Editorial - John Keats and ‘negative capability’
(NB: Last edition, I wrote about John Keats and his poem To Autumn. By accident, I am once again writing about John Keats. Funny how this universe works in mysterious ways.)
It is no secret we are living in strange and uncertain times. Similar to our days, so was the time of John Keats'. Dying from tuberculosis at an age of just 25, he never grew old or saw the success of his writing. Most of this writing was done during the Regency Era, a time when the very popular King George III. became unable to reign and therefore had to be replaced by his very unpopular son, the later King George IV. The younger king did everything to be hated by the public: he spend every last nickel on luxurious projects and had very public affairs while living apart from his wife Caroline of Brunswick. At the time of his coronation he was addicted to opium. This all, during a time when the whole of Europe was still reeling from the Napoleonic Wars.
John Keats' life did not look more cheerful. His parents died when he was still young, leaving him to live in the custody of his grandmother. The will of his parents awarded him with a great sum of money, but his guardians did not make him aware of this fact, leaving him in great financial troubles throughout his life.
According to Poetry Foundation's Glossary of Poetic Terms, negative capability is the poet's ability to be in "uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason". This gives the poet the ability to forsake truth and rather identify with the object they question. Negative is not meant pejorative but rather meant as the potential of a person to be identified by what one is missing. It is a great irony that Keats had to die before he achieved true negative capability. All through his short-lived life he questioned himself, making him ultimately unable to fulfill his dream. When he died his tombstone read: "Here lies one whose name was writ in water."