On Seeing John Keats’ Tombstone in Rome

Cemetery in Rome

Cemetery in Rome

Poor guy – he had it rough from the start: his father was killed when he was eight, his mom died of tuberculosis several years later, and he himself lived only to the age of 26 before he gasped his last breath, alone in a foreign country and in despair.

When I was in Rome recently, I visited John Keats’ tombstone in a beautiful cemetary.  I had majored in English Literature many moons ago, and I remembered how my favorite literary era was the Romantic period, particularly Keats’ sombre but heartfelt poems.  Unfortunately, his poetry career didn’t take off until AFTER he passed on, and I believe that all he wanted was for his poetry to be taken seriously.  Keats indeed got what he wanted because he’s one of the best known Romantic poets today.

John Keats' Tombstone in a Cemetery in Rome

John Keats’ Tombstone in a Cemetery in Rome

When I came back from Rome, I dusted my old English lit books and flipped to the section on John Keats, the corners of the pages worn and yellowed over the years.   His words still have an impact on me because he felt so closely to death and was weighed down with the heaviness of his unrecognized art.  Check out the first lines of one of his most famous poems On Seeing the Elgin Marbles, which still blow me away:

“My spirit is too weak – mortality

Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep

And each imagine pinnacle and steep

Of godlike hardship tells me I must die

Like a sick eagle looking at the sky.”

Rest in peace, Keats.