John Keats died of tuberculosis on this day in 1821, just 25 years old. One hundred years later, Mark Van Doren wrote this appreciation of Keats in the pages of The Nation.
Keats was full of poetry both in an unhappy and in a happy sense, and the reason for the distinction is interesting. His unhappy poetry was his purely personal poetry, was the poetry of himself turned in upon himself; his happy poetry was the poetry of the liberating, objective world. This is a commonplace, but it may decently be directed in any generation to the ears of poets who would too particularly indulge and exploit their personalities….
A distinction is inescapable between the language of himself and the language of the poetry that was in him. The language of himself was expression of a kind, but hardly communication. It expressed, in a raw, ineffectual way, his instinctive delight in slanting verbal curves, in plunges and dips and quivers of syntax, but it failed to convey much experience of beauty. The language of the purer poetry that lay in him, like the language of all pure poetry everywhere, communicated beauty through cadences so sure that they seemed determined less by him alone that by the abstract Muses.
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