The Philosophy of Keats: Negative Capability

Discussion on the works of John Keats.

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The Philosophy of Keats: Negative Capability

Postby Ravenwing » Wed Apr 01, 2015 12:11 am

WHEN reading John Keats' "The Human Seasons (both versions)," I noticed that some of its lines seem to give further definition as to what Keats meant when he mentioned "Negative Capability" in one of his letters from 1817.

"he hath his Autumn ports
And havens of repose when his tired wings
Are folded up, and he content to look
On mists in idleness—to let fair things
Pass by unheeded as a threshold brook."


"quiet coves
His soul has in its Autumn, when his wings
He furleth close; contented so to look
On mists in idleness—to let fair things
Pass by unheeded as a threshold brook."

IF those lines be about Negative Capability, then that means Negative Capability is autumnal, and similar to the emotions that a person might feel if an aged family member of theirs has been suffering from a serious illness, and has been laid to rest and is now at peace. It is bittersweet for the family—a sense of sadness for the loss of their beloved is experienced, but there is also a sense of calm amongst them, for there is comfort in knowing that their beloved is no longer in pain, and there is comfort in the belief that their beloved's soul has become free to move forward in accordance with the wisdom of their family religion.

AS Keats himself in his letter from 1817 did describe Negative Capability as "without any irritable reaching after fact and reason", it seems that Keats did apply the word "capability" in that letter of his "as the reach towards fact and reason", and that its negation—its lack of capability—must therefore be about the things in life, or beyond, which animals and humans using only their senses can never be scientifically certain about, because "modern science" is limited to the senses, whether those sense be naked, microscopic, or telescopic. Thus "modern science" is incapable of proving or disproving the existence of God, and the afterlife, as there cannot be built a microscope or telescope that is powerful enough with which to peer into Valhalla, Olympus, or Heaven. The mystery of human existence—why do we exist? what is the afterlife like?—is one of the joys of the devoutly religious, isn't it? The afterlife that those of us whom be spiritual have faith in, 'tis utterly beyond the scope of modern scientific investigation—'tis fully beyond the reach of mere animal fact and reason: the kind that does not include spiritual belief. Whilst living on Earth, we are not capable of knowing in a modern scientific manner as to what the afterlife is like, but we are capable of believing that the afterlife does exist, and the most spiritual of us—the world's true poets (such as John Keats)—are capable of knowing in a visionary manner what it is like.

I put forth the argument which claims that Keats' descriptions of fairytales and mythical lands, are examples of him using Negative Capability in order to describe what "science" is not capable of describing, and yet what places he believes does nonetheless exist. This interpretation of "Negative Capability" is in stark contrast to atheism, and materialism, which posits that God does not exist, and that there is no such thing as an afterlife, as neither can be proven to exist by means of mere animal fact and reason. But the Viking funeral which consisted of a ship that contained the deceased, was set afloat, and then lit on fire, because Valhalla could not be sailed to by means of an earthly vessel, for its location be a mystery of which only the soul can journey to. It is only the poet, and never the scientist, whose imagination be so soulful that it can provide description to mere mortals, of Valhalla, and other religious lands, such as Olympus, and Heaven.

THE French poet, Arthur Rimbaud, in his famous "lettres du voyant" which he wrote in 1871 when 16 years old, speaks with the same spirit: of the poet as a prophet, as a seer, as a visionary, as did Keats at 22 years old in his "Negative Capability" letter from 1817. A strange coincidence it is, that both of those years contain the same numbers.

THIS "Negative Capability" philosophy of his, is why I think that Keats was an astrologer, like his hero Shakespeare was. There are many works by Shakespeare and Keats that each make mention of astrology, and none in a disparaging way.

WHAT other works and their lines by Keats do you suppose might provide example for what he meant by Negative Capability?

From Ravenwing.
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Re: The Philosophy of Keats: Negative Capability

Postby Raphael » Fri Nov 06, 2015 2:10 pm

Keats was not into astrology, never studied it or mentioned it. Just because you are heavily into it doesn't mean that he was. :roll:
Astrology has no basis in science anyway- it is just for fun, not meant to be taken seriously. did not live to see-
who we are because of what you left,
what it is we are in what we make of you.

Peter Sanson, 1995.
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