What is Negative Capability?

The phrase 'Negative Capability' was used by the English poet John Keats to describe the capacity to be 'in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason'.

Keats believed that only few possess this ability and that most people who try to categorize and rationalize every uncertain thing, distort and reduce reality instead of opening a new dimension of insights. For Keats the great poet has to be able to accept intuitive insights for what they are instead of trying to incorporate them systematically into some rational, explanatory scheme. Writers possessing this ability have the capacity to negate their own personalities – to get outside of themselves – in order to perceive reality (especially human reality) in its multiple complexities. Keats called Samuel Taylor Coleridge as a poet lacking this ability and praised William Shakespeare as one possessing it in great measure. Keats’s negative capability can be taken to suggest artistic form, the literary subject matter, concepts and characters’ standard of evidence, truth, and morality, as we generally apply these standards in the course of our practical experience.

Published on 22 Sep. 2014 by Kedar Nath Sharma

Related Topics

John Keats: Biography

William Shakespeare: Biography

Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Biography