For me there is only one author that immediately springs to mind – and that is John Keats.
When he died in February 1821 in Rome, suffering from consumption and being treated with blood letting of all things, he was aged 25 – and I have never ceased wondering what he might have produced. I know some critics have rather romanticised this end as the fitting end for a romantic poet, I can only feel it as a bleak, ghastly death that robbed the world of all that potential. The idea that his blood was let as a cure for tuberculosis is beyond imagination.
I wondered seriously at the age of 16 when I first read any Keats whether it was being 16 that made him directly appeal to me – and whether, in much the way that D H Lawrence certainly did, the beauty and eloquence and insights of his lines would pall as I grew older. I can only say that as I have aged – and have I aged – Keats still speaks to me directly, emotionally and at many cerebral levels.
My first encounter with Keats was presented really as a puzzle by a rather wacky and charismatic teacher – and a puzzle that we unravelled in a voyage of exploration that just opened my eyes to the possibilities of language to contain meaning, hidden and overt. It was – and is, of course – Ode to Melancholy, that starts:
No, no, go not to Lethe . .
However impenetrable that seemed, as the understanding opened up and I – or we – moved from just loving the words for their sounds and strangeness and began to appreciate what he was saying, the world seemed to grow larger around me. His meaning – which I will fail to encapsulate but crudely might be wallow in your depression – struck a real chord and was something I remembered in some very bleak times.
We know his other great poems – but just think what he might have written were he not to have died at 25.