In this innovative hybrid of biography, memoir, and criticism, Eric G. Wilson describes how John Keats gave him solace during a bout of mental illness in spring 2012. While on a tour of the principal sites in Keats’s life—ranging from his London medical school to the small room in Rome where he died—Wilson discovered analogies between the poet’s troubles and his own. He was most struck by Keats’s enlivening vision of the soul.
For Keats, we don’t possess but rather make a soul. We do this by imaginatively transforming our suffering into empathy toward humans and nature alike. Tracking this idea in Keats’s tumultuous yet exhilarating life and work, Wilson struggles to envision his depression anew, desperate to overcome the apathy alienating him from his family.
How to Make a Soul offers fresh perspectives on Keats’s pragmatism, irony, comedy, ethics, and aesthetics, but is above all a lyrical celebration of those galvanizing instances when life springs into art.