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Complete Poems and Selected Letters of John Keats [Paperback]

John Keats , Edward Hirsch
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Book Description

Feb. 13 2001 Modern Library Classics
'I think I shall be among the English Poets after my death,' John Keats soberly prophesied in 1818 as he started writing the blankverse epic Hyperion. Today he endures as the archetypal Romantic genius who explored the limits of the imagination and celebrated the pleasures of the senses but suffered a tragic early death. Edmund Wilson counted him as 'one of the half dozen greatest English writers,' and T. S. Eliot has paid tribute to the Shakespearean quality of Keats's greatness. Indeed, his work has survived better than that of any of his contemporaries the devaluation of Romantic poetry that began early in this century. This Modern Library edition contains all of Keats's magnificent verse: 'Lamia,' 'Isabella,' and 'The Eve of St. Agnes'; his sonnets and odes; the allegorical romance Endymion; and the five-act poetic tragedy Otho the Great. Presented as well are the famous posthumous and fugitive poems, including the fragmentary 'The Eve of Saint Mark' and the great 'La Belle Dame sans Merci,' perhaps the most distinguished literary ballad in the language. 'No one else in English poetry, save Shakespeare, has in expression quite the fascinating felicity of Keats, his perception of loveliness,' said Matthew Arnold. 'In the faculty of naturalistic interpretation, in what we call natural magic, he ranks with Shakespeare.'

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"No one else in English poetry, save Shakespeare, has in expression quite the fascinating felicity of Keats, his perfection of loveliness."

About the Author

John Keats was born in London in living quarters connected with his maternal grandfather's livery stable, the Swan and Hoop Inn, on October 31, 1795. He was the eldest of five children (one of whom died in infancy) begot by Thomas and Frances Jennings Keats. His father was the chief hostler at the Swan and Hoop, and the family prospered. The boy was eight years old when Thomas Keats was killed in a riding accident; the next year, in 1805, Keats's grandfather died. When the future poet was fourteen, his mother (after an unsuccessful remarriage) succumbed to tuberculosis. By then, however, Keats had received a liberal education at the progressive Clarke school, a private academy in the village of Enfield, twelve miles north of London, where for eight years he studied English literature, modern languages, and Latin. (He began translating Virgil's Aeneid while still at shcool.) Charles Cowden Clarke, the headmaster's son, remembered him as an outgoing youth who made friends easily and fought passionately in their defense. A fellow student recalled his pugnacious spirit: 'Keats was not in childhood attached to books. His penchant was for fighting. He would fight any one.' Yet George Keats spoke of his brother's 'nervous, morbid temperament' (perhaps attributable to a complex about being short—'poor little Johnny Keats' was barely five feet tall) and of his having 'many a bitter fit of hypochondriasm.' Indeed Keats himself wrote: 'My mind has been the most discontented and restless one that ever was put into a body too small for it.'

In 1811 Keats left the Clarke school to become a surgeon's apprentice—first at Thomas Hammond's apothecary shop in a small town near Enfield and later in London at Guy's Hospital. (Surgery would have been a respectable and reasonable calling for someone of Keats's means: unlike the profession of medicine, it did not require a university degree. Moreover, Keats always maintained he was 'ambitious of doing the world some good.') During his five years of study for a license, the young apprentice completed his translation of the Aeneid and 'devoured rather than read' Ovid's Metamorphoses, Milton's Paradise Lost, and other books he borrowed from the Clarke school. But the work that decisively awakened his love of poetry—indeed shocked him suddenly into self-awareness of his own powers of imagination—was Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene. At some point in 1814 Keats composed his first poem, 'In Imitation of Spenser.' Although he struck medical colleagues as an 'idle loafing fellow, always writing poetry,' Keats passed the apothecaries' examination that allowed him to practice surgery on July 25, 1816.

In the meantime, his poetic genius was being recognized and encouraged by early friends like Charles Cowden Clarke and J. H. Reynolds, and in October 1816 Clarke introduced him to Leigh Hunt, whose Examiner, the leading liberal magazine of the day, had recently published Keats's sonnet 'O Solitude.' Five months later, on March 3, 1817, Poems, his first volume of verse, appeared. Despite the high hopes of the Hunt circle, it was a failure. During the fall of that year, Keats stayed with Oxford student Benjamin Bailey at Magdalen College. While Bailey crammed for exams, Keats worked on Endymion, his four-thousand-line romantic allegory; the two read and discussed Wordsworth, Hazlitt, Milton, Dante, and Shakespeare. Back in London, on November 22, 1817, Keats wrote to Bailey the first of his famous letters to friends (and siblings) on aesthetics, the social role of poetry, and his own sense of poetic mission. Rarely has a poet left such a remarkable record of his thoughts on his own career and its relation to the history of poetry. (The letters also reveal the astonishing speed with which Keats matured as an artist.) Yet by the time Endymion was published in April 1818, Keats's name had been identified with Hunt's 'Cockney School,' and the Tory Blackwood's Magazine delivered a violent attack on Keats as an 'ignorant and unsettled pretender' to culture who had no right to aspire to poetry.

Although the critical reaction to Endymion was infamous for its ferocity, the youthful bard was hardly destroyed by it—despite Byron's famous quip that Keats was 'snuffed out by an Article.' The surprising truth is that he entered upon an interval of astonishing productivity, perhaps the most concentrated period of creativity any English poet has ever known. In the summer of 1818, Keats journeyed to Scotland with Charles Brown, the rugged, worldly businessman who was one of his most loyal friends. There he vowed: 'I shall learn poetry here and shall henceforth write more than ever.' That fall he began composing Hyperion, his imitation of and challenge to Milton's Paradise Lost; even critics saw the work as a major achievement. In December, following his brother Tom's death from tuberculosis, Keats went to live with Charles Brown in Wentworth Place, Hampstead. There, almost in spite of himself, the young poet fell helplessly in love with Fanny Brawne, the eighteen-year-old daughter of a widowed neighbor; a year later they were betrothed. In 1819 Keats produced 'The Eve of St. Agnes,' 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci,' the major odes, Lamia, the Dantean dream-vision The Fall of Hyperion, and the five-act verse tragedy Otho the Great (written in collaboration with Brown).

On February 3, 1820, Keats suffered a pulmonary hemorrhage that signaled an advanced stage of tuberculosis. He quickly broke off his engagement and began what he called a -posthumous existence.' His career as a poet was effectively ended, although the volume Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems, containing the bulk of Keats's claim to immortality, was published that July. In a desperate attempt to recover his health in a milder climate, Keats sailed for Italy in September accompanied by the painter Joseph Severn. Declining an invitation to stay with Shelley in Pisa, the two arrived in Rome on November 15 and took up residence in rooms overlooking the Piazza di Spagna. John Keats died in Rome on the night of February 23, 1821, and was buried there on February 26 in the Protestant Cemetery. On his deathbed Keats requested that his tombstone bear no name, only the words 'Here lies one whose name was writ in water.'


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent For College Study or Independent Reading March 17 2002
Format:Paperback
In his short life John Keats created some of the finest poetry in the English language. I have read his shorter poems and odes many times, not for study, but simply for enjoyment. I am not a Keats expert, but I can now easily recognize quotations from Keat's odes, sonnets, and other poems. I especially like "The Eve of St. Agnes", a story of romance and danger in a medieval setting that illustrates Keats' remarkable command of language.
Keats is not difficult, but footnotes help with archaic words and references to more obscure Greek mythology. I prefer to read Keats unaided, then read the footnotes (best if tucked away in an appendix), and then return and read the poem again. For longer poems I jump to footnotes more quickly.
Initially, the inexpensive Dover edition "Lyric Poems", was exactly what I needed. Later, as I tackled longer poetry like "Endymion", I migrated to more complete collections with commentary and footnotes.
Keats" works are widely available in hardcover and paperback. Which collection is best for college study or independent reading? I have two favorites, one by Penguin Classics and the other by Modern Library. Both are available in softcovers.
The first is "The Complete Poems" by Penguin Classics, edited by John Bernard and a standard choice for college classes. I have the second edition, 1977. Barnard's extensive footnotes and commentary are quite good and offset his somewhat brief introduction. Additionally, the appendix discusses textual variations in Keats' manuscripts and has a useful guide to Greek mythology names. The third edition, 1988, adds 20 pages of selected letters, Keats' notes on Milton's Paradise Lost, and his notes on a Shakespearean actor.
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
133 of 135 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent For College Study or Independent Reading March 17 2002
By Michael Wischmeyer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In his short life John Keats created some of the finest poetry in the English language. I have read his shorter poems and odes many times, not for study, but simply for enjoyment. I am not a Keats expert, but I can now easily recognize quotations from Keat's odes, sonnets, and other poems. I especially like "The Eve of St. Agnes", a story of romance and danger in a medieval setting that illustrates Keats' remarkable command of language.
Keats is not difficult, but footnotes help with archaic words and references to more obscure Greek mythology. I prefer to read Keats unaided, then read the footnotes (best if tucked away in an appendix), and then return and read the poem again. For longer poems I jump to footnotes more quickly.
Initially, the inexpensive Dover edition "Lyric Poems", was exactly what I needed. Later, as I tackled longer poetry like "Endymion", I migrated to more complete collections with commentary and footnotes.
Keats" works are widely available in hardcover and paperback. Which collection is best for college study or independent reading? I have two favorites, one by Penguin Classics and the other by Modern Library. Both are available in softcovers.
The first is "The Complete Poems" by Penguin Classics, edited by John Bernard and a standard choice for college classes. I have the second edition, 1977. Barnard's extensive footnotes and commentary are quite good and offset his somewhat brief introduction. Additionally, the appendix discusses textual variations in Keats' manuscripts and has a useful guide to Greek mythology names. The third edition, 1988, adds 20 pages of selected letters, Keats' notes on Milton's Paradise Lost, and his notes on a Shakespearean actor.
The second choice (my favorite) is the newly published "Complete Poems and Selected Letters of John Keats", Modern Library 2001 edition (not the earlier 1994 hardcover version). Apparently as a direct challenge to Penguin Classics, this edition offers a longer introduction (22 pages) by Edward Hirsch and excellent footnotes (not too many, nor too few) by John Pollock. Also, as the title implies, it has selected letters by Keats, some 25 pages in total. Somewhat hidden in the appendix is commentary by six well-known literary critics such as T. S. Eliot, Mathew Arnold, and Keats' biographer Walter Jackson Bate. Lastly, the font is larger and more crisp in the Modern Library version (but is still quite acceptable in the Penguin edition).
Overall, I prefer Hirsch to Barnard, but both are good choices. Both are 5-stars.
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible Feb. 13 2008
By Mickey Callaghan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Pertaining to Keats himself, I could scarcely lavish enough praise upon his poetry. I must confess an extreme partiality to the High Romantics (Blake, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Coleridge, etc.), and, among them, Keats vies with Wordsworth for the best verse.

Many of his poems are quite famous--if you have studied only a little poetry, you likely have passing familiarity with his great odes (especially the sublime "To Autumn," "To a Nightingale," and the wonderful, deep "On a Grecian Urn") or with his strangely dark "La Belle Dame sans Merci." If you have studied poetry and none of these poems even rings a bell, well... you have been missing out! Take this brief snippet of a stanza from his "Ode on a Grecian Urn":

"...
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st
`Beauty is truth, truth beauty, --that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'"

The odes are not his only great poems, of course; I daresay almost every poem in this volume is invaluable. They are, however, his most famous lyrics, and for good reason!

Some, critic/poet T.S. Eliot, for example, detest the Romantics**. Eliotian criticism for the first half of last century dismissed them frequently, and tried to deny their lyrical power and the influence of Romanticism on all poetry thereafter. I will admit that among the Romantics, there are some who are often weak: Lord Byron, for example, ranges from marvelous to quite tawdry, and I can't say I'm an overly enthusiastic fan of Shelley. Keats, however, who lived only to be twenty-five, suffers none of the faults of his more fortunate contemporaries. He is deeper than any save Blake, and his only rival in lyrical beauty (an intentionally vague term...) I have yet read is Wordsworth.

Anyone who loves poems, who has a reverence for life and a wonder for its mysteries and sorrows, anyone who is enthralled with the power of a well-turned phrase or well-craft lyric; anyone of such a nature with fall in love with John Keats.

[**: I must note, upon reading the hidden appendix of criticism on Keats pointed out by the wonderful review above, that Eliot is not critical of Keats. Among the Romantics, he seems to regard Keats fairly highly; I know for a fact, however, that this is not the case with most other Romantic poets]
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best e-book of Keats' poetry available Jan. 21 2013
By B. Allen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Many other free or cheaper versions of Keats have a poor or non-existent table of contents. This edition has a complete TOC, and includes all his poems as far as I can tell. A must-buy if you want a complete, well-formatted version of this genius' work.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally, my own copy! Oct. 9 2012
By KeepingFaith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
OK, I don't own a Kindle, and like old fashioned books on a shelf. That said, I have many a time heard beautiful, thoughful sayings from this author, and wanting more, I finally purchased this book. A very complete volume; and what poetry and words....you can tell Keats was an exceptional talent in his short 20+ years of life; like one who lived so much longer and more wordly......this is one I shall pick up and read often. I have heard quotes from Keats in many a romantic movie, and now, at a terrific price, I have all his works. Amazon: the only place to find these masters!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Treasure to Own Jan. 8 2013
By Carol Boyd - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
John Keats and William Shakespeare would keep me happy on a desert island! He is one of the finest poets ever to share his heart.
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