The latest Biography on John Keats is supposed to contain a new medico-literary observation that Keats was a victim of his mother’s drinking habit. The Biography is supposed to say (obviously i have not read it- the reviews say that) that Keats was AFFLICTED with FAS ( Foetal Alcoholic Syndrome- just like we name kids before we get to understand them, once a set of symptoms are discovered it is named, usually a LATIN substitute for simple words would be used to ensure that the common man gets impressed, when the Doc names the disease).
There was a time when my dad walked into the house one day and asked me what is the longest word in English? I said after a while that ANTIDISESTABLISHMENTARIANISM was the word. He said, No son, it is HONORIFICABILITUDINITATIBUS!. So i asked my dad for the source of the word and he said that Shakespeare’s play LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST! So we started counting the letters and i said the letters were 28 to his 27! So my dad got defensive and said, ” Can you show me a single publication where the word that you said existed?” The tragedy was that I could not find a single place where i could find the word and both the Webster’s and Cambridge dictionaries at my house failed to show the word. So he went up to the library and took out LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST and showed me the word in Act V. So he had won the round. Reader remember that these things happened when the internet was not in vogue and I was in school- a good many decades back.
Now this FOETAL ALCOHOLIC SYNDROME is one of those high sounding words which may lend awe to the ears of the impressionable hearer. But, if one logically thinks through the ‘new finding’ it is nothing but trash. If Keats’ mom had been a drunkard(not necessarily gender defined) and that had led to FAS in respect of KEATS, then there should be a statistical finding as to the percentage of children so afflicted because of their mom’s drinking and make an observation that Keats belongs to that percentage of kids affected with FAS!
But our biographers already know for a fact that he had a poor pair of lungs and a small head etc. etc. which are of no consequence to the poetic abilities exhibited by Keats. Keats made an immortal statement “Beauty is truth, truth beauty” in ODE ON A GRECIAN URN. Many may never get to the meaning of this PITHY statement. Truth consists of many layers, for example in the evolutionary process of TRUTH, many different layers like in the case of an apple, the bud was a reality, but that reality metamorphosed into a raw apple with seeds inside it and finally the apple appeared. Now if i want to find the BUD that became an APPLE, it would not be possible, but from the general evolutionary process of a bud into a fruit we learn that the bud had become an apple. So when the bud was still in its stalk, the BUD was the TRUTH (with an uncertain future), but the bud evolved into a raw apple and that was the TRUTH at that point in time and when the APPLE became ripe the APPLE was the TRUTH and when the apple became rotten and the seeds fell to the ground and started into another apple sapling the sapling would be the TRUTH. So where is the TRUTH if it is TIME and SPACE bound?
This is the question which Keats answered with the line BEAUTY IS TRUTH, TRUTH BEAUTY! So essentially he said that when we as TIME and SPACE bound human beings, perceive TRUTH, the external reality is also TIME and SPACE bound, therefore all our PERCEPTION OF TRUTH IS CONSTANTLY IN FLUX ALONG WITH THE FLUX OF EXTERNAL REALITY TOO. Therefore, to OBSERVE that MOMENT in time and that PLACE in space and perceive the TOTALITY OF EXISTENCE without speculating on the future possibilities of that being or the past vagaries of the being is TRUTH and that leads to the elevation of the mind. Man cannot see the dirty side of life and discover TRUTH. Perception of BEAUTY is TRUTH. Something may be ugly, but the TRUTH is that we as human beings CAN make it better. So we put an effort to make it better. It is that speculation of the mind to see a BEAUTIFUL POSSIBILITY even in downright dirty and ugly things which elevates the mind and makes humans strive toward s that potential BEAUTY. That perception of a better possibility, while something is still ugly, is BEAUTY and when that BEAUTIFUL goal is proceeded towards TRUTH is achieved.
The moving finger of John Keats has written the poems, which have propelled him to the pinnacle of a movement called ROMANTIC MOVEMENT and not a word or phrase of what he had written could be altered or washed away by these MEDICO-LITERARY BIOGRAPHERS, who delve deep and find nothing and substitute their ignorance with the medico hypotheses currently floated by the pharma companies in collusion with medico-research corporations!
I’d like to end the blog with a quatrain of Fitzgerald’s translation of Omar Khayyam’s RUBAIYAT:-
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.
I hope people calling themselves Biographers should stop declaring such post mortem diagnosis based on sub-standard clinical reporting and correlate it with a of a long dead person!