If you read Keats' poetry, there is, for me, a kind of drive to embrace the beauty of the world. Keats seemed to know his time was limited, and many of his poems reflect this knowledge, I think. The poem below, probably written around 1819 (two years before his death), contains this consciousness of mortality. Keats is literally reaching through the "dead" lines of the poem and grasping the reader's hand. The act of reading allows Keats to live and breathe again. The poem is even more poignant considering how close to the end of life Keats was.
This Living Hand
By: John Keats
This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calmed—see here it is—
I hold it towards you.
Keats literally seems to be standing beside you when you read this poem, looking over your shoulder, haunting your day, as he says. In his short life, Keats had a profound impact on English romantic poetry. His prolonged suffering near the end of his life isn't reflected at all in his death mask, seen in the picture below. Keats seems simply to be asleep, resting after a long day of writing.
|The death mask of John Keats|
Saint Marty is two for two. Two new poems in two days.
This Dying Hand
This dying hand, brittle as wax paper,
Flutters against my fingers, pupa or cocoon
For its ninety-three years of teaspoons,
Laundry, Christmas turkeys stuffed
With rutabaga, onion, black pepper,
Tastes that sit in throat and eye
Like loss, make her skin split, open—see it!—
Silk chrysalis of soul.