We talked about Ghosts: John Keats’ Shadows (Public Lecture, 2nd February)


John Keats' tombstone, by Piero Montesacro (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

John Keats’ tombstone, by Piero Montesacro, reproduced under CC BY-SA 3.0 licence, via Wikimedia Commons

As a physician in the nineteenth-century, the poet John Keats was intimately acquainted with death. Perhaps this in part explains the recurrence of the ghostly throughout his writing. In this next talk in our public lecture series on spirits, Professor Nicholas Roe (St Andrews) will explore the lure of the ghostly in Keats, and what his realms of shadows may tells us about his poetic achievement. Everyone is welcome on 2nd February at 18.30, in Elvet Riverside 140.

…and it sure must be
Almost the highest bliss of human kind,
When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee.

The closing lines of John Keats’s first published poem, ‘To Solitude’, speak of escaping to an otherworld of ‘haunts’ and ‘kindred spirits’. Perhaps this isn’t surprising, given the deaths of his father, mother, brother, grandmother and other relatives, and his harrowing duties at Guy’s Hospital. Keats talked about ghosts with his friends, recalled that Coleridge told him a ghost story, and populated his poems with numerous ghosts and shadows. The narrative in Isabella turns upon a ghostly encounter, as does ‘Ode on Indolence’; in ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ being ‘here’ is to grow ‘pale, and spectre-thin’, while the full-fruited stanzas of ‘To Autumn’ are aware of an elusive presence ‘like a gleaner’, glimpsed ‘by a cyder-press’.

This series of lectures is organised as part the Institute of Advanced Study’s year on the theme of ‘evidence.’ Future lectures will look among other things at ghosts in the city, witches in medieval Europe, and gothic cinema; full listings can be found at the Institute of Advanced Study. Podcasts from the first lectures in the series are available now.

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