“The point of diving into a lake is not immediately to swim to the shore, but to be in the lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water. You do not work the lake out, it is an experience beyond thought. Poetry soothes and emboldens the soul to accept the mystery.”
The words may or may not long belong to the poet John Keats. They were spoken by Ben Whishaw when he played the famous romantic poet in the 2009 film ‘Bright Star.’ And while they can’t be directly attributed to the poet themselves, they speak completely to what it is to read the poetry of John Keats.
The romantic poet, who lived only to the age of 25, wrote what is considered some of the most beautiful poetry in English. From ‘Bright Star’ to ‘Ode to A Nightingale,’ and my personal favourite, ‘La Belle Dame San Merci.’
His life was tragically short and his love tragically beautiful, perhaps as with all artists who die young. It is no surprise then that the last home he lived in before his death has since become a museum about his life. If anything, it is more surprising that I have not visited it yet.
The sleepy house is tucked away in London’s Hampstead. Just across the corner from the sprawling park, and a two-minute walk from the Hampstead Heath Railway Station.
The area breathes history, tall red brick buildings covered in ivy and lamp-posts that pre-date Narnia on every street. Café’s too line the way, from the modern wooden hipster café to the traditional tearooms that will happily serve you a sandwich and a KitKat.
The house could almost be missed if you don’t know where it is. Pulled back from the road, it is completely surrounded by a walled garden, the kind of open space you could only dream of in a London property. The garden is traditionally English with sculpted trees and green lawns.
There are benches dotted around the garden, and people make the most of them. The small grounds are free to enter and entertain everyone from the modern poet staring at their page pen in hand, to mothers sat on the grass letting their two-year-olds toddle around in contained and contented happiness.
The house itself is entered by the back. A narrow but bright hallway takes you to the shop where tickets can be purchased. £6.50 for an adult, and £4.50 for concession. Then there is the house to wander. Free tours are offered, or you can take yourself around at your own pace.
And like poetry it is a place to surround yourself and luxuriate in. There is nothing particularly grabbing about the house, yet it maintains a freshness that you can’t help but feel the poet would be proud of. The usual stuffy quaintness of an English heritage home is absent, most likely due to the tall windows that let in streams of light even on the cloudiest of days.
Lines of his poetry are placed around the walls. Reminding you that beauty was found and created here. Down the stairwell to the basement, above dried lavender and cinnamon we read the words, “the great beauty of Poetry is, that it makes everything, every place interesting.”
In the kitchen you are invited to take a paper plate and pen a verse of your own. These are placed on the china cabinet, small delightful poems about favourite foods. A pleasant reminder that amongst Keats’ full works were lighter poems like, ‘There Was a Naughty Boy.’
The most entrancing and perhaps magical part of the home is knowing that it was the place of his love for Fanny Brawne. The house, once two homes, kept them both separated by only a wall. While living here in 1819 Keats wrote 39 love letters to her.
You can feel the love and peace etched into the walls. For a pleasant afternoon of calm, this is the place to go.