Philip Hensher

Imagining a future for John Keats — the novelist

His empathy, curiosity and directness were rare among poets at the time, says Lucasta Miller. They were qualities that would have made him a great novelist too

Portrait of Keats based on the miniature by Joseph Severn painted just before the onset of the poet’s final illness. Credit: Alamy

Keats long ago became the meaningless emblem of poetic genius. When the poet Amanda Gorman appeared at President Joe Biden’s inauguration, both detractors and admirers wanted to set her against the highest possible comparison. They didn’t reach for the US’s new Nobel laureate, Louise Glück. They went for Keats: either ‘Amanda Gorman is Keats-level brilliant’ or ‘Well, it’s not exactly Keats’.

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