The excerpts From Keats's letters are in normal text; my comments on the excerpts are italicized.

Excerpt 1

"As tradesmen say every thing is worth what it will fetch, so probably every mental pursuit takes its reality and worth from the ardour of the pursuer--being in itself a nothing--"
March 3, 1818
Keats typically is thinking in terms of opposites--specifically, intellect and passion; in this instance his desire for unity is achieved by his making the "mental pursuit" also a passionate or ardent pursuit. His poems are ardent mental pursuits. It should come as no surprise that Keats valued intensity or that his poems are generally intense.

Excerpt 2

" . . several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in Literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously--I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason--Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge. This pursued through Volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration."
December 21, 27 (?), 1817
In this famous passage, Keats explains the concept of Negative Capability, a concept which has been frequently used by literary critics to the present day. Negative Capability (the willingness to remain in doubt or not to resolve conflicts or ambiguities) may be seen in his poetry; for instance, in the concluding questions of "Ode to a Nightingale." Appropriately, the phrase itself is an oxymoron, a joining of conflicting or opposing elements. Keats is mistaken in his description of Coleridge and misuses the word "penetralia" (there is no singular form of this word, only the plural "penetrale"); however, neither of these errors detracts from the validity of his theory.

Excerpt 3

"Well--I compare human life to a large Mansion of Many Apartments, two of which I can only describe, doors of the rest being as yet shut upon me--The first we step into we call the infant or thoughtless Chamber, in which we remain as long as we do not think--We remain there a long while, and notwithstanding the doors of the second Chamber remain wide open, showing a bright appearance, we care not to hasten to it; but are at length imperceptibly impelled by the awakening the thinking principle--within us-we no sooner get into the second Chamber, which I shall call the Chamber of Maiden-Thought, than we become intoxicated with the light and the atmosphere, we see nothing but pleasant wonders, and think of delaying there for ever in delight: However among effects this breathing is father of is that tremendous one of sharpening one's vision into the heart and nature of Man--of convincing ones nerves that the World is full of Misery and Heartbreak, Pain, Sickness and oppression--whereby This Chamber of Maiden Thought becomes gradually darken'd and at the same time on all sides of it many doors are set open--but all dark--all leading to dark passages--We see not the ballance of good and evil. We are in a Mist--We are now in that state--We feel the 'burden of the Mystery'. . ."
May 3, 1818
In identifying only two of the apartments, he is referring to the stage he has reached in his own life. He has progressed to thought or intellect; he calls this thought "maiden" in the sense of (1) first or (2) untried or (3) both. Thinking is a pleasurable experience but graduating from it reveals the misery and sorrow in the world. This insight brings the realization that there are other doors but they lead to "dark passages"; "dark" may mean (1) unknown or (2) dismal or (3) both. Humanity, not just Keats, is in this situation; we are all of us unclear ("in a Mist") about our "dark" choices and burdened by "the Mystery" or dark unknown.

Excerpt 4

". . .I love you; all I can bring you is a swooning admiration of your Beauty. . . . You absorb me in spite of myself--you alone: for I look not forward with any pleasure to what is call'd being settled in the world; I tremble at domestic cares--yet for you I would meet them, though if it would leave you the happier I would rather die than do so. I have two luxuries to brood over in my walks, your Loveliness and the hour of my death. O that I could have possession of them both in the same minute. I hate the world: it batters too much the wings of my self-will, and would I could take a sweet poison from your lips to send me out of it. From no others would I take it. I am indeed astonish'd to find myself so careless of all charms but yours--remembering as I do the time when even a bit of ribband was a matter of interest with me. What softer words can I find for you after this--what it is I will not read. Nor will I say more here, but in a Postscript answer any thing else you may have mentioned in your Letter in so many words--for I am distracted with a thousand thoughts. I will imagine you Venus tonight and pray, pray, pray to your star like a Hethen."
This letter was written to Fanny Brawne, his beloved fiance. Even in the throes of intense love, pain and pleasure were intertwined for Keats, his two "luxuries" being thoughts of her loveliness and thoughts of his death. The greatest fulfillment he can imagine is to possess her and to die simultaneously. Of course, death here may have sexual overtones. Keats closed the letter, "Your's ever, fair Star." Some critics have connected this letter to the sonnet "Bright Star" because of the references to Fanny as a star and because of the connection of death, love, and swooning (compare this connection to the last line of the sonnet).

Excerpt 5

"--The common cognomen of this world among the misguided and superstitious is 'a vale of tears' from which we are to be redeemed by a certain arbitrary interposition of God and taken to Heaven--What a little circumscribed straightened notion! call the world if you Please 'The vale of Soul-making' Then you will find out the use of the world (I am speaking now in the highest terms for human nature admitting it to be immortal which I will here take for granted for the purpose of showing a thought which has struck me concerning it) I say "Soul making" Soul as distinguished from an Intelligence-- There may be intelligences or sparks of the divinity in millions--but they are not Souls till they acquire identities, till each one is personally itself. Intelligences are atoms of perception--they know and they see and they are pure, in short they are God--how then are Souls to be made? How then are these sparks which are God to have identity given them--so as ever to possess a bliss peculiar to each ones individual existence? How, but by the medium of a world like this? This point I sincerely wish to consider because I think it a grander system of salvation than the chrystain religion--or rather it is a system of Spirit-creation--This is effected by three grand materials acting the one upon the other for a series of years--These Materials are the Intelligence--the human heart (as distinguished from intelligence or Mind) and the World or Elemental space suited for the proper action of Mind and Heart on each other for the purpose of forming the Soul or Intelligence destined to possess the sense of Identity. I can scarcely express what I but dimly perceive--and yet I think I perceive it--that you may judge the more clearly I will put it in the most homely form possible--I will call the world a School instituted for the purpose of teaching little children to read--I will call the Child able to read, the Soul made from that school and its hornbook. Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an Intelligence and make it a soul? A Place where the heart must feel and suffer in a thousand diverse ways! Not merely is the Heart a Hornbook, it is the Minds Bible, it is the Minds experience, it is the teat from which the Mind or intelligence sucks its identity--As various as the Lives of Men are--so various become their Souls, and thus does God make individual beings, Souls, Identical Souls of the sparks of his own essence--"
This letter is often read as a background for "Ode to Psyche".

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