Our fourth nominee for a Nuannaarpoq Award is:
John Keats (1795-1821)
Parameters: 18th-19th centuries, British, real, human, male, now living elsewhere
Nuannaarpoq qualities: authenticity, creativity, enchantment, happiness, freedom, imagination, kindness, life, moments, playfulness, resilience, sharing
Although this is probably heresy, I fell for Keats not through his poetry but through his letters. He is one of the greatest letter writers I’ve come across: warm, witty, playful, sharp and loving. It is also principally through his letters that I concluded he was an early nuannaarpoqian.
First, his sheer exuberant enjoyment of things, including taking us on a Dionysian stroll around a garden which culminates in the deliciously alliterative ‘lolling on a lawn’. But note, he never takes happiness for granted but embraces it when it comes. He mentions elsewhere that troubles can hit us as at any time; this is someone who nursed – and lost – his mother and his younger brother, both due to TB, the disease which later killed him.
This exuberance spills over into (or from) his writing and here he equates ‘fine writing’ with ‘fine doing’ – this is an energetic, physical person who liked hiking and strolling and striding. We see it again in the dive-right-in approach he took in Endymion, and, as far as I can see, in life.
He has a strongly independent streak, being ‘obstinate as a robin’, and spirited resilience – I chose resilience as a quality of nuannaarpoq because I believe it’s a ‘necessary but insufficient’ condition for being able to take extravagant pleasure in being alive, despite the many brickbats life and the world can lob at us; I love his shake-your-mane attitude to rid himself of life’s bullets.
Another theme in the nuannaarpoq armoury is, perhaps unexpectedly, sleep. Since it restores body and mind and is a prime locus for dreaming, it seems to me something we take for granted when it’s good, but which affects most of us, sooner or later, when we’re deprived of it. I was struck by two sleep-praising comments of Keats, one making the connection between sleep and sanity, and the other linking sleep and health, including that haunting reference to ‘quiet breathing’, in a person who witnessed and suffered the loss of it when succumbing to TB.
But he takes comfort and strength from love, even in his own illness. He also pleas for compassion and tolerance, here noting that everyone has a weak side which can be used to wound. Go easy on each other, it seems to say.
Lastly, this lovable man picks up pebbles to give to his beloved. As you know, I am a committed pebble pusher.
Surely, these qualities, pebbles and all, qualify Keats for a lifetime Nuannaarpoq Award. And if you wish to compare his nomination to others, please click on the big Awards icon, or on individual nominations below.