Did the British romantic poet John Keats steal the body from the tomb? Examining some of the most respected works of this 19th-century writer, including the famous hymns written in the spring and summer of 1819, we can see that he has a deep love for the grave soil and only wants to embrace his ashes as a companion. . This kind of hands-on obsession is not just an anxious cognition that people must die. The poet seems to be faintly confessing something that is obscure, dangerous and extremely terrifying.
It is no secret that Keats is interested in death and longs for it spiritually. The love for death runs through his entire poetry creation. He clearly confessed in “Ode to the Nightingale” that “how many times” he “almost fell into a peaceful love with death”, and “called his gentle name with thoughtful poetry.” “It has never been like this moment,” Keats concluded, “Happiness is death/Say goodbye to the world peacefully at midnight.”
Not only that, the poet died young at the age of twenty-five, and the funeral equipment recurring in the poem (Common tombs, cemeteries, and columbarium) are often regarded as signs of bitterness that the poet has foresighted. “Ode to the Ancient Greek Urn” is a work of the poet when he was only 23 years old. It is a fantasy of the outside picture of the container of the ashes of the deceased. At this time, the poet is probably suffering from tuberculosis. Two years later, in February 1821 Died from painful complications. If you understand the above situation, readers may not be difficult to understand why many poems, including “Ancient Greek Urn”, have a brisk and lyrical style.
However, what if Keats’ obsession with diseased corpses and the corrupted parts of corpses was not (or not only) due to foreseeing that he would die soon, but actually feeling the personal experience of digging a new grave by robbery? What if he got involved in the illegal midnight economy and got his hands full of crime for stealing fresh corpses for London Gas Hospital and others? How will this affect our views on him, his life, and his outstanding literary heritage?
Engraved copy of Sosibios vase: It is said that part of the inspiration for Keats’ creation of “An Ancient Greek Urn” came from this
In October 1815, Keats enrolled in Gas Hospital and soon promoted to assistant surgeon
John Keats was born on the eve of Halloween in 1795 at Marsh Gate in London. He is the eldest son of the family, with two younger brothers and a younger sister. As early as studying in a school in North London that implemented progressive education, the poet of the future showed an interest in Renaissance poetry. Seven years later, in 1810, he was sent to Thomas Hammond as an apprentice, Hammond was a surgeon and medicine dealer (similar to today’s pharmacist). In the same year, Keats’s mother died of tuberculosis, which was also called tuberculosis at the time. This “family disease” then claimed the lives of Keats’ two younger brothers, Tom and George, in 1818 and 1841, respectively. After five years of training, Keats was admitted as a medical student by Gass Hospital and was quickly promoted to the position of “surgeon assistant” (similar to junior doctors in the British National Medical Service System). As a result, he has a unique advantage in the operating room, and he has been trained behind the experienced doctors.
The medical school in the 19th century relied on corpse thieves-as shown in Thomas Rowlandson’s painting “The Resurrected”-to obtain corpses
According to various accounts, Keats could have a glorious medical career at this time. It must have been this period of time, when he and a handful of less glorious gangs wandering in the shadow of medicine-actually neutralizing in a metaphorical sense-took their heads: corpse thieves. Medical school teachers, including Ghaith Hospital, needed a steady stream of fresh corpses for training and experimentation, and found that they had to rely on the horrific work of the “resurrectors” (a good name for tomb robbers). Less than a few hours after the corpse was in the soil, they were taken away from the tomb and sold to the surgeon under the cover of night.
The earliest corpse robbery seen in historical data was in Bologna in 1319. Four young medical staff were prosecuted for excavating and dissecting a executed prisoner who was captured on the spot. The history of medical students assisting corpse robbers can be traced back. So far. It is almost certain that in Keats’s time, the surgeon and the corpse thief could be said to be a secret tune even if they were not in a fight. The famous British surgeon and medical writer John Flint South was a peer of the poet’s school days. He wrote in his later memoirs that if the “resurrected” “has trouble” in the law-commit crimes I was caught right now-“Teachers will do everything they can to save them from being interrogated by the police” and “bail them” if necessary.
There is reason to believe that during Keats’s study of medicine, Ghaith Hospital and the adjacent St. Thomas’s Hospital (Keats often coordinated operations in the afternoon here) because of the need to provide sufficient corpses to the teaching center, more and more corpses were stolen. The thief joined the supplier’s team. In 1816 when Keats was promoted to assistant surgeon, a gang known as the “town gang” (founded by Ben Crouch, the former porter of Gasth Hospital, was one of the most notorious corpse thieves in London. ) Determined to ban the corpses to St. Thomas Hospital unless the teacher there pays an extra two guineas for each corpse.
To say that the doctors and students (including Keats) in these two medical institutions decided to steal their bodies in person to help themselves, at best, it is only a guess. But there is no doubt that the narrative poem “Isabella” (also known as “Basil Flower Pot”, adapted from a story in the 14th-century Italian poet Boccaccio’s collection of short stories “The Decameron”) was created the following year. In the novel, Keats’s imagination of the tomb becomes more bold and the description is even more creepy.
William Holman Hunt’s painting “Isabella and the Basil Flower Pot” (1868) inspired by Keats’ “Isabella”
”Isabella” tells the story of a young woman who fell in love with her brother’s subordinate Lorenzo despite her family’s dissuasion. The angry brothers killed Lorenzo and buried his body. Isabella tracked all the way, found and exhumed the body. She was too mournful and unconscious, she buried Lorenzo’s head in the basil flowerpot, and then sighed at the flowerpot all day long. When describing Isabella’s search for the discarded place of Lorenzo’s body, Keats patrolled this cemetery for no reason, and put his imaginary fingers into this intrusive and disturbing soil:
Who has never wandered in the cemetery of youth,
let his soul, like a mole,
penetrate the clay and hard sand of the stratum,
peeping at the head, bones, shroud in the coffin…?
The strange question of “Who never” allowed the narrator’s thoughts to pass through the soil to the place where the corpse was rotting, and in this way tried to normalize an impulse and action that was originally abnormal. Who is he trying to convince? Isabella didn’t start digging until the next quarter (“Pick up a knife… digging more eagerly than a miser”), but before that, Keats had taken us into Lorenzo’s grave. “The clay and the hard sand of the stratum”.
What if Keats’ fascination with corpses was due to close contact with him?
Keats may have dealt with the corpse thieves in the Ghaith Hospital and St. Thomas Hospital, and it was the poet who was murdered as a clue to the full text and pointed Keats’ terrible imagination to the illegal acts of these corpse thieves. Lorenzo’s carefully selected costume: Shroud.
In the same year when the “Town Gang” threatened the teachers and students of St. Thomas Hospital, Keats easily passed a difficult qualification examination, and many of his peers, including roommates, were crushed. He also obtained a pharmacist’s license to practice medicine in July. Keats’s career went smoothly, but in December of the same year, he abandoned medicine in one fell swoop and turned to writing poetry. This is especially strange and unexpected.
Keats’s decision seemed silly to many people around him. As a student, he owed a lot of debts, and he was kind to many poor friends. Although we can easily accept the romantic idea that Keats switched careers only because of the charm of poetry, we still can’t help but wonder if there is something that drives Keats away from the long-cultivation career—just like his friend Romance What the poet Wordsworth wrote is “not so much as seeking what he loves, but as avoiding what he fears”—perhaps the unearthed objects he has seen or even touched.
After two and a half years after abandoning medicine, Keats began to write the long narrative poem “The Fall of Hyperion”. At the beginning of the poem, he jokingly told the readers that what they would read was either an illusion of a poetic talent or the roar of a madman. He went on to say that the answer could only be revealed after his death. But it is the language of this strange statement that makes this poem so powerful and unforgettable. Whether
the dream to be repeated
belongs to the poet or the fanatic,
when this warm hand of writing enters the tomb, it will be revealed.
What is striking is that Keats compressed his own existence into a body capable of scribbling (“writing hand”) in this poem, but this vigorous hand (“warming”) appeared in a place of death (“Tomb”), this kind of picture can’t help being creepy, reminiscent of the sneaky corpse theft of the “resurrected”. Coupled with the fact that the word “rehearse” just hangs lingeringly above the word “tomb”, this feeling of anxiety becomes even stronger. The “hearse” is a tool for transporting corpses to the cemetery, and the “reenactment” is exactly what the corpse thieves did in the cold tomb with warm hands. These lines of poems seem to have a profound meaning, as if there is something between the lines anxiously trying to break the ground: like a secret waiting to be seen again.
Around the same year Keats started writing (and eventually gave up) “The Fall of Hyperion,” he set about writing another poem, focusing on the experience of a living person breaking into a fantasy land of death. This is the “Ode to Sloth”, one of the many famous odes written by Keats in the spring and summer of 1819.
The poem revolves around the repeated passage of the three characters in front of the narrator: “Shadows” are compared to “the figures on the marble urn/the scene where the other side can be seen when turning”. The most interesting thing is that he described the way these people approached him, because he saw these people approaching him again and again. He insisted that he “still felt strange to them” when they came back, as if he hadn’t seen them at all. However, if the rotating urn was really in front of him, he would definitely see these figures twisting closer from the edge, growing bigger and bigger as the convex surface turned. Therefore, only when the imagination is located inside the urn, staring at a whole concave surface, the sudden appearance of these figures will catch him off guard. Only in this way, no matter which direction it rotates, the portrait can approach him quietly from behind.
In April 1819, when Keats was concentrating on this poem, he visited an interesting visual landscape in Leicester Square in London. A painting of the frozen coast of the Norwegian Islands wrapped in a column was Henry Part of Aston Barker’s popular installation “Panorama”. This installation was originally completed by Buck’s father Robert in 1793, who coined the term “panorama”. Visitors can stand in the center of a rotating painting, just like the movement pattern of the portrait in “Ode to Sloth”. But in Keats’s ode, the narrator is not surrounded by a canvas, but a urn full of cremated ashes of the dead. Only fully understand the terrible position in which the narrator in the urn, the reader to realize that Keats is intended to pursue the profound meaning of the three men:
they came third, passes, per person
from time to time face turned to me for a moment;
then receded , Burning I want to follow them scorchingly…
In 1819, Keats composed famous poems including “The Night of Saint Agnes”, “Ode to Melancholy”, “Ode to Nightingale”, “Ode to Soul” and “Ode to Ancient Greek Urn”
Once again, Keats followed the dead deep into the eternal sleeping place in his mind, as if his own existence merged with them, but this time he went so far that he imagined a kind of cremation-like Self-immolation ritual: “I am burning hot and want to follow them.”
On February 23, 1821, John Keats died of illness in Rome. He had hoped that the warm weather there would relieve his rapidly deteriorating condition. In his posthumous poem, there are a few lines that make people shudder, as if the poet is still concerned about the entanglement of life and death in the last days. Although when or why it was written, we still have no clue.
This living hand is still warm now and
can be held sincerely. If it is cold,
the icy silence of the tomb, it will
pester you during the day, freezing at night you dream,
you will want your heart blood dried up,
and in my veins red life will flow again,
your conscience I got peace-look, it’s here-
I hold it for you.
These few lines of poems seem to say that the dead poet resurrected strangely under the mysterious touch of a “cold and silent grave…living hand”. Whether this illusion comes from someone who has personally competed with the deceased and is eager for peace of mind, we don’t know. But as admirers of these masterpieces, the only thing we can do with gratitude is to keep digging.