John Keats’s 220th birthday was commemorated at Westminster Abbey with our annual wreath-laying in Poets Corner – a day early this year on 30 October 2015. Canon White led the service, with the prayer: ‘O God our Father, who through the ages has caused poets and writers to perceive the world afresh, to enthral and provoke us to thought, reflection and wonder; and to explore the richness and diversity of our common nature; at this time we thank thee for thy servant, John Keats, remembering him with joy, gratitude and affection; and giving thanks for the beauty of his poetry’.
Former Keats House poet in residence Daljit Nagra was invited to read a poem, before laying the wreath with his young daughters. Daljit chose ‘Sonnet to a Cat’ and readings followed of ‘To One Who Has Been Long in City Pent’ and an extract from Keats’s letter to Richard Woodhouse, 27 October 1818: ‘I am ambitious of doing the world some good: if I should be spared that may be the work of maturer years-in the interval I will assay to reach to as high a summit in Poetry as the nerve bestowed upon me will suffer’.
The event was organised by the Keats Foundation, who also invited representatives from Keats House staff and ambassadors, Keats House Poets, The Poetry Society and Young Poets Network to join Foundation members and trustees. As an unexpected bonus, the Abbey’s Duty Chaplain for the day was Poetry Society member, Marie-Else Bragg, who introduced John Keats into the Abbey’s midday prayers with a reading from ‘Endymion’, and then took a group of Foundation Members on a tour of areas of the Abbey usually closed to visitors.