Lives ‘Writ in Water’: Keats’s Unwritten Epic

Thursday, October 5, 2023 - 17:00

Lives ‘Writ in Water’: Keats’s Unwritten Epic a talk by Dr Meiko O'Halloran on Thursday 5 October at 5 pm
This talk explores Keats’s mysterious choice of subject for his final poem. While sailing to Italy in the autumn of 1820 and in the months before he died, Keats told Joseph Severn about an epic poem he wanted to write on Sabrina, the legendary goddess of the River Severn in Milton’s early work, Comus. While the idea may have started as a pun on Severn’s name, this talk reveals further reasons for Keats’s interest in Sabrina and how her story connected with his own. Drawing on Severn’s accounts of his conversations with Keats during the voyage and when they lived at No. 26 Piazza di Spagna, and the passages from Milton’s poem that Keats recited to him, I suggest that Keats admired Sabrina’s example of transformation and survival—another life ‘writ in water’ like his own, which could help him imagine his afterlife.

Dr Meiko O’Halloran is a Senior Lecturer in English Literature at Newcastle University, UK. Her research and teaching particularly explores the imaginative ways in which many Romantic-era authors responded to the literary traditions they inherited, striving to create literature that would speak across the ages to new generations of readers. Following her first book, James Hogg and British Romanticism: A Kaleidoscopic Art (2016), she has published a number of articles and book chapters on Keats and is now working on a book which examines Keats’s ambitious pursuit of epic poetry and the inspiration he drew from epic forefathers who included Homer, Dante, and Milton.