• Kirk Barbera

A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever: How to Create Like a Poet

Updated: Aug 19, 2019

John Keats’ (1795–1821) parents died when he was very young. While attending school, he found an emotional outlet in books and eventually in poetry. He would spend hours reading in his free time, and he soon felt the need to express himself through poetry. Since he had no access to any poets of his day, he simply read the works of the great poets, studied each line, and wrote his own poetry in their style.

Years later, he decided he would pursue poetry as a profession. He gave himself an incredibly arduous first job; he set out to write a 4,000 line poem revolving around the ancient Greek myth of Endymion. What’s more, he gave himself only seven months to complete it.

Unexpectedly, three months into the project and he began to hate it. He hated the flowery language he was using. He hated the overwriting. Nevertheless, he had committed to writing fifty lines a day, and so he forced himself to finish. He did it.

In doing so, he had transformed himself from a mediocre poet copying the words of others, to a unique artist in his own right.

Due to this inclination to move toward resistance, John Keats would become one of the most important and famous poets ever to live. Unfortunately, he would die very young. The years 1818 and 1819 proved to be pivotal; this was the period he produced the most memorable and impactful poems in the English language. These two years are considered the most productive two years in Western literature. Period.

The lesson he had learned in writing Endymion was that he had the ability to accomplish any writing task he had set out to complete. He developed the habit of writing quickly and with intensity and focus. He could write past writer’s block. He could overcome obstacles.

In the end, by pushing himself to write an incredibly difficult poem, Keats learned to trust his own word. When he told himself he would write a poem, he did. There was no question in his mind that if he could create something this difficult and this immense, then he could succeed in writing shorter pieces. Many of these poems, such as Ode to a Grecian Urn, are still taught in thousands of schools around the Western world to this day.

Lesson: Give yourself the hardest assignment possible.