Eternity The Romantics


Eternity

Series presented by Peter Ackroyd about a group of visionary writers. Byron, Keats and Shelley lived short lives but the radical way they lived them would change the world.


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Transcript


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I'm going to take you on a journey into the human imagination...

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..back to a time when the values and ideas and dreams of the modern world were born.

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200 years ago, monarchy was falling to the power of people's revolutions.

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Industry and commerce were becoming the driving forces of existence,

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and advances in science

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were changing the way life itself was understood.

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Artists all over the world

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were inspired by these times of dramatic change.

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In Britain, a group of poets and novelists pioneered

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an alternative way of living and of looking at the world.

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Among them were John Keats,

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Lord Byron

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and Percy Bysshe Shelley.

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The enduring power of their writing haunts us to this day,

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and inspires us still with visions of eternity.

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In Oxford during the winter of 1811, an anonymous pamphlet was posted to

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all the bishops and heads of the colleges at the university.

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The pamphlet was entitled The Necessity Of Atheism.

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It proclaimed that, without proof of the existence of God,

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it was nonsense to believe in him.

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Within 20 minutes of a copy of the pamphlet being placed in the window

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of a bookshop on the high street,

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a clergyman entered and demanded that all copies be burned.

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The writer was committing blasphemy, a crime punishable with imprisonment.

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He was attacking the very foundations

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of European civilisation.

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This is the story of a search for meaning in a world without God.

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Around the turn of the 18th century,

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revolutions had broken open the conventional social order.

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Everything seemed possible,

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and in the way they lived, the way they loved

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and the way they died, the Romantics were to define the way we live now.

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In the autumn of 1797, the writer Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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was exploring the wild coastline of North Devon.

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He came upon this enchanted vale around the tiny Culbone Church.

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But he was in ill health,

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suffering from dysentery.

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He rested here at this farmhouse known as Ash Farm.

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And here he took a remedy for his pains.

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This drug was to be the source

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of some of the most remarkable lines of poetry in the English language.

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The drug was opium.

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As he sat in the warm sunshine outside this farmhouse, Coleridge lapsed into sleep.

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The drug took hold of him and lifted him to a different level of consciousness.

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He was beginning a voyage of discovery to the limits of the human imagination.

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In Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure dome decree

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Where Alph the sacred river ran

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Through caverns measureless to man Down to a sunless sea.

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So twice five miles of fertile ground With walls and towers were girdled round

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And there were gardens bright With sinuous rills

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Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree

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And here were forests ancient as the hills

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Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

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On waking, Coleridge vividly remembered his strange oriental vision.

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He instinctively put pen to paper to recount it in a poem.

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Caverns measureless to man down to a sunless sea

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So twice five miles of fertile ground

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With walls and towers were girdled round...

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And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills...

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Where blossomed...

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So twice five miles of fertile ground...

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But after writing down a few lines, he was interrupted

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by a visitor from the local village of Porlock.

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Later, when he sat down to write, he had lost the vision.

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I still retained some vague recollection of the general purport of the vision.

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Yet with the exception of some eight or ten scattered lines and images,

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all the rest have passed away,

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like the images on the surface of a stream into which a stone has been cast.

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The importance of this poem lies not only in the enchanted words themselves.

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The poet was most fascinated by the way the vision presented

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itself to him, and tormented by the frustrating nature of its demise.

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The mind was a mystery which Coleridge wished to solve.

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But in his exploration of the imagination,

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Coleridge was to be drawn into deep personal despair.

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Opium had unlocked the door to the inner world,

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but slowly addiction took hold of him.

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He was taking larger and larger quantities of laudanum,

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a solution of opium mixed with alcohol.

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Beware, beware his flashing eyes, his floating hair

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Weave a circle round him thrice And close your eyes with holy dread

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For he on honeydew hath fed And drunk the milk of Paradise.

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By 1807, Coleridge was paranoid, desperate and without employment...

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..wrecked on the shore of an increasingly unstable life.

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Yet his experiences with opium would transform our understanding of the imagination.

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At the time, though, many suspected that he had gone insane.

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Such strange visions would not be tolerated.

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The world was becoming increasingly reliant

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upon the laws of science.

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In the late 18th century, pioneering anatomists

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looked at the body in order to understand the secrets of life.

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They dissected, noted and charted every bone, organ and muscle,

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every vein, artery and ligament.

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They reduced the human form to the components of a machine.

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For the Romantics, anatomy was an empty and purposeless pursuit.

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They believed that the body was pervaded by a spirit that defied categorisation.

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It was an infinite and eternal power that manifested itself in the form of imagination.

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It could not be charted or understood in scientific terms.

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Samuel Taylor Coleridge argued these theories

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at a great place of scientific learning,

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the Royal Institution of Great Britain.

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The imagination I hold to be the living power and prime agent

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of all human perception...

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..and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation.

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A poet described in ideal perfection

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brings the whole soul of man into activity.

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Coleridge saw the imagination as the soul itself,

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and he was suggesting that the key to the identity of all human beings

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lay within the recesses of the mind.

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He was an early exponent of the unconscious before that word even existed.

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He believed that the imagination had the ability

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to create new worlds, and even to change lives.

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New theories of the imagination and of anatomy saw the world in very different ways.

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But they both implied that God and religion were not at the centre of existence.

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Each person had a body and a mind and was in control of them.

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In October 1815, a young Londoner attended

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his first anatomy demonstration as a student at Guy's Hospital.

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His name was John Keats.

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Keats became a trainee surgeon and experienced the full horror

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of conducting operations without anaesthetic.

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On one occasion, as his knife cut through the flesh of a patient

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who was pinned down screaming on the table,

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Keats's sympathetic imagination overwhelmed him.

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The patient's pain became his own pain.

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This experience would change the course of Keats's life.

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My last operation was the opening of a man's temporal artery.

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I did it with the utmost nicety...

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but reflecting on what passed through my mind at the time,

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my dexterity seemed a miracle...

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and I never took up the lancet again.

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Keats had discovered the power of empathy.

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He chose art over science,

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the imagination over the body, and became a poet.

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He wanted to heal through his words and images.

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A poet is a sage,

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a humanist, physician to all men.

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Keats and a new generation of Romantics would study the human soul

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as intensely as the anatomists had studied the human body.

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Their quest was to answer the greatest questions of all,

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to understand the true nature of life, to explain their purpose on the Earth.

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For centuries, people had sought meaning in their lives

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by believing in God, in heaven and in hell.

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But one young Romantic claimed that atheism

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was the necessary foundation of a free and enlightened life.

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He was the author of this anonymous pamphlet,

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a brilliant young Oxford student who claimed that, without

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proof of the existence of God, it made no sense to believe in him.

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The author's name was Percy Bysshe Shelley.

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All religious nations are founded solely on authority.

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All the religions of the world forbid examination and do not want one to reason.

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Authority wants one to believe in God.

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This god is himself founded only on the authority of a few men who

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pretend to know him and to come in his name and announce him on Earth.

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A god made by man undoubtedly has need of man

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to make himself known to man.

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On 25th March, Shelley heard a knock on his door.

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Within moments, he was hauled up in front of a university committee

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and expelled from Oxford.

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Free of God and the moral constraints of religion,

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Shelley was able to recreate himself.

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In pursuit of self-knowledge and self-fulfilment, he became

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a pioneer in new ways of living, not least in the way he loved women.

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After leaving Oxford, Shelley married a young woman named Harriet Westbrook.

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They had a child together.

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But Shelley soon tired of his wife.

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He would disappear to meet another young woman in Old St Pancras Churchyard.

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This new love was called Mary.

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Shelley used to meet her here beside the grave of her mother.

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It was even suggested that Shelley took Mary's virginity on the gravestone itself.

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He wrote a poem about the experience of their union.

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To spend years thus

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and be rewarded as thou, sweet love, requited me when none were near

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Oh, I did wake From torture for a moment's sake

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Thy lips did meet mine tremblingly

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Thy dark eyes threw their soft persuasion on my brain

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Charming away its dream of pain.

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Shelley also wrote a surprising but honest letter to Harriet, his wife.

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I am united to another.

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You are no longer my wife.

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Perhaps I have done you injury, but surely most innocently

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and unintentionally in having commenced any connection with you.

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Shelley's own intensity of feeling was the most important thing to him.

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He was relentless in the pursuit of self-gratification

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and self-knowledge.

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At four o'clock in the morning of 28th July 1814,

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Shelley stood impatiently on the corner of Skinner Street in London, beside a horse and carriage.

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In time, two young women appeared carrying small bundles.

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Shelley's lover Mary and her stepsister Claire Claremont

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were running away with him to the Continent.

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Love withers under constraint.

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Its very essence is liberty.

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It is compatible neither with obedience, jealousy nor fear.

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Love is free.

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To promise forever to love the same woman is not less absurd

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than to promise to believe the same creed.

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Such a vow in both cases excludes us from all inquiry.

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Shelley sought liberty in the way he loved.

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To elope with one woman would have caused scandal enough,

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but he was violating social conventions

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in order to pursue his most intense feelings.

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In doing so, he pioneered the notion of free love.

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The liberty with which we conduct our modern love affairs owes much to Shelley's actions.

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The Romantic movement was reaching its final significant flourish.

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These pioneers were defining a new way of living,

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driven by individual will and feeling.

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And a whole generation of adoring fans was being inspired by a poet

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who became the first modern celebrity.

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His family home was Newstead Abbey.

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This man would pioneer an extreme form of living from within the halls of the aristocracy.

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His name was George Gordon, the sixth Lord Byron.

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The great object of life

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is sensation,

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to feel that we exist,

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even though in pain.

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It is this craving void which drives us to gaining, to battle,

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to travel.

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In 1812, Byron prepared a poem for publication.

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It was about a noble but disaffected wanderer,

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not dissimilar to Byron himself,

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who travelled Europe in search of exotic experience.

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His house, his home, his heritage, his land

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The laughing dames in whom he did delight

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With large blue eyes, fair locks and snowy hands

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Might shake the saintship of an anchorite

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And long and fed his youthful appetite

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His goblets brimm'd with every costly wine

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And all that mote to luxury invite

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Without a sigh he left to cross the brine

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And traverse Paynim shores and pass Earth's central line.

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Childe Harold was a sensation and became an instant bestseller.

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Byron awoke the next morning to find himself famous.

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He was about to make a decision that would help to define our modern world.

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He chose to embrace celebrity, to live his life in public.

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This was his way of giving meaning to his own existence.

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In this new world without God, Byron was worshipped by his fans.

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There is a fire and motion of the soul which will not dwell

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In its own narrow being, but aspire Beyond the fitting medium of desire

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And, but once kindled, quenchless evermore

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Preys upon high adventure, nor can fire

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Of aught but rest, a fever at the core.

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Fatal to him who bears, To all whoever born.

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Byron's readers were fascinated by the mystery at the heart of the hero.

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Why was Childe Harold so melancholy, so difficult to satisfy?

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They were more than eager to attribute the unhappiness

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to Byron's turbulent personal life, to his own desire for excess and extreme experience.

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There was a deluge of enthusiastic letters.

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"My dear Lord Byron, I am a poor country girl

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"who has not the happiness of knowing you,

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"but I admire you so very, very much that you must excuse this madness."

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"Should curiosity prompt you and should you not be afraid of gratifying it

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"by trusting yourself alone in the Green Park at seven o'clock..."

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"Upon perusing Childe Harold, I became, as it were, animated

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"by a new soul, alive to wholly novel sensations."

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"When you see anybody in ecstasies,

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"think of your eternally devoted Sophia Louisa McDonald."

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Lord Byron's fans all wanted to be Romantics,

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dissatisfied, yearning for new experience and heightened sensation.

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And Byron could not help but act upon many amorous proposals.

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Scandalous scenes were played out here at his house in Piccadilly.

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On 2nd February 1816,

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Byron received a message from his wife's legal representatives.

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She was asking for an official separation.

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Byron would use the scandal to enhance his theatrical public image.

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The fashionable world was divided into two parties,

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mine, consisting of a very small minority.

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The reasonable world was naturally on the stronger side,

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which happened to be the ladies, as was most proper and polite.

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The press was active and scurrilous.

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London was filled with rumours about Lord Byron.

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Whether they were true or not no longer mattered.

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The myth of the Romantic personality of Byron was much stronger than any reality.

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It was alleged that he was having sexual relations with his half-sister Augusta.

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The charge of incest would have destroyed him,

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but the greatest danger of scandal was that he would be publicly accused of homosexuality.

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Even if it were mentioned in court, it would consign him to utter ruin and degradation.

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I was accused of every monstrous vice

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by public rumour and private rancour.

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My name, which had been a knightly or a noble one since my fathers

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helped to conquer the kingdom for William the Norman, was tainted.

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Faced with the possibility that he might be publicly accused of incest

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and sodomy, he agreed to sign an official deed of separation

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in the spring of 1816.

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Two days later, on the morning of 23rd April,

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a huge crowd gathered outside Byron's house.

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The crowd was hungry for a glimpse of the celebrated man, and to witness another turn

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in the sensational story that was unfolding.

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Byron was afraid that he might even be lynched when he left the house.

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He fought his way through the crowds to his carriage and fled from England, never to return.

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Byron wandered Europe pursued by scandal, and dispossessed.

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He finally made a home in Venice.

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I felt that if what was whispered

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and muttered and murmured was true, I was unfit for England.

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If false,

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England was unfit for me.

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I withdrew,

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but this was not enough.

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His writing continued to perpetuate

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the Romantic myth that surrounded him.

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In other countries, in Switzerland,

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in the shadow of the Alps and by the blue depths of the lakes,

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I was pursued and breathed upon by the same blight.

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I crossed the mountains, but it was the same.

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So I went a little farther and settled myself by the waves of the Adriatic...

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..like the stag at bay who betakes him to the waters.

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For the public at large, Lord Byron had redefined the figure of the poet

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as a man of danger and of intrigue.

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He was a living poem, a man of insatiable passion and of infinite experience.

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But this wasn't everybody's idea of a poet.

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A poet is the most unpoetical of anything in existence,

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because he has no identity,

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he is continually informing and filling in some other body.

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As to the poetical character itself, it is not itself,

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it has no self,

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it is everything and nothing.

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It has no character.

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Keats believed the genius of the poet lay in the transcendence

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of the ordinary self, in the loss of identity.

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This way he could imagine himself

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in a thousand different lives and forms.

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Byron despised the quieter and more sensitive outlook of John Keats,

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calling his work "piss-a-bed poetry"

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and "mental masturbation".

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For him, sensationalised experience was the key to the creative imagination.

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Byron was unpretentious about his own writing.

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It may be bawdy

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but is it not life?

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Could any man have written it who has not lived in the world?

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And tooled in a post-chase, in a Hackney coach, in a gondola,

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against a wall in a court carriage, in a vis a vis, on a table

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or under it?

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Without a god to give purpose to his existence, Byron sought meaning

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through a frantic public life of sensation, the bawdier the better.

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John Keats was a very different kind of romantic.

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From his earliest years he experienced the solitude and emptiness of death.

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But, through them, he reached towards beauty and meaning.

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On 15th April 1804,

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the first in a long line of tragedies that would affect his life

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occurred here on City Road in London.

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Keats was only eight years old.

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At one in the morning a watchman spotted a riderless horse astray on the road.

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This disturbing image meant tragedy.

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The watchman ran up the street and by the doorway of the nearby chapel

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he discovered the body of a man prostrate on the pavement.

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He was covered in blood from a deep wound to the head.

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The man, named Thomas Keats, died the following morning.

0:37:520:37:59

John Keats had lost his father.

0:37:590:38:04

It was the beginning of a pilgrimage through grief that would also be a journey into the soul.

0:38:040:38:11

Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is,

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to school an intelligence and make it a soul?

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By the time Keats was 23

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he had witnessed the deaths of his mother and his brother,

0:38:320:38:37

and he suffered from fits of depression.

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But there were moments here at his house in Hampstead when his experiences of death

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made him more intensely in love with life than ever.

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How astonishingly does the chance of leaving the world impress a sense of its natural beauties on us.

0:39:050:39:11

I muse with the greatest affection on every flower I have known from my infancy,

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..their shapes and colours are as new to me as if I had just created them with a superhuman fancy.

0:39:190:39:25

BIRD CHIRRUPS

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Thou was not born for death, immortal bird,

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no hungry generations tred thee down.

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The voice I hear this passing night was heard in ancient days

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by emperor and clown.

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Keats imagines the birdsong echoing through time.

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In hearing the bird he experiences infinity for a fleeting moment.

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His own mortal life felt short, and the sensations of living were all the more intense.

0:40:030:40:10

Adieu.

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Adieu, thy plaintive anthem fades, whilst the near meadows,

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over the still stream, up the hillside

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and now tis buried deep in the next valley glades.

0:40:320:40:36

Was it a vision or a waking dream?

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Fled is that music.

0:40:440:40:46

Do I wake or sleep?

0:40:480:40:50

Images of dream and reality, of life and death haunt this poem,

0:40:550:41:01

as they haunted Keats's being,

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and on Thursday 3rd February 1820,

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he was visited by an image that would pursue him until his own death.

0:41:070:41:13

Keats returned to Hampstead from town on a bitter night.

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Even though he was suffering from a cold he had taken a cheap seat

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exposed to the elements on the top of the coach.

0:41:280:41:33

His friend, Charles Brown, later caught sight of him staggering home.

0:41:330:41:39

Quickly, Brown realised that he was severely ill and rushed him to bed in this room.

0:41:420:41:49

As Keats lay down on his pillow, he coughed.

0:42:030:42:06

I know the colour of that blood.

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It is arterial blood.

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I cannot be deceived in that colour.

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That drop of blood is my death warrant.

0:42:330:42:37

I must die.

0:42:390:42:41

Keats was dying of tuberculosis.

0:42:530:42:57

For centuries, those in his extreme plight would have prepared to meet their god.

0:42:570:43:04

But times had changed.

0:43:040:43:06

This new generation of romantic poets was pioneering a life

0:43:060:43:12

many people choose to live now, guided by individual will and desire,

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without belief or allegiance to any god.

0:43:180:43:22

But this meant that the prospect of death could become terrifying.

0:43:220:43:27

Without the solace of an afterlife Keats needed an alternative assurance of eternity,

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and he would find it in art.

0:43:430:43:46

He made the long journey to spend his last days in Rome

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amid the great ruins of that ancient civilisation.

0:43:530:43:57

What little town by a river or seashore,

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or mountain built with peaceful citadel,

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is emptied of this folk this pious morn.

0:44:130:44:16

And, little town, thy streets forever more will silent be.

0:44:160:44:23

And not a soul to tell why thou art desolate, can e'er return.

0:44:250:44:30

Ancient ruins further intensified Keats's sense of mortality.

0:44:350:44:41

He would be alive for only a fraction of the time that these great works had existed,

0:44:410:44:47

but with this came a sense of liberation.

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Oh, attic shape,

0:44:520:44:55

fair attitude,

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with breed of marble men with maidens overwrought,

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with forest branches and the trodden weed...

0:45:030:45:06

Thou silent form doth tease us out of thought as doth eternity.

0:45:090:45:16

Cold pastoral.

0:45:160:45:18

When old age shall this generation waste,

0:45:200:45:23

thou shalt remain in midst of other woe than ours,

0:45:230:45:27

a friend to man,

0:45:270:45:30

to whom now sayest

0:45:300:45:32

beauty is truth,

0:45:320:45:35

truth beauty.

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That is all ye know on Earth, and all ye need to know.

0:45:380:45:42

In this poem, Keats sees the prospect of immortality in the art of antiquity.

0:45:480:45:54

Ancient ruins were the only human achievements that could transcend the destructive process of time

0:45:550:46:03

and give eternal fame to their creators.

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If a poet could achieve such works of genius too, he might live forever,

0:46:070:46:13

his emotions enduring within his words.

0:46:130:46:17

Keats spent his last days bedridden in an apartment overlooking the Spanish Steps.

0:46:270:46:34

Darkling, I listen...

0:46:580:47:00

..and for many a time I have been half in love with easeful death,

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called him soft names in many amused rhyme, to take into the air my quiet breath.

0:47:080:47:14

Now, more than ever, seems it rich to die,

0:47:170:47:21

to cease upon the midnight

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with no pain.

0:47:240:47:27

Keats feared that in death

0:47:450:47:48

he would be forgotten.

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If I should die,

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I have left no immortal work behind me,

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nothing to make my friends proud of my memory.

0:48:030:48:08

But I have loved the principle of beauty in all things,

0:48:100:48:15

and if I had time

0:48:150:48:17

I would have made myself remembered.

0:48:170:48:20

On 23rd February 1821, he died in this room.

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He was in his 26th year.

0:48:350:48:38

In his last hours, Keats thought that his quest for immortality had failed.

0:48:420:48:49

He was buried in Rome three days after his death.

0:48:490:48:53

For his epitaph he chose an inscription that reflected his final sentiments.

0:48:570:49:04

Yet Keats's memory did not dissolve, as he had predicted.

0:49:080:49:12

As the news of his death spread among the Romantics, his poetry began to be read more intensely.

0:49:170:49:24

His words became monuments to his life and his emotions.

0:49:280:49:34

Two months later, word of Keats's death reached a friend who was travelling along the Italian coast.

0:49:420:49:49

He wrote a poem comparing Keats to Adonis, a character from Greek mythology

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whose scattered blood became beautiful roses.

0:50:010:50:05

I weep for Adonais,

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he is dead.

0:50:090:50:11

Oh, weep for Adonais

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though our tears thaw not the frost which binds so dear a head.

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And thou, sad hour,

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selected from all years to mourn our loss,

0:50:250:50:29

rouse thy obscure compeers and teach them thine own sorrow.

0:50:290:50:35

Say, "With me died Adonais."

0:50:350:50:41

Till the future dares forget the past,

0:50:410:50:45

his fate and fame shall be an echo and a light

0:50:450:50:51

unto eternity.

0:50:510:50:53

For Shelley, Keats was a new Adonis.

0:50:540:50:58

His suffering had inspired sublime poetry.

0:50:580:51:02

In these verses, Shelley suggests that Keats was too sensitive,

0:51:040:51:09

too rare to survive the troubles of the world.

0:51:090:51:13

Death and poetic genius became inseparable.

0:51:130:51:18

But death gave the poet a new kind of divinity in a new kind of heaven.

0:51:180:51:26

Shelley was creating the first secular icon.

0:51:300:51:34

He was pioneering a new kind of worship that continues to this day.

0:51:350:51:42

I am born darkly...

0:51:440:51:46

..fearfully afar.

0:51:470:51:49

Whilst burning through the innermost veil of heaven,

0:51:490:51:54

the soul of Adonais, like a star, beacons from the abode where the eternal are.

0:51:540:52:02

For Shelley, poetry became a substitute for religion.

0:52:040:52:08

I burn with impatience for the moment of Christianity's dissolution.

0:52:120:52:17

There is a great and spiritual force to put in its place.

0:52:200:52:24

Poetry is something divine.

0:52:270:52:30

It is the centre and circumference of all knowledge.

0:52:320:52:37

If poetry was the new religion, then the poet could become God.

0:52:490:52:55

This idea led Shelley into a dark place,

0:52:550:52:59

a place of horror and loneliness, of division and self-estrangement.

0:52:590:53:04

A place where he would come face-to-face with his own self.

0:53:040:53:09

On 27th April 1822, Shelley and Mary, together with some friends,

0:53:240:53:31

had travelled to an isolated villa

0:53:310:53:35

in the fishing village of San Torenzo in the Bay of Lerici.

0:53:350:53:39

Shelley became deluded, seeing visions and phantoms all around him.

0:53:390:53:46

I was walking up on the terrace

0:54:070:54:10

when I quite distinctly saw the image of myself.

0:54:100:54:15

The same in every particular,

0:54:150:54:18

walking towards me.

0:54:180:54:20

I...myself,

0:54:290:54:34

my double, came up to me and asked me,

0:54:340:54:40

"How long do you mean to be content?"

0:54:400:54:42

Shelley was questioning the worth of his own earthly existence.

0:54:530:54:59

He was telling himself that only in death would he become a true immortal, a true poet.

0:54:590:55:05

He was being haunted by his own ideas.

0:55:050:55:10

On 8th July, Shelley went out sailing with a friend in the Gulf of Spezia.

0:55:160:55:23

They were sailing in the boat Don Juan, that had been named after one of Byron's poems.

0:55:300:55:36

That day a storm blew up in the south-west.

0:55:400:55:43

The boat never came back.

0:55:430:55:46

Shelley's body was washed up on a shore some ten days later.

0:55:460:55:52

In his pocket was found the book of Keats's poems.

0:55:520:55:57

The corpse was burned on the beach by Lord Byron and a group of friends.

0:56:080:56:14

A fire was lit underneath the great furnace,

0:56:170:56:21

when Frankincense and salt were scattered upon the flames.

0:56:210:56:26

It was a scandalous and atheistic act,

0:56:260:56:30

but one that befitted the Romantics.

0:56:300:56:33

Byron and the other mourners maintained that the heart was not consumed.

0:56:350:56:41

When one of them snatched it out of the flames it remained intact.

0:56:440:56:49

It was preserved and wrapped in a manuscript of Adonais,

0:56:500:56:56

his great elegy to poetic genius.

0:56:560:57:00

The heart and the manuscript are symbols of what had become of the Romantics.

0:57:120:57:18

As they had argued, the body was of no consequence -

0:57:180:57:21

what mattered was the work itself.

0:57:210:57:24

That work represents the spirit of the Romantics,

0:57:240:57:29

a spirit that endures within all of us.

0:57:290:57:33

In the rebellion of each new generation,

0:57:330:57:36

in their desire for fresh experience, in the celebration of originality and of genius,

0:57:360:57:44

even in the modern veneration of the rock star and the actor,

0:57:440:57:49

we can find traces of that romantic legacy.

0:57:490:57:53

It is all around us, as deeply imbued as the belief in liberty

0:57:530:57:58

and the need for self-determination.

0:57:580:58:02

We have become individuals striving towards an uncertain future.

0:58:020:58:08

We are all romantics.

0:58:100:58:12

Byron, Keats and Shelley lived short lives, but the radical way they lived them would change the world. At 19, Shelley wrote The Necessity of Atheism - it was banned and burned, but it freed the Romantics from religion. Through their search for meaning in a world without God, they pioneered the notions of free love, celebrity and secular idolatry that are at the centre of modern Western culture.

For them poetry became the new religion, a way of reaching eternity. Their words are brought to life by Nicholas Shaw, Blake Ritson and Joseph Millson.


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