Poor Keats. A Scorpio with Virgo rising and, just to clinch the deal, his moon in Gemini. This is the equivalent of being dealt the Fool, the Lovers (inverted), and the Tower as the three culminating cards in an eleven-card Tarot reading. There is sadness in his life, illness, a consumptive cough. But he has a generous soul, he meets afflictions with renewed resolve, he is capable of great feats of self-discipline. Willing to work hours on meters and rhymes, he is a born dreamer, who can shut his eyes and transport himself in a second to fairy lands forlorn, an enchantment of mist, an early Autumn of heirloom tomatoes and three varieties of peaches. Life is a struggle, but he prevails, and then dies young.
Born today, Keats had a soft spot for Halloween and tried his hand at writing spooky verses that would scare school chums sitting around the campfire during the season of burning leaves. The fact that Keats's moon is in Gemini, that the nocturnal northeastern quadrant is predominant in his natal chart, and above all that Mercury is his ruling planet, supports the view of this poet as a divinely-ordained messenger of the gods trapped in the frail body of an undernourished London lad with his face pressed against the sweet shop window, as Yeats wrote. [Note: If you mix up the names Keats and Yeats, or pronounce one as if it were the other, the chances of your appreciating either are diminished by a seventh but not eliminated. The two names are separated by nearly five decades but linked by lyrical genius, with the prophetic mode ascendant in Yeats, while Keats -- brainy, anxious, and quick as befits a son of Mercury -- wins the laurels for sensuality and freshness: the palpable bubbles in the wine glass, the burst of a grape in the satyr's mouth, the humming of flies on the porch screen in August, keen fitful gusts of wind.]
Keats's Venus is, like his sun, in Scorpio. This is crucial. It means he is as passionate as he is sensitive and a gambler not by instinct or by social association but by his intransigent attachment to his ideals. Among Sinatra songs "All or Nothing At All" comes closest to expressing Keats's point of view. He is one who can be loved by many but who reserves his own love for one. Auden's poem "The More Loving One" depicts a conflict that Keats resolved each time he picked up his pen to write. He knew he was destined to be the more loving one in any partnership, and he would not have had it any other way.
Keats loved the four elements and presented their interaction with the cool exactness that Vermeer brought to the study of light. Not surprisingly, the two share a birthday: the 31st of October. Neither of them enjoyed trick or treating, though Keats did have an impish nature as a youth, and he loved his junkets.
The rumor that Keats died because of a bad review in an infuential Edinburgh journal is to the biography of English poets what history was in the mind of the automobile manufacturer who invented the assembly line, bunk, notwithstanding Byron's oft-quoted couplet in Don Juan: "Tis strange the mind, that fiery particle / should be snuffed out by an article." But the mischievous Byron, born on January 22 (1788) -- an Aquarius trailing clouds of Capricorn, and with Cancer as his rising sign -- was as conflicted on the subject of his younger Cockney-born contemporary as Emerson was about Whitman after the latter expanded Leaves of Grass beyond recognition.
The position of Mercury in the third house has caused the greatest amount of comment among professional astrologists. The consensus view is that Keats resembled certain musical geniuses in his extraordinary talent, his humble origins, and his early death. Though he was less dashing than the noble Byron and less angelic of aspect than Shelley, all the women polled said they would welcome a relationship with Keats, especially if she is in England while he is in Italy writing long gorgeous letters to her about Shakespeare plays, the nature of inspiration, the smell of mortality, and what Adam felt like waking up in Eden. Emily Dickinson, tipsy on lovemaking with Byron, said she nevertheless preferred to spend the night with Keats, despite his well-known proclivity for premature ejaculation. In his poems (ED wrote) Keats proved that greatness descends on the novice only after he has opened himself up to the risk of failure or embarrassment.
If Shelley is the poet of the autumn wind, the wind that destroys and preserves, animating the leaves and the waves and the clouds in a fury of activity, Keats is the poet of autumnal ripeness. Consider his great ode to the "season of mist and mellow fruitfulness." The final stanza of "To Autumn" is as sensual in its handling of language and rhyme as in its vision of the fullness of the harvest-time:
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barrèd clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
The closing music shows that Keats took his own advice to Shelley ("load every rift with ore") to heart. A comparison of the two poets -- the one prospective, anticipatory, the other all righteous fire and visionary fury but also retrospective and melancholy -- is a fascinating study in comparative astrology. It has been said that the single most revealing piece of information you may have about a potential dating partner is whether he identifies himself more with Keats or with Shelley.
The muse visited Keats often in the spring of 1819. First came "The Eve of St. Agnes," the lovers rushing away into the night; then "La Belle Dame Sans Merci," the lover seduced and abandoned. And then came the odes, the greatest odes that English has to offer: to Psyche, to a Nightingale, on a Grecian Urn, on Melancholy, to Indolence. No poet ever packed as much magnificence in a line or wrote stanzas of such melodious charm that a simple, naive statement of Platonic optimism, which in lesser hands would be anticlimactic or worse, should seem to penetrate the heart of the mystery: "Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty."