I Find Keats
Remembering the poet, John Keats, on the anniversary of his death, Feb 23, 1821
1967, Goffstown, New Hampshire. I’m fourteen, dropped suddenly into public school after a year at the all-girls’ Catholic High School called (ahem) Immaculata. I will have to learn to relate to boys, and it seems they don’t appreciate seeing my hand fly up, volunteering to answer every single question. Fortunately, I can go crazy writing without disapproval from the boys, and Mr. Durocher, the burly soccer coach who teaches English, assigns us our first term paper on any writer in our anthology.
And I find Keats. This is just before a revival of interest in Keats, and he’s represented by only one poem in our anthology: “La Belle Dame Sans Merci.” O, what can ail thee, knight at arms /Alone and palely loitering? A pale, loitering guide to poems that will speak directly to my yearnings, particularly his sonnets.
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain…
And there I am, after school, hunched over a small desk in a corner of the tiny attic I share with three sisters, reading all of Keats, tracing the life and the work, and falling in love, scarcely aware of the effort of reading and writing. In a few years, with money from my first writing fellowship, I’ll be visiting the Keats museum in Hampstead and then on to Rome to step into the room where he died, and then following the route his cortege must have taken, from the Spanish Steps to the cemetery.