A British literary critic offers a fresh look at the life of John Keats through the lens of his most famous poems, arguing that the Romantic poet was a far more robust and sensual man than the sickly, ethereal youth his memory conjures in the popular imagination.
By structuring Keats around nine specific poems (and an epitaph), and allowing herself a recurring, candid first person, Miller evokes the shifting, various genius of her subject without dumbing-down, while avoiding the conventions of academic biography ... It is a pleasure to have the full text of a poem at the beginning of each chapter, followed by a personal essay combining Keats’s story with the author’s sensible, attentive understanding of each poem, in itself and as part of the poet’s life story ... Her commentary cannot replace, but does counterbalance, learned, impassioned debates about the ideas in Keats’s great letters. In this passage, she helps a reader perceive the actual, living, 25-year-old man ... Lucasta Miller’s brief, conversational (at moments chatty) book, with its organization based on the poet’s writing, making the poems the starting point, might be a fitting document, among many thousands, for that imaginary communication between John Keats and us, his future readers.
Lucasta Miller’s task, which she carries out very successfully, is to strip away what we think when we think about Keats. She presents him to us as he would have struck his first readers ... Close reading teases out much of the oddity, and goes on to root it in the circumstances of Keats’s life ... This excellent book marks the 200th anniversary of the poet’s death. It enters an already crowded market of Keats biographies, but earns its place through its firm basis in precise reading. Miller is empathetic, and relishes Keats’s best phrases ... She is patient with the (to me) increasingly ludicrous critical readings of ‘To Autumn’ as really about the Peterloo massacres. She persuasively shows, however, that the predominantly indigenous word choices produce as politically charged a celebration of Englishness as the famous passage in Emma ... If you read the words, Miller persuades us, whether of the poems or the great letters, Keats is there, as new as ever.
... an often irreverent yet compassionate approach to the poet that cuts through the hagiography. Ms. Miller’s Keats is not just a complex living person, but a damaged and at times positively perverse one ... As a poet her Keats is playful, even freakish, and often inappropriate. She is alert to a slippery eroticism in his best-known poems ... Her unpacking of his language, which is so brilliantly suited to representing material bodily experience, is often refreshingly matter of fact ... Keats the man also emerges as fully embodied ... Profligate, sexy, fond of a glass or two, and a little bit entitled, Ms. Miller’s Keats is Keats, but not, thankfully, as we know him.