Contemporising Keats – It isn’t all about the words….

I have a GoogleAlert which regularly sends me links to items that relate (even obliquely it seems) to John Keats and yesterday it included a link, not only to my recent post Blog infidelity, but to the following video that has been put up on YouTube by EzraWelser. It is Steven Brown reading ‘You say you love’, a poem that has proved hard for experts to date, but which is generally thought to be an early attempt by Keats to write love poetry. It wasn’t published until well after his death.

Tempting though it is to relate everything Keats wrote to an incident in his intense relationship with Fanny Brawne, this is thought to have been written well before he met her. It was probably addressed to Isabella Jones, an older woman Keats was involved with in 1817, at least a year before he met Fanny.  Indeed it seems most concerned to describe the physical demonstration of love and perhaps suggests a youthful, slightly petulant response to a lack of commitment from a beloved.

Watching the video below, however, I discovered a new, fresh intensity in the poem which for me was created by the tone of voice in the reader (I don’t actually know who Steven Brown is I am afraid), the background music and the seemingly random images that accompany the poem. It gives the words a very contemporary feel.

I have copied the full text of the poem below. What do you think? Does it enhance the poem? Do you like the poem better in its original form, or is it just a little too gauche in its constant refrain – almost ‘come on, you say you love me but you never do anything to show it’.

I
You say you love ; but with a voice
Chaster than a nun’s, who singeth
The soft Vespers to herself
While the chime-bell ringeth-
O love me truly!

II
You say you love; but with a smile
Cold as sunrise in September,
As you were Saint Cupid ‘s nun,
And kept his weeks of Ember.
O love me truly!

III
You say you love but then your lips
Coral tinted teach no blisses,
More than coral in the sea
They never pout for kisses
O love me truly!

IV
You say you love ; but then your hand
No soft squeeze for squeeze returneth,
It is like a statue’s dead
While mine to passion burneth
O love me truly!

V
O breathe a word or two of fire!
Smile, as if those words should burn me,
Squeeze as lovers should O kiss
And in thy heart inurn me!
O love me truly!

Whatever impact this video and the reading of ‘You say you love’ has on us (I think it is terrific) at least it has highlighted a poem that I have rarely read and I always enjoy looking at ways to encourage people to see Keats beyond the boundaries of  the early 19th century.

Re-visiting a favourite poet’s work is always an interesting experience don’t you think?

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