A Pedacito of Hampstead, London and The Great John Keats
Updated: Jun 19, 2022
As a lover of British Literature, one of the reasons I chose to study abroad in London was to immerse myself in the birthplace of the greatest writers in the world. In my mind, I wanted to walk the same paths as them in the hopes it would lead me to my own inspiration. And it was there that I wrote my first poem.
The list of writers and poets who’ve left their mark on London is endless. One of them is John Keats, a passionate poet whose reputation grew after his early and untimely death. After doing an independent study on his life and poetry, I felt an intense connection with his story. So, I ventured away from the busy streets of London’s city center to the quaint, peaceful neighborhood of Hampstead – the late John Keats’s home.
Hampstead is located 20-30 minutes north of London’s city center and hub of popular tourist attractions via the underground. It’s an affluent residential community long favored by artists, accomplished academics, and other influential figures. The charming borough is full of small boutiques, pubs, antique shops, and historical landmarks.
It was a cloudy, gloomy day when we exited the Hampstead Tube Station, ready to explore the largely unknown London borough. The streets and sidewalks were quiet that afternoon, the weather pushing people into the warm arms of a nearby pub. Picturesque Georgian-style buildings towered over us on either side of the street as we began our walk downhill.
The time was around noon, so we stopped for a quick lunch before reaching our main destination. We ate at a 200-year old pub called King William IV Pub & Rooms. The dimly lit inside was full of portraits of famous and influential people all over the walls. Well-known, inspirational quotes lined the heavily decorated walls.
We made a few more stops before finally reaching Keats’ House. We discovered on the map that Sigmund Freud’s house was nearby, so stopped inside for a quick tour. Then, we found a small market full of antiques like jewelry, clothing, trinkets, and toys, hidden down an alleyway. We browsed for a bit and spoke to some friendly locals before finally reaching Keats’ House.
The Story of John Keats
I’d first heard of John Keats in an Intro to British Literature class my freshman year of college. At the time, I hated poetry and largely preferred prose. That was until I learned about John Keats. A couple of years went by before I had the opportunity to do an independent study about him, which is where my admiration for his story bloomed.
John Keats was unlike other poets of his time in many ways. To be a poet in that era, you often needed to be wealthy enough to afford a literary education. Keats came from humble beginnings and had no formal literary education. He studied to be a doctor and didn’t publish his first poetic works until 1817, at the age of 21. By the time of his death, he’d only published 54 poems.
Keats’ poetry is known for its vivid imagery, sensual themes, and vibrant desperation. When reading his works, he so clearly expresses his overwhelming desire to create and express the beauty of his experiences with the world.
What inspires me most about John Keats was his attitude towards literature:
"...literature for Keats was a career to be struggled with, fought for, and earned, for the sake of what the poet’s struggle could offer humankind in insight and beauty” (Poetry Foundation).
As an artist, I feel extremely connected to this. I often fight with myself and my art in an effort to produce something that properly expresses the sensations that exist between myself and the world.
On February 23rd, 1821, Keats died peacefully of tuberculosis in Rome, Italy at the age of 25. Though his life was cut short, he left behind an incredible legacy and is regarded as a principal figure in the Romantic movement.
After leaving Keats’ House, we headed to Hampstead Heath, a large area of greenspace filled with ponds, trails, and beautiful views overlooking Hampstead and London. It was frequented often by Keats, who found inspiration for many of his poems there. Standing on Parliament Hill, I was reminded of one of his famous poems:
"When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-pilèd books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink."
– “When I have fears that I may cease to be” by John Keats
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