John Keats’s Exquisite Love Letter to Fanny Brawne
By Maria Popova
Exactly a year after John Keats (October 31, 1795–February 23, 1821) extolled the joys of being single, he fell in love. Fanny Brawne wasn’t beautiful by conventional standards, but she possessed enchanting erudition, a pair of intense blue eyes, and a disarming smile. Suddenly, Keats found himself ablaze with the ferocious temporary madness that infatuation inflicts upon the human heart, consumed with thoughts of his beloved and utterly unable to embody the now-legendary notion of “negative capability,” which he had coined two years earlier — the ability to rest into the unknown and not force outcomes upon uncertainty. What greater an impossibility for a heart that desires assurances of everlasting love, that demands nothing less than eternity?
In a letter to Fanny, penned in October of 1819 and found in his altogether magnificent Selected Letters (public library), Keats channels this commonest of human passions with uncommon potency and elegance of sentiment:
My dearest Girl,
This moment I have set myself to copy some verses out fair. I cannot proceed with any degree of content. I must write you a line or two and see if that will assist in dismissing you from my Mind for ever so short a time. Upon my Soul I can think of nothing else — The time is passed when I had power to advise and warn you against the unpromising morning of my Life — My love has made me selfish. I cannot exist without you — I am forgetful of every thing but seeing you again — my Life seems to stop there — I see no further. You have absorb’d me. I have a sensation at the present moment as though I was dissolving—I should be exquisitely miserable without the hope of soon seeing you. I should be afraid to separate myself far from you. My sweet Fanny, will your heart never change? My love, will it? I have no limit now to my love — Your note came in just here — I cannot be happier away from you — ’T is richer than an Argosy of Pearles. Do not threat me even in jest. I have been astonished that Men could die Martyrs for religion — I have shudder’d at it — I shudder no more. I could be martyr’d for my Religion — Love is my religion — I could die for that — I could die for you. My Creed is Love and you are its only tenet — You have ravish’d me away by a Power I cannot resist; and yet I could resist till I saw you; and even since I have seen you I have endeavoured often “to reason against the reasons of my Love.” I can do that no more — the pain would be too great — My Love is selfish. I cannot breathe without you.
Yours for ever
Fanny and John remained engaged and in love until his tragically untimely death of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-five. The three years of their betrothal were among the most poetically productive for Keats.
His Selected Letters is a timelessly enchanting read in its totality. Complement with particular excerpt with the glorious love letters of James Joyce, Iris Murdoch, Vladimir Nabokov, Charlotte Brontë, Oscar Wilde, Ludwig van Beethoven, James Thurber, Albert Einstein, Franz Kafka, and Frida Kahlo, then revisit the paradoxical psychology of why frustration is necessary for satisfaction in love.
Published February 19, 2016