Books: The Chameleon Poet

JOHN KEATS by Walter Jackson Bate. 732 pages. Harvard University Press. $10.

JOHN KEATS by Aileen Ward. 450 pages. Viking. $7.50.

Romantic poets, the legend went, all died young and full of melancholy. Eloquent escape artists in flight from reality, they contrived, if possible, to be afflicted alike with consumption and unrequited love—both, it was firmly understood, great heighteners of poetic sensibility. Then, like dying nightingales singing their hearts out while impaled upon the thorn of the everyday world, they poured forth their pain in richly draped iambics.

This precious caricature was never really...

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