John Keats was an English Romantic poet who rose to fame after his death and, by the end of the nineteenth century, became one of the best loved English poets. His work was in publication only for four years before he died at the age of twenty five. He is most renowned for the six great odes, written a couple of years before his death in 1819. Here are 10 most famous poems of John Keats.
#10 Ode to Psyche
According to a Greek myth, Cupid falls in love with Psyche and asks Zeus to transform her into a Goddess. In Ode to Psyche Keats claims that Psyche is neglected in comparison to other deities as she became a Goddess later than them and the poem also serves as a song in praise of the goddess. It is remarkable for being an experiment in the ode genre, which makes it the most unusual of Keats’ famous Odes of 1819. The poem was hugely popular in the nineteenth century and it remains of the best known works of Keats.
Yes, I will be thy priest, and build a fane
In some untrodden region of my mind,
Where branched thoughts, new grown with pleasant pain,
Instead of pines shall murmur in the wind
Based on the Greek myth of Endymion in which the moon Goddess Selene falls in love with a mortal, Keats’ Endymion is divided into four books, approximately thousand lines each. Most of the contemporary critics disliked the poem but it is now among his most famous works.
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
#8 On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer
Keats and his friend Charles Cowden Clarke spent an evening reading George Chapman’s superb 17th century translation of Homer’s classics Iliad and Odyssey. Keats wrote this sonnet as a gift for Clarke who found it the next day on the breakfast table. The poem has become a classic, often cited to demonstrate the emotional power of a great work of art and its ability to create an epiphany in its beholder.
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
#7 Bright Star
Published: 1838 (posthumously)
This popular love sonnet has been associated with the “Bright Star” Fanny Brawne, with whom Keats was engaged from 1818 till his death. Keats copied the poem on a volume of The Poetical Works of William Shakespeare opposite one of Shakespeare’s poems. Some say it is the last poem he ever wrote.
Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art —
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
#6 The Eve of St. Agnes
Saint Agnes is the patron saint of young girls and Saint Agnes’ Eve falls on the 20th of January. Keats’ poem is based on the superstition that a girl could see her future husband in a dream if she performed certain rites on the eve of St. Agnes. The poem was influential in 19th century literature and is considered one of Keats’ finest.
She hurried at his words, beset with fears,
For there were sleeping dragons all around,
At glaring watch, perhaps, with ready spears—
Down the wide stairs a darkling way they found.—
#5 Ode to a Nightingale
A nightingale built its nest near Keats’ home in the spring of 1819 and inspired by its song, Keats wrote this famous ode in a single day. In the poem Keats describes a nightingale that experiences a type of death but does not actually die. The bird is able to live through its song, a fate which is impossible for a human to achieve.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?
#4 The Beautiful Lady Without Mercy
This ballad tells the story of a melancholy knight who is enchanted and enslaved by a beautiful woman without pity. Though simple in structure, it has been a subject of numerous interpretations and is considered an English classic.
And this is why I sojourn here,
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing
#3 When I have Fears
Published: 1848 (posthumously)
This Elizabethan sonnet has now become one of Keats’ most famous compositions. It was written in 1818 and sent in a letter to John Hamilton Reynolds. Through this sonnet Keats expresses his fear that he wouldn’t be able to realize his potential, and achieve love and fame, during his short stay on earth.
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain
#2 Ode on a Grecian Urn
Keats believed that classical Greek art was idealistic and captured Greek virtues. This led to him writing ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ which has five stanzas of 10 lines in which he has discoursed on the design of a Grecian urn. At the time of its publication, the poem was not received well by the critics but it is now considered one of the greatest odes in the English language.
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know
#1 To Autumn
Keats wrote ‘To Autumn’ after a walk near Winchester one autumnal evening. The poem marks the end of his poetic career as his efforts were not giving him enough financial returns. ‘To Autumn’ describes three aspects of the season in its three eleven line stanzas. It is Keats’ most famous poem and is considered as one of the most perfect short poems in the English language. Unfortunately Keats’ contracted tuberculosis the same autumn which caused his death in 1821.
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;