John Keats and the Death of Chatterton

Henry Wallis’ “Chatterton”, 1865, oil on canvas, Tate

We poets in our youth begin in gladness;                                                                                 But thereof come in the despondency and madness.”                                                                ( William Wordsworth, from ‘Resolution and Independence’ )

What do the pre-Raphaelite artist, Henry Wallis and the poets William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and John Keats all have in common?  They have all paid tribute to the poet Thomas Chatterton whose death at the age of seventeen has been immortalized in Wallis’ painting pictured above.

Wordsworth’s “Resolution and Independence” says of Chatterton:

 I thought of Chatterton, the marvelous Boy                                                                            The sleepless Soul that perished in his pride.

Shelley’s “Adonais” ( an elegy on the death of Keats, see complete poem here ) refers to him and Sir Philip Sidney as:

The inheritors of unfulfilled renown                                                                                       Rose from their thrones built beyond mortal thought,                                                               Far in the Unapparent.  Chatterton                                                                                           Rose pale – his solemn agony had not yet faded from him . . . 

Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote “Monody on the Death of Chatterton”. Read the entire poem ( one of six versions ) here.

John Keats dedicated “Endymion” to him and composed this sonnet in his tribute:

TO CHATTERTON                                                                                                                            John Keats

O Chatterton! how very sad thy fate!
Dear child of sorrow – son of misery!
How soon the film of death obscur’d that eye,
Whence Genius mildly flash’d, and high debate.
How soon that voice, majestic and elate,
Melted in dying numbers! Oh! how nigh
Was night to thy fair morning. Thou didst die
A half-blown flow’ret which cold blasts amate.
But this is past: thou art among the stars
Of highest Heaven: to the rolling spheres
Thou sweetly singest: naught thy hymning mars,
Above the ingrate world and human fears.
On earth the good man base distraction bars
From thy fair name, and waters it with tears.

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About poeticmeditations

A 19th-century romantic poet living in the 21st-century.
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