When writing letters to Fanny Brawne, John Keats seems to be overpowered by both illness and passionate love, often intermingling the two emotions when using the words death and love interchangeably. He describes Fanny’s love as taking possession over him. This displacement of his affection for Fanny might be an effect of his illness, which has overpowered his body, and to a certain degree, his senses. Still, he is highly conscious of how his illness affects his thoughts and also his feelings. Throughout the letters, Keats mentions his illness, how it has impaired his ability to write, and more importantly, how it has prevented him from being with Fanny.
Keats seems to associate death with love, and when writing to Fanny, tells her that he desires the possession of both:
I have two luxuries to brood over in my walks, your Loveliness and the hour of my death. O that I could have possession of them both in the same minute. I hate the world: it batters too much the wings of my self-will, and would I could take a sweet poison from your lips to send me out of it (July 27 1819)
He desires to take possession of both Fanny and death but also wills that she take possession of him in releasing him from the world – the “poison” he takes from her lips is better than the “batters” he experiences in the world. Like Shelley, Keats attributes beauty with death or the eternal. He often praises Fanny’s beauty, and to such an extent, that Fanny accuses him of only loving her for her beauty. However, perhaps Keats understands love through the perspective of his poetic sensibility and views Fanny in more metaphysical terms. Thus, her beauty, which is eternal, is indistinguishable from what Keats believes he will experience in death.
Keats writes to Fanny of one of his worst episodes, telling her that when he believed he was close to death, he thought of her. This particular letter demonstrates how Keats’s is not writing in a vacuum or only for himself. At times, letters to Fanny are written to convince her of his devotion. In recalling her during one of his worst fits, he desires her to know that he is always thinking of her:
On the night I was taken ill when so violent a rush of blood came to my Lungs that I felt nearly suffocated – I assure you I felt it possible I might not survive and at that moment though[ t] of nothing but you – When I said to Brown ‘this is unfortunate’ I thought of you – ‘T is true that since the first two or three days other subjects have entered my head – I shall be looking forward to Health and the Spring and a regular routine of our old Walks (February 10 1820).
Keats also tells Fanny that he tries to write to her in the mornings rather than at nights, when he feels the most ill and when his faculties fail him. Thus, he is able to distinguish his emotions for her from what he experiences during the worst moments of his illnesses. He is not a victim of his illness though his poetic sensibility makes him associate the power of the two occurrences, illness/death and love.
The association he draws between death and love is purposeful. It would be a folly on the readers part to interpret his letters as ravings of a sick man deluded by fevers as Keats himself is highly conscious of his sickness and what it causes him to feel and do.