The last months of John Keats’s life, which he spent in a villa on the Spanish Steps in Rome, were miserable. The 25-year-old poet had a nasty case of tuberculosis, and in the end he wanted to die. But even before all this, in England and still healthy, Keats contemplated death, often using sleep as a metaphor: “O soft embalmer of the still midnight, / Shutting, with careful fingers and benign,” he wrote in “To Sleep” (1816), “Our gloom-pleas’d eyes, embower’d from the light, / Enshaded in forgetfulness divine.” To mark the 200th anniversary of his death, the British figurative artist Nancy Cadogan has painted a series on the theme of sadness escaped through sleep. A highlight is her peaceful, wistful Dreaming of Rome. Set against the dark walls of the Keats-Shelley House, the same villa in which Keats died, Cadogan’s colorful paintings are as much an ode to the poet’s final breaths as they are to his enduring lyric legacy, cut short just six fruitful years after he started writing seriously. —J.V.
Also on at the Keats-Shelley House: a panoramic digital tour.
Keats-Shelley House Piazza di Spagna, 26, 00187 Roma RM, Italy Get Directions »