Medical Doctor turned poet born this day 220 years ago

Dipping into poetry books as a break from life’s chores offers a brief escape into another person’s mind and creativity; how much time is available does affect the choice of poem, especially if wanting to dig around searching for meaning.  This week during a dip into an anthology I learnt that today, 31st October, marks the birthday of the poet John Keats.

I’m always curious about background and family; seems Keats was apprenticed to a surgeon and qualified as a doctor, although e never practised. Given the importance of medicine and all ghastly diseases of his day, training at Guy’s Hospital in 1815 would have been a significant social as well as career step.

Quickly running through first lines Keats delivers so many familiar quotes and shorter poems to squeeze into a quick sit-down. But others present verses of epic length. I have set myself to look into “Isabella Or The Pot of Basil” based on a memory of secondary school poetry lessons with the very crisp Mrs J. Smith. Every week a different poet; one Monday it was Keats so we tackled “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”. I found it creepy so it didn’t do much for me….most weeks were very positive and I can still hear Mrs Smith reading “The Naming of Parts” and “Pied Beauty”.

The lesson included some general background and other works by that week’s subject. Somehow the mention of a mysterious  ”Isabella and her Pot of Basil” found a place in my brain…I have a theory about food helping with memory, not that we ever ate basil then; I believe I knew about this herb via a children’s animated short which was broadcast before the BBC early evening news.  ”The Herbs” featured Parsley the lion, but I’m not sure who “Basil” was…there’s bound to be archive film footage on YouTube which will help sort all that out!

These sixty-three verses demand a decent chunk of time but the quick view gave me hope, plus the mention of a “palmer” in the second line threw a line into my historical interest in pilgrimage. So it appears to be a tale to unravel.


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