Keats was actively taken—almost physically seized—by art and often pulled into the visual realm of paintings, engravings, and sculptures. The character of high art—what had previously been made great—could be both energizing and daunting to him. It could have forbidding power. One thinks, for example, of that day in the winter of 1817 when Keats’s older friend, the historical painter Benjamin Haydon, took him to see the Parthenon sculptures being exhibited for the first time at the British Museum. Keats’s visceral response must have surprised Haydon, for instead of being intoxicated by the splendor, as the painter fully expected, the poet was dazed and silenced by what he saw. Keats had received the first copy of his Poems just a day or two earlier, and it seems to me that the excitement—and the shock—must have heightened his museum experience and contributed to his overpowering encounter. The magnificence of the Elgin Marbles brought home to him that there was an enormous gap, a palpable abyss, between what he hoped to do and what he had actually accomplished. He took the greatness of the statues personally, almost competitively.

Edward Hirsch, “Keats at Sonnets”, introduction to John Keats, The 64 Sonnets