John Keats is one of the finest poets in the English language, and many readers’ absolute favourite. You might well be familiar already with one of his most famous sonnets, which begins with the lines:
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain
Before high-pilèd books, in charactery,
Hold, like rich garners, the full-ripened grain…
It was a melancholy prophecy, but one which was indeed to come to pass: Keats died soon after his twenty-fifth birthday. And yet, in his short life, he lived, loved and wrote with such a passionate intensity that it is as though he knew intuitively that he might not have long.
Most people encounter Keats for the first time through his short poems; the sonnet mentioned above, or perhaps the famous odes (including ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ and ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’). This unit will invite you to read or re-read those poems, but its focus is on one of Keats’s longer works – more challenging on a first reading, but well worth the effort. Through a close study of ‘Hyperion: a fragment’, this unit asks a wider question about the purpose of poetry in the face of human suffering and mortality. In world characterised by illness, pain and death, what is the point of ‘high pilèd books’? Over the course of this unit, you will also be invited to also explore the relationship between the two poems called ‘Hyperion’, to consider what might have made Keats abandon ‘Hyperion: a fragment’ and try the same story over again with ‘The Fall of Hyperion’.
You can use any edition of Keats poetry for these tasks. You can also find his poems online, for example in this Project Gutenburg edition: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/23684/23684-h/23684-h.htm