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10 of the Best John Keats Poems

John Keats was born in October of 1795 in Moorgate, London, England. His first published work ‘O Solitude!’ appeared in 1816. His career stagnated for most of his life, even though he became known in the London literary scene, with contemporaries such as Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Wordsworth.

Throughout his short life, John Keats only published three volumes of poetry and was read by only a very small number of people. Those who did read his poetry, especially critiques, denounced it as worthless. In 1819, he contracted tuberculosis and left for Italy where he suffered in agony, partially due to his medical treatments, until his death in February of 1821 at only twenty-five years old.

Best John Keats Poems


On the Sea

‘On the Sea’ is a traditional sonnet that speaks on the sea as a musical and unknowable force. It can swell to great heights, and bring one down to the deepest depths. Keats shows his fondness for Greek mythology in the text by referencing Hecate, a witch from Greek legends. In the end, the speaker is interested in how the wildness and unpredictability of the sea can ease one’s mental anguish. It is a simple natural pleasure all should take the time to enjoy. 


O Solitude if I must with thee dwell

This piece is another one of Keats’ most beautifully composed sonnets. It describes how a speaker intends to deal with inventible solitude by escaping to a natural wilderness. Within the text, the speaker has come to the conclusion that there is nothing for him to do but accept the fact that he’s going to be staying with “Solitude.” It is a personified force that accompanies him everywhere he goes. He knows that if he can stay outside, then he will be happy. Yet, he could be happier if there was one other to share his joy with him. 


Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art 

This is one of Keats’ best-known sonnets. It speaks on one person’s desire to remain in the company of his lover forever. Through the text, Keats touches on the delicacy of human existence. He utilizes images of the stars, and their solitude and steadfastness as a metaphor for how the speaker would like to be to his lover. He is going to be as unmoving and solitary as he needs to be to please her. 


In Drear Nighted December

Within the poem, ‘In drear nighted December’ John Keats describes the way in which memories of happier and warmer times impact one in the darkest and coldest hours of December. He uses images of trees, the wind, and brooks to trigger the reader’s senses and make them feel as if they too are experiencing the cold of winter and the warmth of memories. The poem concludes with a discussion of how powerful human memories are, and humanity’s inability to numb themselves to their own emotions.


Ode to Psyche 

This is one of Keats’ lesser-known and spoken about odes. It is dedicated to the Greek goddess Psyche. The poet addresses Psyche throughout the text. He tells a short story of his explorations through the forest and refers to her as the most beautiful of the gods and goddesses. The speaker concludes by deciding that he wants to devote his life to worshiping Psyche. She doesn’t have any temples, (as other people have not appreciated her as the speaker is now) he is going to build her one in his mind and supply her with “all soft delight.”  


To Autumn 

To Autumn’ is a beautiful poem that discusses the fall season. It is often considered to be the most skillful of all John Keats’ odes. In the text he makes use of a variety of images that speak to the fruitfulness of the season and of the “maturing sun.” There are blessings and budding fruits and flowers. By the end of the poem, he speaks on how important autumn is, and what a prime topic it is for poets to explore. There are new images of flying insects and birds. The take to the skies, bringing the reader up along with them. 


John Keats

John Keats was born in Moorgate, London, on 31st October, 1795. He was the eldest of four children, and believed, for a time, that he was born in the inn where his father had worked as a stablehand.
Read John Keat's Biography


On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer 

This piece, like many of John Keats’, is associated with one specific experience. In this case, the poet was remembering his first time reading the English translation of Homer’s poetry by George Chapman. Keats compares reading the text to someone finding and exploring a new world. The realms Keats traveled to were “realms of gold.” While there he saw the kingdoms of Troy and Greece and listened to bards who sang about the god Apollo. 


La Belle Dame sans Merci

‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’ tells the story of a knight who is seduced by a fairy-like woman. At first, it seemed to the knight that all his dreams were coming true. He had finally found the beautiful woman he was looking for. Unfortunately for him, he was lured away from his path. He woke up, cold, alone, and disappointed. Was the experience a dream? Probably, but that hardly matters in the larger scheme of things. John Keats was more interested in exploring dream states and other worlds than depicting something realistic. 


Ode on a Grecian Urn 

This piece is near the top of the list of Keats’ most popular poems. It is an ode dedicated to a Greek urn, or vase. The text is rather complex as it relays the history depicted on the urn. The speaker tries to determine what exactly the images are, and what the painter intended when he made them. It delves into the relationship between art and beauty, and their connection to truth and knowledge. Through the text, Keats’ speaker makes the argument that it is through beauty that humanity comes to know the truth. Knowledge, the poem concludes, is the most important thing humankind has. 


Ode to a Nightingale 

In this poem, which is very likely John Keats’ most well-known, the nightingale plays an important role. The speaker listens to it sing and feels jealous of its carefree life. Inspired by the song, he considers giving himself over to the woods and trying to seek out the same kind of freedom the nightingale has. He even thinks about allowing himself to die in the woods. This beautiful vision that the speaker has been entranced by is broken when the bird flies off.  The speaker is left alone. The confusion he felt at the beginning of the poem returns. He is unable to determine what was real and what was a dream. 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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