The KLP Editors’ Reflections on Keats’s Last Letter

On 30 November 2020, the KLP Editors served as guests at a meeting of “Romanticism in the Meantime,” a bi-weekly virtual gathering organized by Jonathan Mulrooney and Emily Rohrbach. For the bicentennial of Keats’s last letter, each of the KLP Editors offered their reflections on Keats, on his correspondence, and on the KLP itself. We reproduce them here in textual form as we near the bicentennial of Keats’s death. Click here for more on the KLP’s coverage of this sad, last bicentennial.

Brian Rejack

Dear Friends,

I don’t know if you know the contemporary poet Ross Gay, but if you don’t, I highly recommend you read him. I’ve been reading his most recent poetry book, Be Holding, and I love it, just as I loved his previous one, catalog of unabashed gratitude. In any case, I’m thinking of him now because I just had to figure out how to address everyone here—wherever that is—and I recalled how much I enjoy when Gay addresses his reader, not in the 19th-century mode of “Dear Reader,” but simply, and in the plural, as “friends.” So goes the opening line of the title poem of catalog of unabashed gratitude: “Friends, will you bear with me today.”

I’m lucky enough to call some of you friends already, but I’m also projecting into the future here, hopeful that with all of you my address will someday reach its destination. In any case, I hope that you can at least bear with me today. And bear with Keats, which is what, among other things, he asks of Charles Brown in his last letter. “There, you rogue,” he writes to his friend, “I put you to the torture,—but you must bring your philosophy to bear—as I do mine, really—or how should I be able to live?” To bear with Keats, or to bear as Keats does, is necessary to support his ability to live. (You can read my friend David Sigler’s wiser words on this sentence from Keats’s letter by checking out our collaborative post published on the KLP earlier today—David brought his philosophy to bear on the letter, and so should you bring yours.)

I’m also thinking about friends as we reflect on the work of the KLP over the last few years. Our project blossomed out of friendships—some old, some new—and it’s often been about them, too. Keats’s first letter, an epistolary poem that may or may not have actually been sent as a letter, speaks of his “great partnership” with its addressee, George Felton Mathew, whom Keats calls his “too partial friend.” In her response to this letter, published way back at the end of 2015, Kate Singer focused on the linguistic and semiotic play in “partnership” and “partial,” and how the playful, convivial impulse behind Keats’s friendships was something animating the KLP as well. But the “partiality” of friendship could also gesture toward the limitations of connection, of the many ways we remain separated from and mediated to one another, even before the pandemic but in more striking ways now during it.

All of this is to say, friends, that the occasion of commemorating Keats’s last letter here at the end of 2020 has been, well, difficult. Keats’s letter opens with the admission that “Tis the most difficult thing in the world to me to write a letter,” and many things this year have felt similarly. And yet, even at our worst, like Keats in quarantine, we summon up whatever we can, be they puns or other arts of living (another friend, Rebecca Ariel Porte, writes today, “the dead know that an awkward bow is an art of living.”) What else can we do but ask, with Keats, “Remember me to all friends.” 

What I’ve found over the last few weeks, as I’ve corresponded with many friends (of Keats, of the KLP, of my own), and as I’ve made new friends that I hadn’t known at all until we corresponded about Keats’s last letter, is that it can be less difficult to write a letter, or an email, when our great partnerships take shape. As we wrote days after the 2016 election in a piece titled, “Why We Need Keats,” “As much as it pains the editors of the Keats Letters Project to admit, we may not really need Keats. What we do need is what we build around Keats.” And so, friends, I close my epistle with gratitude for you and your time today exploring with us what we’ve been building together.

Your sincere friend and co-scribbler,


Emily Stanback

My Dear Mr. Keats,

When my friends and I began this project, I was interested in your letters as objects because I knew you regarded them as such—as things, things that could be stained with jam, things that could be taken to bed, as you did with a July 1819 letter from Fanny Brawne. But I also was interested in your letters as objects because I knew something that you did not yet know when you wrote your early letters—that eventually they would bear the news of your body weakening—that as objects they would bear the physical traces of your faltering form into the hands of your correspondents. I knew that in these circumstances your letters, as bodies in the world, would take on a special charge. This is what letters can do when one correspondent is ill. I discovered this while silently weeping as I held the letters that Tom Poole and Tom Wedgwood sent to one another as Wedgwood approached death.

And you reminded us of all of this when you wrote to Charles Brown on 30 November—exactly two centuries ago—of avoiding his most recent letter: “I am afraid to look it over again.” We may fear the written word in many forms, but you told Brown that it was his visible trace that you feared most: “I cannot bear the sight of any hand writing of a friend I love so much as I do you.” His letter meant something different because you were ill. And your letter must’ve meant something different to him, too. I can imagine Brown looking at the shape of your script, trying to divine the state of your body by the appearance of the words. And he would’ve done something different with that letter, wouldn’t he have? At the very least he must have held it differently, and felt differently when he held it—the letter that was an object that connected his body to your dying body.

I wondered when we began the Keats Letters Project in 2015 what it would mean to reread your letters as you wrote them—not all at once, page after page according to my own pace—but slowly, spaced or clustered as they issued from your mind and pen. And reading your letters in this way did change things, at least somewhat. But I thought there were other ways I couldn’t get closer to you. My life is so far from yours. Time and distance mean different things now. Email and airplanes have changed us.        

When we began our project, I didn’t think that digital communication could bear any of the charge of letters, but this year they have for me, as I have been at a distance from all of my loved ones that live beyond the walls of my little house. This spring I found myself beginning messages with the strained sentence “I hope this email finds you as well as possible,” all the while fearing news of illness or trauma, much as your correspondents would’ve come increasingly to fear for your body. Silence began to gnaw at me differently. I began to seek connection and correspondence differently. I began to avoid communication differently. Zoom has helped, but not much.

I sometimes touch objects that remind me of the people and places beyond my little house. Last month I made a casserole my mother used to make that I hadn’t had in nearly 30 years—I think for the smell. I wish I could hear my brother’s thumping feet above, and feel irritated by the strains of Nickelodeon theme songs emanating from his room. I wish I could feel and smell and taste the November air at dusk in Connecticut. I wish I could hear the sirens on Second Avenue. I can imagine putting a letter under my pillow.

In November 2020, I don’t take for granted that I will see my loved ones again. I never did, really, but I lived like I did. And as we climb the graphs here in Mississippi and across the country—graphs that blur people into blue and red lines—we are, all of us, in a contingent place, a fragile place. Distance and time have shifted. And we are—or at least I am—much closer to you in Rome.

I remain your humble servant—as I have been for quite some time, but I am perhaps now more than ever before,


Anne C. McCarthy

To my spectral companions and compatriots:

We’ve been living with Keats and his letters for five years now. There’s been a pleasure in suspending our knowledge of where it all ends—I think back to some of the earliest responses that drew attention to how much of Keats’s life remained unwritten in, say, 1816, and I think about the ways that something like negative capability could spring from a play of contingencies not yet congealed into felicity or tragedy. It’s a truism to remark that we don’t write letters like that anymore, but that doesn’t mean letters no longer matter. It’s just that they are largely, in the 21st century, the tools of institutions and officialdom, the neoliberal manager’s missile of choice for evaluating one’s suitability for a task (cover letters, letters of recommendation), for hiring and firing, for the granting and withholding of support. Today’s letters are more likely to narrow the vale of soul-making than enlarge it.

This is on my mind as I think about the first sentence of Keats’s last missive: “Tis the most difficult thing in the world for me to write a letter.” It’s not that Keats, writing from Rome at the end of 1820, has any less to say than he did in early 1818 when he reveled in the excesses of his “teeming brain” in “When I have fears that I may cease to be.” If anything, there is more to say at this later date, more words to be projected onto the page, across Europe, across time. There are still so many letters to write, but so much pain in the writing. It must have felt both absolutely necessary and entirely insurmountable. As another Charles Brown (the character in Peanuts, not Keats’s addressee) once admitted to his own pen pal, “some days I feel like I’m writing uphill.”

I gave up writing for Lent this year because I could no longer visualize a future. Determined to avoid the sorts of deadly thoughts of past times—and thankfully here I had a less problematic stomach than Keats did—I started reading. It wasn’t so much a journey through realms of gold as it was the process of laying down stepping stones towards a shore that may or may not be there at all.

The thing about an impasse is that it’s supposed to end at some point—the word implies that there is a passage, even if that passage only reveals itself as a blockage. Both Lent and, in its original use, quarantine, refer to periods of forty days. I thought that’s about how long I’d read for. But the time of giving things up has never really ended this year. Keats’s literal quarantine in Naples harbor was only about ten days, and we know that he wrote, and generated puns throughout. But Rome wasn’t really an end to that separation as an intensification of it—that “posthumous existence” where the future is both inevitable and unthinkable.

As someone who literally wrote the book on suspension, I should probably have made peace with this by now. I can say that I’m on track to read about 150 books this year and it has taken me an inordinately long time to put these words on paper. It’s perpetually the 41st day of the thing that was supposed to end at 40; what can we do but follow Keats’s advice to bring our philosophy to bear? Thus far, the bicentenniality of it all has given us a convenient alibi for our resistance to the rule of the official letter. The spacing of distance and absence is also what allows thought to breathe.

As we move beyond the shelter of the bicentennial, what comforts may we find in writing—and not writing—with—and without—Keats?

Yours in (somewhat) willing suspension,


Ian Newman

Dearest Beloved Correspondents:

I’ve been thinking a lot about our early conversations, and in particular our discussions of the letter-poem to George Felton Mathew. I wrote then of the Brotherhood of Song that the letter enacts, speaking of the ways singing together required breathing together, and the necessity of physical proximity to music making—the one thing that the letter, as a marker of physical distance, can never achieve. These thoughts have resonated over the course of our project, as the editorial team have sought ways to get together, to enjoy one another’s company, but all too frequently have had to resort to google hangouts and latterly Zoom meetings. Now, I feel this irritation more intensely. Physical distance has become social distance. Correspondence has become an impossible, but life-saving necessity—simultaneously heroic and utterly tedious.

But there’s something else about the quality of song, that has been pestering me since those early conversations. It’s a thing that, at least as a short-hand, we might call “the ear worm”: the short musical phrase that gets stuck in your head, burrowing deep down into the skull, pestering you with its glossy unrelenting appeal. We don’t have an equivalent term to describe similar literary effects, but I think we need one.  Because certain moments from literature, stay with you. There are words that resonate deeply, echoing through our skulls and becoming a part of our identity. Keats has furnished us with a few good ones. Beauty is truth, Truth beauty. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. A thing of beauty is a joy forever. But Keats was himself subject to the literary ear worm, as he shows in his final letter.

“There was a star predominant” says Keats misquoting from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. The speech Keats refers to comes from the scene in which Leontes is driven to the point of madness by his jealousy and lashes out with extraordinary passion at everything and everyone around him, leading him ultimately to blame the construction of the planet, which Leontes claims is inherently lecherous. “It is a bawdy planet, that will strike where ‘tis predominant,” Leontes says.  It is this vicious, wild jealousy that Keats invokes when he reflects that he’s only just missed Charles Brown on his way to Italy.

You could see this as completely commensurate with the passion of Keats’s feeling. Keats was desperately ill and his frustration at learning about this near miss must have been exquisitely painful. But you could also read it as a comically ludicrous allusion. The near miss of seeing his good friend and collaborator was almost nothing like the cosmic and vicious jealousy of Leontes, who believes his wife was cheating on him.

So what is the allusion doing in this letter? Maybe it’s just an ear worm. A line from Shakespeare, that has been playing repeatedly in Keats’s skull. A good line that recurs obsessively, but not necessarily appropriately, or even correctly. Partly what I’m getting at is that we need a language to describe both the intensity and frequency of the textual encounter, rather than the mere fact of it. A song that plays repeatedly in the head is a different form of interaction than going to hear a song performed at a concert. It gets under the skin, and into the bones. You can hear this happening with The Winter’s Tale in Keats’s last letter. And you can hear it in our respondents writing about Keats. There are those phrases like negative capability or the “vale of Soul-making” which are already well-known. But others less obvious have resonated across the entries, like the phrase “An Era in my Existence” written as Keats contemplates his first meeting with Leigh Hunt, which, has become a marker for significant events of all kinds. And now too, with this final letter: the “awkward bow” is a phrase that I know I will be using with some considerable frequency from now on.

And with that, I will make my graceful exit.

Your most loyal and obedient Humble Servant,

Ian Newman, Esq.

Michael Theune

Dear Gathered:

A few days ago, the KLP published my reflection on the November 30 letter. In that reflection, I argue that Keats criticism so far has missed a pretty obvious pun: when Keats says he is “leading a posthumous existence,” he is, among many other things, noting that, exiled to Italy and away from his beloved, his existence is like that of Posthumus from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline—a favorite character from a favorite play. 

But that argument is there to read, so instead of rehashing it, I’ve decided to present some insights in the genre of what I call thank-eww notes—offers of sincere gratitude that also often contain bad jokes. But this in itself really is a Keatsian endeavor, an homage. What Andrew Bennett says of Keats’s poems also adheres to the letters: “What makes the poetry of John Keats so compelling, at once so disturbing and so seductive, are its uncertain but irreducible and scandalous instabilities.”

The pun in posthumous Keats creates a scandalous instability. It is serious and deep and true, AND it is witty, AND a groaner. Here are mine:

Dear Keats,
Thank you for explaining some of your wordplay as you wordplayed. Truly. Or else we may never have known you so well as we do, you Laugher at Fun Farces.

Dear Charles Cowden Clarke,
Thank you for telling us of the tears Keats cried when reading of the departure of Posthumus. Truly. Without even trying, you explained Keats’s jest. It would have been very hard to Imogen the joke without you.

Dear Posthumous Existence,
Thank you for the scintillating paradox you offer. Truly. But don’t ever think you’ll be as capable as negative capability.

Dear Keats,
Thanks for not going with blurple.

Dear Mortality,
Thank you for all the language.

Dear Gallows,
Thanks for all the humor.

Dear Dr. Clark,
Thank you for doing your best. Truly. Even in the 21st century, we’re still working very hard to understand contagion and the medicinal power of anchovies.

Dear Bing Search Bar,
Thanks for all the suggested treats when I punched in pun: punctuation, punching bag, punitive damages, Punta Gorda Airport, Punky Brewster, pundit. Truly. But what about the pungent, puncturing punk rock of punchinellos? What about the explicitly puntomimical?

Dear Literature,
Thank you for all the super-prizes.

Dear Keats,
If you were tall like me you could have said, Lord Byron cuts a figurine.

Dear Doubters,
There’s a late-night comedian who has a segment called Quarantinewhile. Truly. It combines his regular segment Meanwhile with the fact that we’re living in a pandemic. No one bats an eye.

Dear Keats Critics,
Let’s keep unabashedly trying to become better friends of Keats. Truly. Let’s understand that being a friend means having in-jokes. Even if those in-jokes are no-dad-jokes.

Dear Severn,
Though I still don’t know what I think about what you decided to do with the laudanum, thank you—truly—for doing your best.

Dear Hyder,
Love your work. All of what the KLP has done has in some way come from you. There cannot be enough gratitude for all you did. Truly. But sixty plus years ago you forgot a footnote.

Dear Mole Under Imogen’s Breast,
Thanks for being a sign of having been false as much as having been true.

Dear Freshness,
Thanks a lot. I wasn’t even going to work on this, but then I shared on our shared KLP Google doc an idea that I had to address my comments today to Hyder E. Rollins, the editor of the standard scholarly edition of Keats’s letters, and you wrote, “DEAR HYDER!!!!!” And I replied, “I can’t figure out what at all to do with this… Planning a tactical retreat… Unless I do something like: Dear Hyder, Love your work. But you forgot a footnote.” And you wrote, “That’s perfect!” And then, suddenly, I had an idea, and wrote, “Thinking of a short series of these kinds of quick notes. Not letters, but postcards…” Then you wrote, “Yeah, I totally dig it. Fits well with the content of your remarks, too.” And I said, “Thanks, Brother. Let me see what I can do…” And then you said, “Feel free to also feature this exchange in your remarks,” adding after that a colon and a closed parenthesis, which, if we didn’t know the signs, I could have taken to mean “the rest is silence,” but, knowing, instead, I wrote: “You read my mind.”

Scandalously, Instably, but still Yours,


Kate Singer

Dear all of yous proing and cunning,

Can I admit that I too am “afraid to encounter the proing and conning of any thing interesting to me” outside my office where I “teach” other yous, and where my son sits in frenetic boredom spinning the chair of remote school? Keats’s FOMO in this letter is, of course, deathly serious, and/but/also, Keatsian afraidness contains a punning temporality that might be familiar to us now. For he is anxious and apprehensive of what is happening elsewhere and otherwise; he resists projecting into a future he cannot see into the life of. Yet, he is also all too aware of consequences that cannot but bring him forward, in ways he neither intends nor desires.

Keats, as usual, sits on the ledge of an apocalypse whose Hyperionic brightness blots out any vision of what comes next. When he writes of his “real life having past,” it seems to be, partially, that feeling that everything we know, all the ways we have lived are changed, yet “how it would have been” and how “it appears to me” cannot be spoken of. He is better now that is he no longer ensorceled in a plagued ship, but he is still quarantining, still encloistered in the apprehension of the “or how should I be able to live.” The “or how should I” is enabled by both Brown’s “philosophy to bear” and the “as I do mine, really”; with the beings of Brown and Severn, there is never a single Keatsian apocalypse. Individual death, even the death of the author, rides the pony, at least in our imaginations, of other endings, of others’ endings of us, of other ways of dying into life. As I looked at the picture of a mobile mortuary in Texas this morning, I heard Judith Butler asking, “What makes for a grievable life?” and I then heard Keats punning on grievable. Maybe the “probing and coming” of “healthy, alert &c, walking with her,” his “riding the pony” of those puns, the ramming down of double meanings “to consolidate by pounding,” the Italian puntiglio of stubbornness, the ironic temporality of a future comic drum beat where one meaning becomes another, one life becomes another.

If Keats, as we do, knew there was no re-covery from the revelation of “all the information,” he is always asking us how we transform our dying into lives, how grievability of ours and others’ “real life having past,” the grievability of our “philosophy to bear” becomes a shin-protecting greave, a jambeau, or enjambment of the leg swinging over, shod without stopping, the next foot taken. “I have not written to x x x x x yet” “I shall write to x x x to-morrow, or next day. I will write to x x x x x in the middle of next week.” “and tell x x x x I should not have left London without taking leave of him.” Here is Keats’s To Do List for himself, and for us, to think of writing each other, not only in Romantic taverned sociability but with punning greavability, not admitting absence but the criss-crossed praising and conceiving of others, who are readying themselves for work and battle and unshielded love. In my not-yet xx’ed to do list still developing to-morrow, or middle of next semester: Rejack’s flat-capped networked media magic, Stanback’s not very little matter of letters that rewrite our notions of abled re-covery, Theune’s long-armed & tall order poetics of closures and puns that signal that negatively capable evermore about to be, Newman’s gregariously bearded information of the Londonian multiverse, McCarthy’s Gritted, Wollstonecraftian truth-saying and unbowed living on. My friends, let’s keep xxxing our project and others, even if conning the end after the end ’tis the most difficult thing in what was formerly known as the world…

Unendingly Yours,


The Poet’s Poet: Poems Written to, for, and about Keats

A few day ago the KLP published a list of some nineteenth-century tribute poems written to Keats, mostly with a focus on poems featuring Keats’s grave. Today we have another list! This one features some more recent examples (across the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, but with an emphasis on the last few decades).

Although the Wikipedia entry for “Poet of the Poets” does not list Keats as an example of one who’s been called “the poet’s poet,” we nonetheless make the assertion here. Perhaps the is too strong—no need to have just one. But surely Keats remains a poet’s poet. Without having undertaken any sort of systematic quantitative analysis of the question, we can nonetheless affirm that it certainly feels like Keats receives more love from other contemporary(ish) poets than do many other nineteenth-century writers. Not too many recent poems about Robert Southey out there–sorry, Bob!

As with our previous list, this one is not meant to be comprehensive. There are plenty of other examples, for sure! We also include here primarily examples of poems that have a central or significant relationship to Keats. The list could easily plump and swell more, and still more, if we included poems that engage with Keats in more brief or minor ways. That said, we’re hoping to expand the list further with updates, so send us more examples via Twitter (@KeatsLetters) or email (

And if you want to explore the topic of Keats and modern/contemporary poetry further, you might begin by consulting a few of these sources:

  • Jeffrey Robinson’s book Reception and Poetics in Keats: My Ended Poet. Includes an appendix featuring many poems written to/for Keats between 1821 and 1994.
  • Two essays by Eric Eisner: “Disaster Poetics: Keats and Contemporary American Poetry,” in Wordsworth Circle (2013), and “Drag Keats: Mark Doty’s Cockney Poetics,” in European Romantic Review (2017).
  • Several chapters from Keats’s Negative Capability: New Origins and Afterlives, edited by the KLP’s own Brian Rejack and Michael Theune (Liverpool UP, 2019). Thomas Gardner writes on Jorie Graham; Arsevi Seyran on Elizabeth Bishop; and Robert Archambeau and Eric Eisner each write chapters on negative capability’s place in twentieth-century American poetry and poetics more broadly.
  • The KLP’s series “Contemporary Poets on Negatively Capable Poems,” Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. Featuring commentary from Virginia Bell, Katy Didden, Jerry Harp, Matt Hart, Gary Hawkins, Anna Leahy, Shara McCallum, Jennifer Militello, and Murat Nemet-Nejat. On poems by Amiri Baraka, E. E. Cummings, Vievee Francis, Kenneth Koch, John Milton, Sylvia Plath, Erika L. Sánchez, Anna Swir, and Orhan Veli.

And now, the list! Not all poems have links, and not all links will take you to the full text. But you can at least start on your journey with the info we provide here.

Some Recent-ish Poems Written to/for/about Keats

Kaveh Akbar, “The Palace,” New Yorker, April 2019

[Anonymous], “A Brown Aesthete Speaks,” (often misattributed to Mae V. Cowdery–published in The Crisis, September 1928)

David Baker, “Posthumous Man,” Southern Review, Spring 2007

Hera Lindsay Bird, “Keats is dead so fuck me from behind,” The Spinoff, November 2016

Marianne Boruch, “Keats is Coughing,Poetry, April 2017

John Ciardi, “A Trenta-Sei of the Pleasure We Take in the Early Death of Keats,Poetry, 1986

Julio Cortazar, Imagen de John Keats [ok, not poetry, but such a fascinating text—see recent articles by Olivia Loksing Moy and Marco Ramírez Rojas, who also published the English translation linked above]

Amy Clampitt, Voyages: A Homage to John Keats, 1984

Tom Clark, Junkets on a Sad Planet, 1994

Eileen Cleary, “Life Mask, John Keats” and “Death Mask, John Keats,Nixes Mate, spring 2019 [also the collection 2 a.m. with Keats, forthcoming from Nixes Mate]

Cid Corman, “After Reading Keats’ Letters,Poetry, June 1956

Countee Cullen, “To John Keats, Poet. At Spring Time,” Color, 1925

The first stanza of Countee Cullen’s poem, from the collection Color, via Google Books

Carrie Etter, “Almandine,” The Liberal, Autumn 2007

Albert Goldbarth, “Keats’s Phrase,” Poetry, Feb 2012 [the “phrase” is negative capability]

Jorie Graham, “Scirocco,” Erosion (1983)

The first five stanzas of Jorie Graham’s “Scirocco,” from Erosion, via Google Books.

Debora Greger, “The Rome of Keats,” Poetry, October 1984

Tony Harrison, “A Kumquat for John Keats,” 1981

Garrett Hongo, “A Garland of Light,” Sewanee Review, Summer 2019 [In an interview for the Sewanee Review, Hongo talks about this poem and the interrelated poetic legacies it weaves between Keats, Robert Hayden, and Hongo:]

Jane Kenyon, “At the Spanish Steps in Rome,” New Criterion, 1989

James Kimbrell, “To Keats in October,” Poetry, September 2000

David Kirby, “This living hand,” Rattle, March 2017

Denise Levertov, “Memories of John Keats

Mark Levine, “John Keats,” Enola Gay (2000)

Philip Levine, “Keats in California,” Poetry, Oct/Nov 1987

Philip Levine’s poem “Keats in California,” via JSTOR.

John Logan, “On the Death of Keats: Lines for Those Who Drown Twice,” Poetry, October 1966

Corey Marks, “For Keats, After Keats,Paris Review, Summer 1999

Edgar Lee Masters, “Keats to Fanny Brawne,” Poetry, January 1921

Jack Mathews, “The World’s Oldest Authority on Keats,” Poetry (Nov 1980):

Stanley Plumly, “Posthumous Keats,” Poetry, June 1983 [**And there are many more by Plumly! Including, “Constable’s Clouds, For Keats,” “Keats in Burns Country,” “Keatsian,” “Early Nineteenth-Century Poetry Walks,” “My Noir,” “To Autumn”**]

Adrienne Rich, “In Memoriam: D. K.,” Time’s Power (1989) [an elegy written for David Kalstone in 1986, in which Rich invokes Keats—a many-layered assemblage of literary remembrances]

Rainer Maria Rilke, “John Keats, Drawn in Death [Zu der Zeichnung, John Keats imTode darstellund],” 1914

Joyelle McSweeney, “Toxic Sonnets: A Crown for John Keats,” Toxicon and Arachne (2020).

Frank O’Hara, “Again, John Keats, or the Pot of Basil,” 1963.

O’Hara’s enigmatic short poem, via Google Books

Surazeus Simon Seamount, “Keats Writing Odes in the Garden,” “Idol of Their Personality,” and “Vision of Endymion,” 2018.

Patty Seyburn, “Ode to My Grecian Urns,” San Diego Reader, 2018; “Ode to Ode to Psyche,” Hotel Amerika 17.1; “Reverie of Gratitude,” The Florida Review

Karl Shapiro, “A Room in Rome,” Poetry, April 1988

Angelos Sikelianos, “Yannis Keats,” (1915) translated from Modern Greek by A. E. Stallings, Poetry, June 2011

Louise Morgan Sill, “To Keats,” In Sun or Shade (1906)

Anne Spencer, “Dunbar,” 1922

Anne Spencer’s “Dunbar” (1922), via Poetry Foundation.

Frederic Will, “After Keats,” Poetry, November 1965

Robert Wrigley, “Nightingale Capability,” Shenandoah, Fall 2012

Dean Young, “I See a Lily on Thy Brow,” Skid (2002)

Not Just Adonais: Some Other Nineteenth-Century Tribute Poems for Keats

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Adonais certainly takes the elegiac cake when it comes to the most famous and influential of poems written to/in remembrance of Keats. But lots of other examples exist, too! As we near the bicentennial of Keats’s death, and the KLP’s virtual event featuring a collaborative reading of Adonais, let’s look at some of the other elegies for Keats.

First, a caveat: these are not all strictly elegies. In the spirit of plenitude that Keats himself so adored, we figured why not include a wide variety of poetic flowers in this gathering of tributes? Some poems elegize Keats in the elegiac mode as such; others simply concern Keats, his poetry, and his legacy in one way or another.

“Go thou to Rome”
So Shelley counsels mourners in Adonais (he even provides a description of how to find Keats’s grave next to the Pyramid of Caius Cestius). It turns out that many friends of Keats took that advice from early on, and writing a poem while at Keats’s grave became a ritual of sorts for many 19th-century poets. Here are some examples of the mini-genre:

  • Maria Lowell, “The Grave of Keats” (written March 1851, published 1853). Lowell found the spot uninspiring, and unworthy of one she esteemed as highly as she did Keats: “O Mother Earth, what hast thou brought / This tender frame that loved thee well? / Harsh grass and weeds alone are wrought / On his low grave’s uneven swell.”
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes, “After a Lecture on Keats” (1853). Not only a jurist—also a fan of Keats!
  • Sarah Helen Whitman, “A Pansy from the Grave of Keats” (1859). The gathering of a flower from Keats’s grave is a common practice and an often featured trope in poems about the grave.
  • Alexander Anderson, “John Keats” (1873). Anderson also has a sonnet sequence called “In Rome,” and it features several that are about Keats’s and Shelley’s graves.
  • William Bell Scott, “On the Inscription, Keats’ Tombstone,” (1875). Scott’s poem is preceded by an image of Keats’s grave that he produced in June 1873.

William Bell Scott’s drawing of “Keats’ Grave,” from June 1873.

  • Richard Watson Gilder, “An Inscription in Rome (Piazza di Spagna),” (1873). Ok, this one isn’t about the grave, but it is of particular interest for its reference to the Keats-Shelley House several decades before that building was purchased by the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association in 1906.
  • Christopher Pearse Cranch, “At the Grave of Keats. To G. W. C.” (written 1883, first published 1885). Fascinating for both its temporal shifts (looking back at a visit to the grave nearly 40 years earlier), and for its affective bonds constructed between and among Cranch, Keats, and George William Curtis (the dedicatee). The visit to the grave in 1846 also included Cranch’s wife Elizabeth (née DeWindt—a great-granddaughter of John and Abigail Adams), but she remains conspicuously absent in the recollection.
  • Thomas Hardy, “Rome; At the Pyramid of Cestius Near the Graves of Shelley and Keats,” (1887). Hardy revises Cestius’ legacy such that the Roman tribune now owes whatever remains of his fame to the “matchless singers” now buried nearby.

One other fascinating detail about Hardy’s poem and its composition: although no flowers feature in the text, Hardy did indeed pluck some from the site when he and his wife Emma visited on 31 March 1887. Emma noted in her diary, “Gathered violets off graves of Shelley & Keats.” And her husband sent some specimens in a letter to the literary critic Edmund Gosse: “I send you a violet or two which I gathered from Keats’s [grave]—He is covered with violets in full bloom just now, & thousands of daisies stud the grass around.” That letter is now in the British Library, along with the flowers it contained, which have since been enclosed in plastic. The scrap of paper in which Hardy placed and pressed the flowers remains archived with the letter and the botanical materials, and one can trace the outline of the organic material which was transferred from the flowers to the paper by their long placement together. The violet petals are not particularly prominent any longer, but the leaves—still preserved in plastic alongside the stems from which they at some point separated—feature veins which remain strikingly distinct. These flowers—gathered from Keats’s grave over a century ago—still, still weep for Adonais.

For more examples of nineteenth-century (and later) poets writing about Keats, a good place to start is Jeffrey Robinson’s Reception and Poetics in Keats: My Ended Poet (1998). The book includes an appendix featuring a collection of poems written about Keats spanning from 1821–1994.

As our bicentennial coverage continues, the KLP will also post a list of some notable 20th- and 21st-century tribute poems written to/about Keats. So stay tuned.

Upcoming Events and Resources on the Bicentennial of Keats’s Death

One week from today marks 200 years since John Keats died in the arms of his friend Joseph Severn. On the occasion of this bicentennial, there are many things to read, to listen to, to watch, and to attend (at least virtually). While by no means an exhaustive list, the KLP has gathered here a collection of some of these bicentennial resources.

Events on 23 February

  • [On the day before, 22 Feb] “Keats: A Bicentennial Talk,” with Rob Shakespeare, Principal Curator (Keats House). 22 Feb, 12:30 pm GMT, 7:30 am EST.
  • Flowers and Poems for Keats at the Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome. The Director of the Non-Catholic Cemetery and the Curator of the Keats-Shelley House will lay flowers at Keats’s grave, and poems will be read. Watch via live stream on the Keats-Shelley House Facebook page. 10 am CET, 9 am GMT, 4 am EST. If you’re in the US, stay up late, or get up early!
  • Performance of Angus Graham-Campbell’s play “Writ in Water,” airing on BBC Radio 4 at 2:15 pm GMT, 9:15 am EST.
  • Premiere of “The Death of Keats,” an immersive video story from the Keats-Shelley House, narrated by Bob Geldof. 6:30 pm CET (Rome), 5:30 GMT, 12:30 EST. Get your VR headsets ready! You can also schedule a live virtual tour of the Keats-Shelley House starting on February 23.
  • “On the Shore of the Wide World: Keats, 200 years on.” Poetry Society event (via Zoom), featuring several poets and Keats scholars. 7-9 pm GMT, 2-4 pm EST.
  • Performance of Pele Cox’s play Lift me up for I am dying. Collaboration between the British School in Rome, the Keats-Shelley House, and the British Institute of Florence. Performed by actors over FaceTime from various locations. Available to watch via the BSR’s YouTube page. 10:30 pm CET, 9:30 pm GMT, 4:30 pm EST.
  • And don’t forget about us! The KLP is hosting “Weep for Adonais: A Collaborative Reading of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Elegy for John Keats,” 11 pm CET (Rome), 10 pm GMT, 5 pm EST. Pre-register here–more details via the poster below.

Join the KLP to weep for Adonais as February 23rd draws to a close

  • And one more before the day is done in the US (European night-owls are welcome to join as well): the KLP’s own Michael Theune has organized the second session of his “Zoomanities!” series, focused on “Why Keats Now?“, with special guest Eric G. Wilson, author of How to Make a Soul: The Wisdom of John Keats. 23 February, 8 pm EST.

New Books on Keats
If you have a yearning to read more about Keats as the bicentennial approaches, you are in luck. Several books have just come out in the last few months!

  • Bright Star, Green Light: The Beautiful and Damned Lives of John Keats and F. Scott Fitzgerald, by Jonathan Bate. From HarperCollins UK.
  • Keats: A Brief Life in Nine Poems and One Epitaph, by Lucasta Miller. From Penguin UK.
  • John Keats: A Book of Days, by Peter Phillps. For a daily dose of Keats’s writing!

What else to read

What to watch

  • Need to brush up on your odes? Head over to the Keats Foundation and you can watch all six of them being performed by Matthew Coulton–as Keats, and filmed at Keats House! Or just stick here and get a taste of mellow fruitfulness with “To Autumn”
  • Take a tour of the Keats-Shelley House in Rome narrated by Bob Geldof. And while you’re there, check out their other youtube videos, including a lovely reading of some of Keats’s and Shelley’s poems by Julian Sands.
  • And to get in the proper mood for Adonais, who better to help than Robert Smith?

What to listen to (in addition to The Cure)

If you have more items you think we should add to this list, let us know on Twitter (@KeatsLetters) or via email (