John Keats dappling with drugs appears rather unsurprising. To begin with, he was extremely ill or surrounded by sickness for most part of his life. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was fourteen. He nursed his consumption-ridden brother and watched him die. He himself contracted consumption and died in 1821 at the age of twenty-five. His romantic involvement with Fanny Brawne was short lived because Keats was very consciously aware of the lurking transience of his life. A bullet list of Keats’ sufferings makes him come across as a typically sad, brooding, isolated and dying Romantic artist. It is however his writing that adds most significantly to this image. His use of imagery, the lusciousness and the sheer tangible sensuality of his language makes Keats an artist quite literally- his poetry has been described as an “assault on the senses”; every sensation is heightened and at the end of the extended orgastic experience of reading any of Keats’ works, the reader has a ready picture, built only out of the strokes of Keats’ linguistic genius.
Keats used and abused opium, and Professor Nicholas Roe of the University of St. Andrews, reads Keats’ love for “easeful death” in “Ode to a Nightingale” as a confirmation of his addiction. Keats has regularly been accused of using his art as an escape mechanism; Keats’ substance abuse fits perfectly with this charge. Some of his most famous poems- “Ode to a Nightingale”, “Ode on Indolence” and “The Eve of St. Agnes” are almost psychedelia, and have been read as products of an opiated mind. The whole experience of reading these poems comes very close to the slow, numbing ecstasy associated with any narcotic substance, which spreads slowly through the mind and body. Keats’ poetry therefore is both a physical and intellectual experience. It would appear that I harbor a very evident soft spot for Keats (which I do).
His works are quite possibly the most complete and wholesome cocktail of art and poetry. Throw in a sad biographical history, some untrained, instinctive brilliance and a slow, brooding death, and voila! You have John Keats, one of the finest of the Romantic, and subsequently, of all poets.
What’s not to love?