Summer Reading List: Essential Keats: Selected by Philip Levine

Summer Reading - Essential Keats

The UC Berkeley Summer Reading List is an annual compilation of recommended (though not required) readings suggested by Cal faculty, staff, and students as a welcome to incoming freshmen and transfer students.

Essential Keats: Selected by Philip Levine

John Keats was what you would call a punk–constantly getting into fights with other kids–until a schoolmaster lent him a copy of Edmund Spenser’s The Fairie Queen. After being exposed to this work John Keats had to be forcibly evicted from the school’s library.

Philip Levine writes a good introduction to this edition where he gives a brief account of Keats’s short life. It will be reassuring to young poets to learn that John Keats’s work wasn’t universally accepted when he wrote it. He received harsh criticism, sometimes outright rejection, from some of his contemporaries whose names have since been forgotten except by scholars specializing in 19th century English literature.

This selection contains many jewels, one of which is “On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer.” Overall, the poetry of John Keats is relevant for any young person whose youth allows them to experience the world with a freshness that has yet to be weathered and eroded by age. His best work is incredibly sensual; resonating deeply for a sensitive reader. Keats was gifted and his magnificent odes, written when he knew he would die within a year, are heartbreakingly beautiful, enduring wonders.

MIKE PALMER Curriculum Planner, College Writing Programs

Post contributed by:
Michael Larkin Lecturer, College Writing Programs
Tim Dilworth First Year Coordinator, Library

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