John Lennon: A Modern-Day Keats?
(Or, the inconsistent ramblings of a madman’s daughter)
Jo Trotter looks at the similarities between John Keats and one of her idols, John Lennon. It's not just their Christian names that are the same...
I have long been a great fan of John Lennon, and perhaps this is the reason why Johnny Keats appealed to me so much when I was made aware of him – they are one and the same! And it is not just their names that are similar…
Much like Keats, John always wrote from his own experience, and put his feelings into all his lyrics, for example: ‘How?’, ‘Isolation’, ‘Jealous Guy’ and ‘God’.
In all of these songs and many more, he is honest and truthful, and it is obviously all him. It is the same with Keats, especially his Odes, in which he expresses his thoughts and feelings, whether good or bad.
John was always brutally honest – and impulsive in that he wrote down what was on his mind at the time. In his song ‘How do you sleep?’ he rages against poor little Pauly (McCartney), expressing the intense anger he felt at the time. But later his feelings changed as he lost some of the bitterness of the song – but the song and lyrics remain as a permanent record of one strong, impulsive feeling.
Keats could also be impulsive in this way – he wrote poems and sonnets, and especially letters, according to his current mood, when the feelings and ideas transcribed may have been fleeting.
Like the Romantics didn’t like the Neo-Classicists because they felt the work was so forced and insincere, John’s songs ‘Give me some truth’ and ‘I found out’ express a similar attitude towards politicians and other “uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocrites”.
Being a Romantic, Keats referred to nature a lot in his work, and although John didn’t do this so often, there are some examples:
“Love is a flower, you gotta let it grow” (‘Mind Games’) – John links love to beauty and delicacy.
In ‘Oh my love’, John’s love for Yoko opens his eyes to reveal the beauty of the world – “I see the wind, I see the trees, everything is clear in my heart” – much like how Poesy opens Keats’s eyes and invites him to explore the world more fully.
Lots of Keats’s work was influenced by Fanny Brawne – whether his feelings were positive or not at the time of writing. Similarly, many of John’s songs are about Yoko and how much he loved her, whether the songs are celebratory – ‘Oh Yoko’, ‘Dear Yoko’, ‘(Just Like) Starting Over’ – or self-condemning – ‘Jealous Guy’, ‘Look At Me’, ‘Woman’.
There are of course differences: Keats concerned himself mainly with Death and unrequited love as themes, whereas John wrote about peace and requited love.
John also spent a lot of time trying to achieve peace and equality, where Keats would employ the concept of Negative Capability and had a much more what-shall-be-shall-be view of life.
However, John did sometimes have a Keatsian way of thinking, as he believed in love, truth and positive thinking – “Yes is the answer and you know that foe sure” (‘Mind Games’).
He said, “I believe in everything until it’s disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it’s in your mind. Who’s to say that dreams and nightmares aren’t as real as the here and now? Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.”
This reminded me of Keats because it seems to embody Negative Capability as I understand it – believing in everything until it’s disproved, and not searching for unnecessary answers. The part about dreams and nightmares is like the end of Ode To A Nightingale, “Do I wake or sleep?”, as is “Reality leaves a lot to the imagination”, because both Johns use their imaginations to escape the mundane, real world, and Keats escapes from his fear of mortality.
In fact John’s song ‘#9 Dream’ is like Ode To A Nightingale, when he asks “Was it just a dream?” and ponders on this with “It seemed so real to me”.
When I read Ode On Indolence, I was really reminded of ‘Watching The Wheels’, because they seemed to share the same ideals. John wrote the song during his five-year period as a house-husband, when he was looking after his son Sean. People didn’t understand why he wasn’t producing any music at this time, and it’s like the visions trying to urge Keats to get on with his poetry, when all he wanted to do was enjoy his summer indolence, for the moment.
Both Johns, in ‘Watching The Wheels’ and Ode On Indolence, say that they will continue with their work in their own time, when they are ready.
Unfortunately, Tragically, Heartbreakingly, they both died too young to do this properly, and John Lennon should be here today!
And of course, the fact that they share the same Christian name cannot be overlooked – a coincidence? I think not!