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ABSTRACT. One of the most powerful romantic poets, John Keats (31 October 1795; London– 23 February 1821; Rome, the Papal States/Italy) continues to amaze generation after generation of readers of poetry. The fascination for Keats has multiple sources, not last among these being the fact that he produced a series of magnificent letters now considered to be among the most beautiful in the English language ever written (a rival in this sense is only maybe Hart Crane’s correspondence). Some controversy existed regarding the exact period when his initial illness set in and what the nature thereof really was (the “sore throat” was a symptom of a laryngeal tuberculosis, tuberculosis of the lungs or simply a chronic tonsilitis?). In the 20th century these matters have been tackled more professionally, but the answers offered are not definitive. In the present paper we propose, in the larger context of Keats studies, a survey over one of the most brilliant Keats biographies ever written: Walter Jackson Bate (1963), whom we have thus called the “archetypal biographer,” manages to create one of the most vivid portraits of John Keats, whereby he raises the English poet to a new status (never before emphasized with such rigor and forcefulness), namely of one having revolutionized world literature by the writing of Hyperion (and the later writings). Thus, we explore Keats’s life and works along the lines opened mainly by Bate (but also by other critics such as Jennifer Wunder or Nicholas Roe), all the time making reference (where possible more or less in extenso) to the most crucial letters, as evidentiary support by which to prove that the poet of high creativity had during his most productive period, and later, a genuine life-in-death experience, therefore a “Janusian” experience, in which life and death concomitantly co-existed in various forms: 1) at a mental level – his love relationship with Fanny Brawne was as painful as it was romantic on Keats’s side (it triggered a deathly depression in him); 2) at a physical level – the last two months of his life are medically an enigma: they were spent by him in a condition in which he practically had no lungs whatsoever. In this connection, we emphasize the importance of Mircea Lazarescu’s notion of “intermediate beings” the fictional heroes populating the mind and thereby moulding individual destiny under whose powers Keats lived as if simultaneously in “a thousand worlds” together, and at the same time Keats himself becoming such an “intermediate” being, a hero of the imagination, through portraits drawn in biographies such as Bate’s, thus moulding the destinies of generation upon generation of lovers of genuine high creativity. pp. 132–184

Keywords: biography; altruism; negative capability; gusto; Hermes/Thoth; Apollo; Chatterton; Paracelsus; Burton; Janusian imagination/art/process; Janusian/intermediate beings; the poet for poets

Mihai A. Stroe
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University of Bucharest

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