On Death by John Keats (1795-1821)

by on Mar 28, 2016


Can death be sleep, when life is but a dream,
And scenes of bliss pass as a phantom by?
The transient pleasures as a vision seem,
And yet we think the greatest pain’s to die.


How strange it is that man on earth should roam,
And lead a life of woe, but not forsake
His rugged path; nor dare he view alone
His future doom which is but to awake.


Keats’ Final Sleep

I’ve chosen “On Death” by Keats, as the tragically early demise of this young genius has fascinated readers ever since his poems have started resonating with the ordinary human soul.

The inspiration for this piece came whilst visiting the Keats-Shelley House in Rome. The small bedroom where the writer drew his final struggling breath is still suffused with his pain. Visitors tend to be respectful of the atmosphere of quiet dignity. The last resting place of a great man. Yet, it’s curious to see life passing one by on the Spanish Steps outside, as the poet must have done, at the beginning of his internment there.

Keats’ message continues to be as relevant as ever in this industrialized era. No matter how many often we listen to “Ode to a Nightingale,” we feel less lonely every time.

With the spread of Buddhism and Eastern philosophies in the Occident, people have become more aware of their theories related to the intransient or illusory nature (maya) of this world. Perhaps this brave poet’s works will be studied in a new light, and his mysticism will be given more importance than it has been so far.

Though his own immortality has been assured because of his works, John didn’t know that, and his fortitude in face of all his issues is remarkable. Despite having financial, romantic, and health complications, he didn’t fall into depression, but continued writing, overcoming negative reviews and political attacks on his writings. It’s a wonder that he was able to write at all, let alone so beautifully in the midst of his numerous difficulties.

Not only did he give up the more lucrative profession of becoming a surgeon, and followed his passion for verse, but also produced an amazing amount of brilliant poems in such a short, problem-filled life. What would this gifted poet have created if he hadn’t been claimed by death so prematurely?

—Sultana Raza


Of Indian origin, Sultana Raza has an M.A. in English Literature. Her articles have appeared in many publications in English and French. Her poems have appeared in numerous magazines, including Ancient Heart Magazine (Australia), London Grip (UK), Caduceus (Ed. Yale University, USA), Beyond Bree, (an American MENSA newsletter), and The New Verse News. Recently, more have been published in Catch and Release (Columbia’s online Journal), and Indiana Voices Journal. Find her online at sultanaraza.com and sultanaraza.tumblr.com.

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