I didn’t understand Keats when I was 25. I was too strong, too healthy, too oblivious of my own mortality to understand the poetry of a man dying of tuberculosis. But now in middle age I finally understand what he felt when he saw the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum and fell into despair at the thought of the arc of history, something he could understand but never experience.
John Keats Died at 25
By John Keats
My spirit is too weak—mortality
Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep,
And each imagined pinnacle and steep
Of godlike hardship tells me I must die
Like a sick eagle looking at the sky.
Yet ’tis a gentle luxury to weep
That I have not the cloudy winds to keep
Fresh for the opening of the morning’s eye.
Such dim-conceived glories of the brain
Bring round the heart an undescribable feud;
So do these wonders a most dizzy pain,
That mingles Grecian grandeur with the rude
Wasting of old time—with a billowy main—
A sun—a shadow of a magnitude.