When I first left home and went on the road, one of the few books I took with me that actually stayed with me for an extended period, was a book of romance poets. Not just a book of poetry, but one that included correspondence. I am not sure what made me fall in love with this beaten young poet more, his poetry or his letters.
Then I was given a biography of Keats.
I wondered sometimes, if I would survive to see 26. I also wondered that the youngest of the Romance poets was the youngest to die, having achieved immortality at such a young age. An immortality that I desperately wanted, almost as much a I wanted to die. Not that I really understood then, just how much I wanted to die. It didn't even occur to me that I was suicidal, when I made such suicidal moves as pounding down a couple of fifths and other random booze, in little more than an hour. Or that given the opportunity, I would do things like increasing my dosage of acid on a daily basis, for as much as 40 odd days - hitchhiking up to the end.
I fell in love with Keats, because I fell in love with words and the impact that words could have on others. At poetry slams, I could stumble up to the stage and make everyone roll with laughter, if I wanted. Or drunk as can be, I could invoke intense sorrow - me nineteen and much of the crowd twice my years. All I had to do was open my mouth and let them flow, I never needed to read, because I just let it fly. Fleeting, temporary arrangements of words - enjoyed, then forgotten. I would throw myself out there, naked (occasionally literally), selfless - giving all that I had, because I was desperate for that intimate contact, me and that hundred or so people, every one of them my lover for those fleeting moments of rampant exhibitionism.
I fell in love with Keats, because I wanted to be Keats - I wanted to evoke contradictory emotions and incompatible imagery and make it all work. I wanted to see them slam into each other in a frenzied abandoned, fucking for all their worth, or sometimes bring them together in measured, even lovemaking. I wanted to express my awe at the beauty of my world and my fellow humans, while also striking out in rage - to express my passionate, naive love and brutal hatred. I saw the world, see the world, much like Keats did, appreciating the often excruciating beauty - at the same time, robed in sorrow and anger at the complete and utter fucking stupidity.
I fell in love with Keats, because sometimes I could almost see him at the end. See him literally hacking up his lungs, his sheets covered in blood. See him dying in rage and sorrow and finally deciding to end it. I would inhabit the body of Joseph Severn and tenderly care for my dear, dying friend - sometimes I would be Keats himself, especially when I was sick. But mostly I wished I could care for him, wished I could have been a part of those times - much like I wish sometimes, I could have been a part of the Chelsea hotel set. Except that was before free form verse was even heard of, and I don't think I could live without my freeform verse.
Rhyme and meter is for music.
I fell in love with Keats, because even within the strictures of poetry of the day, he was a remarkable wordsmith. A man who could write about anything and make it beautiful - even nearly two centuries later. A man who, though his name was writ on water, has been a very dear friend to me and who will probably be making friends two more centuries along.