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The Harbinger Of Love- John Keats And Isabella Jones



Great poet John Kets Love

To discuss the crush always attracts. And the discussion turns crispier if the crush enters a great poet’s life- a fleeting yet strong infatuation. And more so when the crush is a harbinger of yet another strong and intense relationship. A love tied to the breath of a wee life.

When we enter into the details of the amour of a most discussed romantic poet. John Keats, whose life was given an abrupt finishing touch by the painting brush of destiny. The name of Fanny Browne automatically emerges. We enter into the intense love burgeoned some 200 years ago between a twenty-three-year-old struggling poet and an eighteen-year-old blue-eyed girl.

The blue ‘often enhanced by the blue ribbons in her brown hair’ on the soil of Hampstead. The love followed by so many trysts and copious letters turned into a secret engagement and then a couple of years later it ended at the death of Keats by consumption in 1821.

Fleeting Crush Of John Keats

But we are interested here not in the intense love but a fleeting crush of John Keats. Whose impact was so powerful on him that gave. A few of the masterpieces of beauty were seized by his imagination and added precious feathers in the cap of romantic poetry. Not much has been written about the crush before Fanny Browne in Keats’ life. She, Isabella Jones, is almost forgotten on the pages of literary history. Here and there we find her references either in Keats sharing about an encounter with her in his letter to George, his brother or in Richard Woodhouse, his friend’s notes, or by the biographers of Keats like Gittings and Bates.

But the references are paltry and leave much on the readers’ imagination and calculated guesses to reach some sanctity of the amorous relationship between the brilliant poet and the widow of a war hero. 16 years elder than him. It is said but not confirmed that Isabella Jones was the ‘widow of Lieutenant William Jones killed on Nelson’s Victory at Trafalgar on 21 October 1805’

Isabella Jones was well-read and talented. And her beauty was a top-up to her talents and learning making her very warmly accepted in society. She was cultured and her drawing-room was a hub of the intelligentsia. But at any stretch of the imagination. So intimate a relationship between a poor yet promising poet just twenty-one years old and a refined and financially secure lady of thirty-eight years did not seem possible. Yet there definitely was a storm in a teacup- of course, a storm of passionate love. An irony is that Keats not only initiated the infatuation but was badly obsessed- imprisoned by his own sensual imagination.

John Keats First Met Isabella Jones

John Keats first met Isabella Jones on 25 May 1817, in the village of Bo Peep, near Hastings, where he was on holiday. Keats admits in his letter to his brother that he had ‘warmed with her… and kissed her’. The first meeting in itself turned too much informal.

These advances were from the side of Keats and Isabella rather without hurting the feelings of Keats checked his more violent advances. Though Keats ‘frequented her rooms’, the 22 October 18- a chance meeting is referred in detail when Keats visited her cultured residence in the central London district of Fitzrovia.

Keats was highly tantalized by the atmosphere of her house- its music, aeolian harp, art, booze, busts, books, and birds. Here he wanted to satiate his sexual longings for her but was again very politely refused.

Keats writes in his letter to George, his brother, ‘As I had warmed with her before and kissed her – I though[t] it would be living backward not to do so again – she had a better taste: she perceived how much a thing of course it was and shrunk from it – not in a prudish way but in as I say a good taste – She cont[r]ived to disappoint me in a way which made me feel more pleasure than a simple kiss could do’ …. ‘I have no libidinous thought about her – she and your George [Georgiana] are the only women à peu près de mon age whom I would be content to know for their mind and friendship alone’.

Keats Were Turned Down

Though the more passionate, rather carnal advances of Keats were turned down. Keats, maybe to smoother it, accepted that he had no ‘libidinous thought about her’. The relationship continued in an anonymous manner. There was an unwritten pact between them that the acquaintance should not leak out to their mutual acquaintances and Keats never referred her name anywhere, even in his letter to the closest ones. She was referred as the lady- ‘I have met with that same Lady again,’ and, ‘I passed her and turned back – she seemed glad of it; glad to see me and not offended at my passing her before’

But the suppressed desire gave vent to the finest poems. We find a reflection of his feelings both satisfied and dissatisfied in his poems ‘You Say You Love’, ‘Bright Star, ‘Would I Were Steadfast as Thou art’ and ‘Hush, Hush! Tread Softly!’

Passionate Beloved Isabella Jones

Rather than a passionate beloved Isabella Jones was more a mentor lady love for him. She used to give him gifts and games for his ailing brother Tom, who ultimately died of tuberculosis. Not only this, Richard Woodhouse, his friend writes that the subject of famous, long, and on the yardstick of those puritan times, sexually controversial poem ‘The Eve of St. Agnes’ was suggested to Keats by no other than Isabella Jones.

One of the masterpieces of Keats’ poems is about the ritual when young virgins dream about their future husbands. And perhaps it was composed after his meeting with Isabella at her residence. Because the backdrop of the poem echoes the tantalizing atmosphere of her house. Though in this poem by the submission of Madeline to Porphyro Keats satisfies his own unsatiated sexual drive for Isabella.

Later Fanny Browne came into Keats’ life and he was enveloped in her personality. Till his death just knocking at his doors. In his own words, Isabella remained ‘an enigma’ for him – a mirage. Perhaps the passionate desire for Isabella mellowed in the love for Fanny Browne.
When Keats died on 23 February 1821 in Rome, in England. Isabella Jones was the first to be notified of his death.(writer: SANJAY KUMAR KUNDAN)

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