Company
November 08, 2009
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