Poppy is an undergraduate studying English at St Mary’s University. She has worked in education and schools for three years while studying and during a gap year. She is really interested in early years education and would like to be a teacher after she graduates. Poppy is also an English tutor, you can contact her for private tuition through The Tutor Pages or through tweeting @Hannahknight89 who can put you in touch with Poppy.
In 1818 Romantic poet, John Keats, coined the phrase ‘Negative Capability’. A term explained by Keats' Kingdom as ‘the ability to contemplate the world without the desire to try and reconcile contradictory aspects or fit it into closed and rational systems.' This idea is revolutionary and almost defines the Romantic period. Romantic poets were writing during a time of intense political unrest and distress; not just in the UK but internationally. Britain was on the cusp of revolution and the future of the nation politically was incredibly unclear; which was shocking after a period of real political stability. Keats wrote to his contemporary, Coleridge that ‘Negative Capability … is when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason’.
What Keats and his contemporaries are discussing in the 1800’s is empathy in a time of real uncertainty. Although Negative Capability was a new term created by Keats, it is essentially describing the role the Romantic poets took on as a whole. Poets like Blake and Wordsworth were revolutionary sympathisers at a time when nothing was clear and there were no certainties; when nobody knew whether revolution would be for better or for worse. There was total ambiguity, and this is beautifully demonstrated in poems such as Blake’s ‘America a Prophecy’ and Coleridge’s ‘Fears in Solitude’. The Romantic poets were giving voice to revolutionary feeling, and highlighting the right of the people to demand change. Reminding them that we do not have to fit into the political mould that has been established well before the births of our grandfathers… We are not the same as them and we do not have to be.
‘Negative Capability’ effectively asks that we do not try and fit a square peg into a round hole. And this, of course, resonates with us just as much today. Each of us is different and we are all dealing with our own ‘crises’, may they be big or small. What is right for one person is not going to automatically be right for another. However, as easy and as obvious as this seems, it is not always so obvious when it is you who is making the choice to stray from the norm and do something different. This is exactly why we need to talk more about mental health.
Mental health is still heavily stigmatised. The Romantic poets were empowered by talking actively about change, about their country’s distress. They were one step ahead of us in talking about their fears. People are so full of empathy, we cry in our living rooms at the hardships of others that we see on the news. And yet, we are not aware of the battles faced by the people we know and love everyday who are dealing with mental health issues. Talking about our anxieties is empowering, it is the foundation of every piece of literature and therefore the basis of my entire degree! We are so capable of starting our own ‘revolution’ here. We can become the Keats’ of our time by talking about our anxieties and finally becoming empowered by our ‘uncertainties’ and ‘doubts’ rather than all trying to fit into the same round hole.
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