This Keats quote has more punch to it when his circumstances are factored in; dead at twenty-five after years of poverty and painful illness. In spite of that, Keats lived with good spirits, focused on the beauty in the world and the truth revealed through that beauty.
Sounds way too simple…until I read something moving, or see a beautiful child or a stunning sunset, or am the recipient of an unexpected kindness. At that point, the meaning of life is distilled into such simple purity that I understand what Keats was getting at.
Or, when meaningless cruelty, inexplicable suffering, or aborted happiness knocks me off my feet, and I realize I don’t know what I thought I knew, then, Keats’ reminder that I really never knew is a lifeline to sanity.
The early death of love poet John Keats was probably from his misguided medical treatments as much as from Tuberculosis. The tragedy and pain of his death (without significant success at the age of 25) was further complicated by his financial struggles, even though he had a substantial inheritance that could have greatly helped him, but was never made known to him.
Upon his deathbed, he asked that his epitaph be, “Here lies One/Whose Name was writ in water.”
This insight into the absurdity of taking our existence too seriously, his work, and the frustrations of his life and death, too many to recount, often rescue me from despair when I am confronted with senseless injustice or confounded by seemingly random or easily preventable pain and loss.
Life only makes sense in this context. Learning to love.