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Posts Tagged ‘John Keats’

Hang Your Quiver on Your Wagon, and Other News

October 20, 2014 | by

An illustration of the Amazons from the Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493.

  • In 1882, Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde spent an afternoon together. They had some homemade elderberry wine and talked about how to be famous.
  • And in 1817, Keats, Wordsworth, and Charles Lamb had dinner. Lamb said repeatedly, “Diddle idle don / My son John / Went to bed with his breeches on.”
  • Winning the Nobel Prize causes an intense, nearly insurmountable euphoria. But according to Patrick Modiano, there is one way to magnify this sensation: by having a family member who hails from the same country that gives the prize. “It gave me even greater pleasure because I have a Swedish grandson … It’s to him I dedicate this Prize. It is, after all, from his country.”
  • Historically, fiction has afforded writers the chance to break taboos—under the guise of the fictive, one can “talk about potentially embarrassing or even criminal personal experiences without bringing society’s censure on oneself.” So what happens when taboos fall away? “It could be we are moving towards a period where, as the writer ‘gets older’ … he or she finds it increasingly irrelevant to embark on another long work of fiction that elaborately reformulates conflicts and concerns that the reader anyway assumes are autobiographical. Far more interesting and exciting to confront the whole conundrum of living and telling head on, in the very different world we find ourselves in now, where more or less anything can be told without shame.”
  • The sexual congress of the Amazons “was robust, promiscuous. It took place outdoors, outside of marriage, in the summer season, with any man an Amazon cared to mate with … The sign for sex in progress was a quiver hung outside a woman’s wagon.”

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The Vale of Soul-Making

July 25, 2014 | by

How Keats coped with fever.

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Tuberculosis seemed to pursue Keats his whole life.

In 1821, three months after he learned of Keats’s death, Percy Shelley wrote Adonaïs: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats, in which he described the poet as a delicate, fragile young flower of a man:

Oh gentle child, beautiful as thou wert,
Why didst thou leave the trodden paths of men
Too soon, and with weak hands though mighty heart
Dare the unpastured dragon in his den?

That dragon was a cruel critic who had mocked Keats’s literary ambitions—John Gibson Lockhart, who, writing under the pseudonym Z, had scolded Keats as if he were a child, insisting in a review of Endymion that “it is a better and a wiser thing to be a starved apothecary than a starved poet; so back to the shop, Mr John, back to the ‘plasters, pills, and ointment boxes.’ ” Lockhart had classed Keats among the Cockney School of politics, versification, and morality, known—at least by readers of Blackwood’s Magazine—for its “exquisitely bad taste” and “vulgar modes of thinking.” In Shelley’s formulation, it was this bad review that sent Keats to an early grave, and gazing back through history, one begins to accept this two-part narrative of Keats’s legacy. The fallen poet had lived a life of abstractions—he was not only an aesthete, but the aesthete—and he had been, as Byron quipped, “snuffed out by an article,” too beautiful and frail for this harsh world.

But Keats was immersed in the realities of life; his poetry and letters reveal an allegiance to radical politics as well as a concern with economic and scientific issues. Far from childlike and apolitical, he’s now thought of as having been “dangerous … a poet who embodied and gave voice to the anxieties and insecurities of his times … a poet whom the establishment would be obliged to silence,” as the scholar Nicholas Roe puts it. We often overlook, for instance, that Keats spent six years studying medicine, successfully earning a license to practice in London from the Society of Apothecaries—hence Lockhart’s insult about the “plasters, pills, and ointment boxes.” To think that he was “snuffed out by an article” trivializes the intense pain he experienced as his lungs were slowly consumed by tuberculosis, robbing him of his work, his love, and his life at the age of twenty-five.

The myth of the frail genius is attractive, even to contemporary readers, because of its quintessential Romanticism. But the truth is that Keats’s writings—especially when they seem fanciful or escapist—are grounded in real-world concerns. And nowhere is this more evident than in the letters and poems of his that deal with feverish suffering. Read More »

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Beauty Is Not Truth, Truth Not Beauty, and Other News

May 22, 2014 | by

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Keats was wrong, scientists say, kind of. Keats’s drawing of the Sosibios Vase, c. 1819

  • Was Frank O’Hara the social-media whiz of his day? Well … “O’Hara’s Lunch Poemslike Facebook posts or tweets—shares, saves, and re-creates the poet’s experience of the world. He addresses others in order to combat a sense of loneliness, sharing his gossipy, sometimes snarky take of modern life, his unfiltered enthusiasm, and his boredom in a direct, conversational tone. In short, Lunch Poems, while fifty years old, is very a 21st-century book.”
  • With apologies to Keats, beauty is likely not, in fact, truth; nor, by transitive property, is truth beauty. “The discourse about aesthetics in scientific ideas has never gone away … Today, popularizers such as Greene are keen to make beauty a selling point of physics … the quantum theorist Adrian Kent speculated that the very ugliness of certain modifications of quantum mechanics might count against their credibility. After all, he wrote, here was a field in which ‘elegance seems to be a surprisingly strong indicator of physical relevance’ … We have to ask: what is this beauty they keep talking about?”
  • “The Chinese name diseases based on symptoms, so diabetes is known as ‘sugary pee.’” A few doctors wish to remedy this.
  • “Beginning in the late 1930s, Richard Edes Harrison drew a series of elegant and gripping images of a world at war, and in the process persuaded the public that aviation and war really had fundamentally disrupted the nature of geography … Harrison dazzled readers of Fortune with artistic geo-visualizations of the political crises in Europe and Asia. The key decision he made was to reject the Mercator projection, which had outlived its purpose.”
  • The anxiety (and ecstasy) of influence in Bob Dylan: “With the help of Google Books, Scott Warmuth, a fan from New Mexico, has been delving deeper into Dylan’s recent writing and finding all kinds of odd, uncredited borrowings. Passages from Dylan’s memoir, Chronicles: Volume One (2004), were taken from disparate sources: from H. G. Wells, Jack London, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald; from Tony Horowitz’s nonfiction book “Confederates in the Attic,” a travel guide about New Orleans, and an issue of Time, from 1961 … Dylan’s ‘appropriations were not random. They were deliberate. When Scott delved into them, he found cleverness, wordplay, jokes, and subtexts.’”

 

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Love and Friendship

March 4, 2014 | by

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Johannes Vermeer, Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid, oil on canvas, c. 1670-71

Do you remember Amish Friendship Bread? Basically, it’s like a chain letter, except you give people bags of gloppy, smelly starter, which they grow and mix with various strange ingredients, and distribute along with loaves of bread; the idea is you pass it along in perpetuity. It’s easy to find the recipe online. One—which attributes it to a “Mrs. Norma Condon of Los Angeles”—describes it thusly: “This is more than a recipe—it’s a way of thinking. In our hi-tech world almost everything comes prepackaged and designed for instant gratification. So where does a recipe that takes ten days to make fit in? Maybe it’s a touchstone to our past—to those days not so very long ago when everything we did took time and where a bread that took ten days to make was not as extraordinary as it seems today.” (Well, those days not very long ago when you made a bread with a box of instant vanilla pudding, anyway.)

Name notwithstanding, the bread apparently bears very little resemblance to anything made by the Pennsylvania Dutch. Wikipedia was good enough to address the issue, informing us that “according to Elizabeth Coblentz, a member of the Old Order Amish and the author of the syndicated column ‘The Amish Cook,’ true Amish friendship bread is ‘just sourdough bread that is passed around to the sick and needy.’”

As memory serves, I was neither particularly needy nor infirm the long-ago summer it came into my life, but, perhaps knowing that I liked to bake, a church friend of my grandmother’s brought me the Ziploc bag of starter, and I dutifully fed and stirred it every day before forcing sacks of it on three hapless neighbors, along with the obligatory mimeographed paper bearing the instructions and recipe. Not making it did not even occur to me: this was on the order of a sacred trust. And while the final product—which is somewhere between a gently-spiced snack and a dessert—may leave something to be desired, it’s true that making the friendship bread was a fun experience. Read More »

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Darkling I Listen

December 23, 2013 | by

All this week, we are bringing you some of your favorite posts from 2013. Happy holidays!

Herewith, Benedict Cumberbatch reads John Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale.”

 

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Shopping for Groceries with the Romantic Poets

October 25, 2013 | by

Jason Novak is a cartoonist in Oakland, California.

 

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