23 April 2005 | Vol. 5, No. 1
To Richard Woodhouse on October 27, 1818
My dear Woodhouse,
Your Letter gave me a great satisfaction; more on account of its friendliness, than any relish of that matter in it which is accounted so acceptable in the 'genus irritable' The best answer I can give you is in a clerklike manner to make some observations on two principle points, which seem to point like indices into the midst of the whole pro and con, about genius, and views and atchievements and ambitions and coetera. 1st As to the poetical Character itself, (I mean that sort of which, if I am any thing, I am a Member; that sort distinguished from the wordsworthian or egotistical sublime; which is a thing per se and stands alone) it is not itself—it has no self—it is every thing and nothing—It has no character—it enjoys light and shade; it lives in gusto, be it foul or fair, high or low, right or poor, mean or elevated—It has as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen. What shocks the virtuous philosp[h]er, delights the camelion Poet. It does no harm from its relish of the dark side of things any more than from its taste for the bright one; because they both end in speculation. A Poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence; because he has no Identity—he is continually in for—and filling some other Body—The Sun, the Moon, the Sea, and Men and Women who are creatures of impulse are poetical and have about them an unchangeable attribute—the poet has none; no identity—he is certainly the most unpoetical of all of God's Creatures. If then he has no self, and if I am a Poet, where is the Wonder that I should say I would write no more? Might I not at that very instant [have] been cogitating on the Characters of Saturn and Ops? It is a wretched thing to confess: but is a very fact that not one word I ever utter can be taken for granted as an opinion growing out of my identical nature—how can it, when I have no nature? When I am in a room with People if I ever am free from speculating on creations of my own brain, then not myself goes home to myself: but the identity of every one in the room begins to press upon me that, I am in a very little time an[ni]hilated—not only among Men; it would be the same in a Nursery of children: I know not whether I make myself wholly understood: I hope enough so to let you see that no dependence is to be placed on what I said that day.
In the second place I will speak of my views, and of the life I purpose to myself—I am ambitious of doing the world some good: if I should be spared that may be the work of maturer years—in the interval I will assay to reach to as high a summit in Poetry as the nerve bestowed upon me will suffer. The faint conceptions I have of Poems to come brings the blood frequently into my forehead—All I hope is that I may not lose all interest in human affairs—that the solitary indifference I feel for applause even from the finest Spirits, will not blunt any acuteness of vision I may have. I do not think it will—I feel assured I should write from the mere yearning and fondness I have for the Beautiful even if my night's labours should be burnt every morning and no eye ever shine upon them. But even now I am perhaps not speaking from myself; but from some character in whose soul I now live. I am sure however that this next sentence is myself. I feel your anxiety, good opinions and friendliness in the highest degree, and am
Your's most sincerely
About the author:
1795-1821. John Keats, orphaned at 14, was an apprentice and subsequently licensed apothecary, but he pursued his passion for poetry. "To Solitude" was his first published poem, appearing in The Examiner on May 5, 1816. His third book, Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems, includes his Miltonic blank-verse epic, "Hyperion," as well as his deservedly famous odes, "Ode on a Grecian Urn," "Ode to Melancholy," and "Ode to a Nightingale." This third book received great praise and includes poetry considered among the finest in the English language. Keats was only twenty-four years old.
Learn more about John Keats at Wikipedia.
For further reading:
See the complete list of work by John Keats at 42opus. Browse the contents of 42opus Vol. 5, No. 1, where "To Richard Woodhouse on October 27, 1818" ran on April 23, 2005. List other work with these same labels: nonfiction, classic, letter, poetic theory.