09 January 2014


Keats' death mask, not mine. I think mine got lost in the mail.
By Brian Thornton

The past few months have given me a renewed appreciation for the great English poet John Keats ("Endymion," "Ode on a Grecian Urn," etc.).

For those of you not familiar with the gentleman in question, he wrote a ton of poetry and published a significant amount of that before his untimely death from tuberculosis at the ripe old age of 25 in 1821.


Not as much.

And I'm nearly twice his age.

Keats' accomplishments are rendered all the more remarkable in my mind by the knowledge that he did most of his best work while dying of tuberculosis. Tuberculosis cut a wide swath through his family, taking his mother and a brother he himself nursed while afflicted with the disease.


I've been fighting a non-lethal, yet chronic  lung ailment since mid-September.

My writing output during that time has been pretty much nil.

Now, as I said, I don't have tuberculosis. What I've got isn't fatal. It's nagging and drags me down and wears me out, as few things (aside from fatherhood or standing underway watches in the navy) have, but it's not killing me. That said, it sure did destroy my momentum on my latest writing project.

And that makes me wonder just how the hell Keats did it.

Granted, he didn't have a marriage and a toddler and a career (he never used the medical degree he earned). But based upon my own limited and humbling experience with this sort of thing, I can't conceive how anyone chronically ill and distracted by poor health could clear the headspace to create the sort of art that Keats did.

I have been losing that battle for months and it's only recently that I've begun to be able to wrap my head around the plot problems in my current novel that need addressing before I can move on out of my months-long stall.

So how the hell did Keats do it?

(Let's not limit it to Keats. He's just one example. There are many others in the world of arts and letters)

I ask because I'm taking advantage of the cyclical artificial "beginning" offered by the new calendar year to both recommit to this project, and ask: what are your goals this year, writing-wise?

Mine? Finish my stalled novel, finish three short stories in varying stages of drafting, and start on my next full writing project.

And all before my kid turns three!

What so you all?


Thoughts on pushing through distraction and knuckling down in true Keatsian fashion?


  1. Brian, hope you're headed toward a complete recovery so you can meet those goals!

  2. Sorry you're having to deal with such an issue, Brian. Here's to a full recovery forthwith!

    My mom has suffered from TB for many years now. Thanks to modern medicine it's no longer the killer it used to be, though she will never be rid of it. When she has her "bad days" she is weak and breathy and coughs up blood, other times she gets along pretty well, though she has had to give up track meets. She weighs in at about 95 lbs. fully clothed and topped with a large head of hair. Like many of her generation (she is 86) she remains thankful for all she has, and is eternally optimistic. If Keats was anything like her, I can see how he did what he did. If it were me, I would probably give up and do a lot of copious weeping.

    I admire your tenacity, Brian. It's a great trait in a writer, and a pretty good one for people in general. Keep it up!

    By the way, I have lulls and doldrums interrupt my writing efforts all the time, and don't even have a valid reason for it.

  3. Brian, you've already given the answer to how Keats did it: he didn't have a toddler and he wasn't writing a novel. I hope you're feeling better!

  4. Lung problems of any kind are very difficult as is any chronic illness. I think the key thing is to balance taking it easy and letting your body rest and doing just enough to feel that you are still writing or doing whatever.
    In my experience, however, time off for illness has often paid dividends in inspiration later on. Just have confidence that your subconscious is still on the case.
    Feel better!

  5. Welcome back and glad you are on the mend!

  6. First of all, prayers and hugs going out to you, Brian.
    Secondly, what we all lack in this day and age are servants, servants, servants. Yes, Keats was dying, but he didn't have children, or a job: he was being housed, clothed and fed by Charles Brown. His two main jobs were to keep breathing and write poetry. For a while, he did.

  7. I agree with Elizabeth and Eve,by golly: being saddled with kids, a wife, and housework -- with ne'er a servant in sight (harrumph) -- it's no wonder my writing suffers!

    Keep the faith, buddy!

  8. Brian, I wish you a speedy and complete recovery!

  9. Hey, Brian, keep the faith. Here's to a speedy recovery.

    It would be interesting some time to list all of the poets and writers who died young (pre-forty). If I am not mistaken, Poe died in his late 30's. Shelley. I'm sure there were others. I certainly don't have that problem.

  10. Brian, Glad you're feeling better. I hope you're 100% soon.

  11. Lord, Brian, what a bad autumn you had. I hope you are on the way toa quicker recovery. What you said about keats reminds me of what Tom Lehrer said about Mozart. "“It is a sobering thought that when Mozart was my age, he had been dead for two years.”


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