Selected Letters - John Keats, Robert Gittings, Jon Mee
“I think I shall be among the English Poets after my death,” wrote John Keats on the eve of his twenty-third birthday. Although Keats and some of his immediate contemporaries had fears that he left behind no immortal work, his reputation is now inviolable. It rests significantly on the strength of his great odes, which refashioned the lyric into an instrument of sensitivity, thought and power. His letters are a separate and absolute achievement. In a paroxysm of frustration at the inadequacy of prose, Shelley wrote: “These words are ineffectual and metaphorical. Most words are so—No help!” Yet Keats found the words. We return and return to his formulations, “the vale of soul-making,” “negative capability,” and poetic impersonality. There is distinct loss in reading these statements of profound intelligence and sensibility decorously isolated in quotation marks and something peculiar, human and wonderful about encountering the famous definition of negative capability introduced by a gossipy description of a dinner party.