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Odes to the poet

Amrita V Nair | Updated on February 27, 2021

Off the beaten path: A quiet avenue leading to the grave of the British poet John Keats who died in Rome in February 1821   -  ISTOCK.COM

On the 200th death anniversary of John Keats, celebrating his life and poetry with podcasts that dwell on beauty, nature and mortality

* Hosted by author and self-confessed amateur scholar Jacke Wilson, The History of Literature is the perfect podcast for rediscovering Keats

* Aesthetics is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of art and beauty and this podcast compiles a lecture series on aesthetics delivered by associate professor of philosophy, James Grant, at the University of Oxford

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On February 23 this year, the literary world marked the bicentenary of the death of John Keats, who, over a brief life span of 25 years, wrote poetry of startling beauty and enduring genius. As his contemporary Percy Bysshe Shelley predicted in his poem Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats, Keats’s life and works have been “an echo and a light unto eternity”.

Keats’s enduring appeal comes as no surprise to readers of his work. In his own words from The Fall of Hyperion, Keats believed that a poet has to be a “...a sage; / A humanist, physician to all men” and in his verse, he strove to be all three. His poetry was exceptionally philosophical and sought to answer universal questions about the nature of life and living that humanity continues to grapple with — two centuries after his passing.

John Keats   -  ISTOCK.COM

 

This month, Active Voice celebrates Keats by bringing you four podcasts inspired by his life and the major themes in his poetry.

The History of Literature

Hosted by author and self-confessed amateur scholar Jacke Wilson, The History of Literature is the perfect podcast for rediscovering Keats. Launched in 2015, the podcast explores the evolution of literature from the Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to contemporary classics and has over 300 episodes till date. The podcast provides an excellent compass to situate writers in their historical and cultural context. Wilson himself is a great admirer of Keats and has devoted multiple episodes to Keats’s life and work — two of which were released this month and discuss his odes with literature scholar Anahid Nersessian. Through these episodes, listeners can learn more about Keats’s life, the influences that shaped his writing, as well as his long-lasting impact on the literary world. Wilson’s flair for narrative as well as the experts he invites along for his exploration of literature and literary history make this an excellent listen. Listen at http://historyofliterature.com/

Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art

In Ode on a Grecian Urn, Keats declared, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty — that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” Keats was remarkably preoccupied with the concept of beauty — seeing it as the only true panacea against his other great obsession, mortality. In Endymion, he wrote the oft-quoted lines, “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: / Its loveliness increases; it will never / Pass into nothingness.” Aesthetics is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of art and beauty and this podcast compiles a lecture series on aesthetics that was delivered by associate professor of philosophy, James Grant, at the University of Oxford. The podcast comprises eight episodes in which Grant discusses how aesthetics evolved through the works of philosophers such as Plato and Hume as well as approaches to interpreting and appreciating works of art. Due to its origins as a lecture series, the podcast is certainly more academic than the usual fare. However, it is worth devoting a few hours of your time to it as the podcast is not just informative but also transformative in its ability to help you better appreciate art and literature through an aesthetic lens. Listen at https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/series/aesthetics-and-philosophy-art-lectures

Death in the Afternoon

Trained as a doctor and having experienced the loss of loved ones at a young age, Keats was all too aware of the fragility of human life and often wrote with eerie prescience about his own mortality. Death and mortality are a constant refrain in Keats’s works. In November 1820, he wrote in a letter to his friend Charles Brown, “I have [an] habitual feeling of my real life having past, and that I am leading a posthumous existence.” In the world we live in today, mortality is not a topic that we like to dwell on. However, the hosts of Death in the Afternoon, Caitlin Doughty, Louise Hung, and Sarah Chavez, have no such qualms and instead believe that it is important to dispel myths about death and dying in order to make their listeners “less afraid to talk about the inevitable”. You may recognise Doughty’s name from her web series Ask a Mortician and her role as founder of The Order of the Good Death, an organisation that advocates for more open conversations about mortality. The podcast talks about myriad aspects of death and dying from the significance of our cross-cultural obsession with zombies to the importance of having clear advance medical directives and other legal instructions in place to spare the bereaved with additional bureaucratic hassles. The hosts’ approach to these difficult topics is one that blends candour, sensitivity and sparks of humour. Listen at http://www.orderofthegooddeath.com/podcast

Outside/In

Like other Romantic poets, Keats too was an avid lover of nature. His poems are filled with lush descriptions of the natural world and he often represented nature as a refuge from the strains and stresses of life. Outside/In is a podcast produced by New Hampshire Public Radio and hosted by Sam Evans-Brown that blends storytelling and research to “bring the outdoors to you wherever you are”. The podcast is expansive in the topics it covers — ranging from discussions around the impact of climate change to immersive reflections on humanity’s relationship with nature. Listening to it is a great way to learn something new while also reaffirming one’s ties with nature. Listen at http://outsideinradio.org/

(Active Voice is a monthly column on podcasts)

Amrita V Nair   -  BUSINESS LINE

 

Amrita V Nair is a freelance writer, public policy specialist and podcast enthusiast

Twitter: @amritanairv

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Published on February 27, 2021
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