Keats200 - Death and Legacy

2021 marks the bicentenary of the death of Romantic poet John Keats. This online exhibition by Keats House, Hampstead celebrates his life and works for the #Keats200 bicentenary programme.

Death and Legacy - ‘Stop and consider! life is but a day’

‘He is gone – he died with the most perfect ease – he seemed to go to sleep. On the 23rd, about 4, the approaches of death came on. “Severn – I – lift me up - I am dying – I shall die easy – don’t be frightened – be firm, and thank God it has come!” I lifted him up in my arms. The phlegm seemed boiling in his throat, and increased until 11, when he gradually sunk into death – so quiet that I still thought he slept. I cannot say now – I am broken down from four nights’ watching, and no sleep since, and my poor Keats gone.’

          
Joseph Severn to Charles Brown, 27 February 1821.
A sketch showing a man’s face with eyes closed, lying on a pillow.
John Keats on his deathbed. E. Walker after Joseph Severn. Print, 1939, from a drawing, 28 January 1821.
Image courtesy of Keats House, City of London Corporation, K/PZ/01/136.

Keats died in Rome on 23 February 1821 aged just 25. He was buried four days later and the words ‘Here lies one whose name was writ in water’ were later inscribed on his gravestone, as he believed he had failed in his ambition to be a great poet.

‘I shall soon be laid in the quiet grave – thank God for the quiet grave – O! I can feel the cold earth upon me – the daisies growing over me – O for this quiet – it will be my first – ’

          
Keats quoted in a letter from Joseph Severn to John Taylor, 6 March 1821.

Keats published just three books of poetry in his lifetime but was also a prolific writer of letters, many of which survived providing a glimpse into the life and character of both him and the society he lived within.

When Keats died his writing was not well known beyond his circle of friends. It was through their love and dedication that many of his manuscripts survived.

After the first biography of Keats was published in 1848, the Pre-Raphaelite painters began to take an interest in his work.Keats’s sensuous imagery inspired them to paint scenes from his poems, bringing them to a wider audience.

By the 1880s Keats’s poetry was becoming increasingly popular and enthusiasts wanted to find his Hampstead home. A dedication plaque was added above the front door in 1896. When the house was threatened with demolition in 1920, the Keats Memorial House Fund raised enough money to save it. It opened to the public on 9 May 1925 and, today, Keats House is provided by the City of London Corporation as part of its contribution to the cultural life of London and the nation.

Despite changing tastes in literature over the last 200 years, Keats’s poetry is still fresh and meaningful. His life was short, yet he created some of the most enduring poems in the English language. We now celebrate him as one of the world’s finest poets.

‘This is a mere matter of the moment – I think I shall be among the English Poets after my death.’

          
John Keats to George and Georgiana Keats, 14 October 1818.
Photo of a mask, made from a plaster cast of Keats’s face, overlain by dried daisies. Also includes the words:  ‘When old age shall this generation waste,       Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe  Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,    ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’ – that is all        Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’ From ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’, 1819.]
Copy of mask of John Keats. After Benjamin Robert Haydon. Plaster. 1816. Image by Elaine Duigenan, 2020, CC-BY-NC-ND.

Find out how to visit and support Keats House and keep up to date with their events programme.

Find out more

Introduction to Keats and Keats200

Early life

Medical Training

Wentworth Place

Fanny Brawne

Poems of 1819

Critical Responses

Keats and Consumption

Death and Legacy

The Keats200 bicentenary is a celebration of Keats’s life, works and legacy, beginning in December 2018 through to February 2021 and beyond. It is led by three major partners – Keats House, Hampstead, The Keats Foundation and the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association – and is open to all individuals and organisations who have an interest in Keats or poetry. The bicentenary of Keats’s most productive years as a poet, and the period when he found inspiration, friendship and love, is an exciting opportunity to (re)discover and enjoy his works as well as engage with poetry and its ongoing relevance to us all today.

Find out more about #Keats200 by following Keats House on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.