John Keats is strongly linked to the Isle of Wight, Islanders are proud of their Islands artist heritage.
John Keats was an English Romantic poet who died at the age of twenty five. During his short career he published fifty four poems, ‘in three slim volumes and a few magazines’. Having only become a poet in the last six years of his short life retrospectively he has become one of the best loved and often studied English poets. He stayed on the Isle of Wight during 1817-1819.
During that time, he resided in two houses, one in Castle Road in Carisbrooke and the other Eglantine Cottage in Shanklin.
Soon after his arrival on the Isle of Wight he wrote in a letter to his friend the poet,satirist and playwright John Hamilton Reynolds,
“Yesterday I went to Shanklin, which occasioned a great debate in my Mind whether I should live there or at Carisbrooke. Shanklin is a most beautiful place – sloping wood and meadow ground reaches round the Chine, which is a cleft between the Cliffs of the depth of nearly 300 feet at least. This cleft is filled with trees & bushes in the narrow parts; and as it widens bedomes bare, if it were not for primroses on one side, which spread to the very verge of the Sea, and some fishermen’s huts on the other, perched midway in the Ballustrades of beautiful green Hedges along their steps down to the sands. – But the sea, Jack, the sea – the little waterfall – then the white cliff – then St. Catherin’s Hill – “the sheep in the meadows, the cows in the corn.”
In the same letter he also shared this sonnet which is said to have been written in Shanklin,
On The Sea
It keeps eternal whisperings around
Desolate shores, and with its mighty swell
Gluts twice ten thousand Caverns, till the spell
Of Hecate leaves them their old shadowy sound.
Often ’tis in such gentle temper found,
That scarcely will the very smallest shell
Be moved for days from where it sometime fell.
When last the winds of Heaven were unbound.
Oh, ye! who have your eyeballs vexed and tired,
Feast them upon the wideness of the Sea;
Oh ye! whose ears are dinned with uproar rude,
Or fed too much with cloying melody—
Sit ye near some old Cavern’s Mouth and brood,
Until ye start, as if the sea nymphs quired!
By John Keats 1795-1821
In an in-depth biography of Keats it is revealed that he set himself a challenging deadline whilst on the Isle of Wight;
‘to write a four-thousand-line poem, Endymion, by autumn. It was an unrealistic, though bold, project, and he sat for weeks anxious and depressed though moved by the beauty and power of the sea.’ and although he started this lengthy poem on the Island he left before it’s completion.