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John Keats Introduction

What John Keats did... and why you should care

Pity the short, tragic life of poet John Keats. Abandoned, orphaned and impoverished as a child, he was pulled from school and forced into a medical career he didn't want by an unscrupulous guardian. He found the courage to pursue a literary career at the age of 21, but by then his life was already approaching its end. He suffered from bad reviews, then depression, and then tuberculosis, the last of which proved deadly. He died in 1821 at the age of twenty-five, leaving behind a broken-hearted fiancée, a handful of poems and a legacy as one of the great poets of the Romantic age.

Critics were so hard on Keats during his lifetime that his friends believed that he died from the stress of his negative reviews. (An autopsy of his tuberculosis-ravaged lungs debunked that theory.) Yet Keats' reputation has proved to be more enduring than the names of any of his critics. Today, Keats' lines are part of our collective consciousness. "A thing of beauty is a joy forever,"1 "Beauty is truth, truth beauty"2 - these lines and more come to us courtesy of John Keats. He never achieved old age, but he arrived at immortality.

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