chapter  10
40 Pages

Keats

This confrontation brings out several things which are im portant for an understanding o f Keats and his poetry. In the first place, he is the major Romantic poet who most obviously gives up an honourable and satisfying career in order to devote his life to poetry. There are signs that he had been distressed by some o f the scenes which he had witnessed as a medical student and as a ‘dresser’ (or surgeon’s assistant); but his progress from student to dresser in a good London hospital shows that he was intending to take the full examination for the M RCS.2 By the time o f the conversation with Abbey he had made up his mind with a quiet certainty; and the assurance o f his own abilities, his faith in himself as a poet, is another revealing feature o f this encounter. Keats, like W ordsworth, knew that he possessed ‘Abilities greater than most M en’, and he was determined to exercise them. He had a strong sense o f his high calling, and an inner need to give himself time to write. ‘O for ten years’, he wrote in ‘Sleep and Poetry’,

that I may overwhelm M yself in poetry; so I may do the deed That my own soul has to itself decreed.