In praise of a ‘thing of beauty’… A film to get you started

Whatever your views may be on poetry, Romantic or otherwise, or on love  in more general terms, I do so urge you to watch the following trailer for ‘Bright Star’. It is something for all fans of period drama. Directed by Jane Campion (The Piano) the film,released last year, focuses on Fanny Brawne, the young woman beloved of John Keats and, the film asserts, the inspiration behind much of his most wonderful poetry. It is a story of letters – not just poetic verse – but the notes sent by Keats to Fanny in which he expresses his feelings in terms so moving that by the end of the film you are literally left breathless. I promise you, Keats’ enthusiast that I am, I was not the only person to experience the choking impossibility of speech as the lights went up at the end of film.

I had a really positive response to my promise (some may say threat) to blog regularly on the subject of John Keats. It is a mark of how interesting he is as a man of the early part of the 19th century, as much as his reputation as one of the finest poets in the English language after Shakespeare. People still want to learn more about his life and work.

Before you switch off, or switch over to another blog, I know from my reading of Keats that the reason he is still so widely studied in the 21st century is because what he says has a universality that rings as true today as it did 190 years ago. For example:

But this is human life:  the war, the deeds,
The disappointment, the anxiety,
Imagination’s struggles, far and nigh,
All human; bearing in themselves this good,
That they are still the air, the subtle food,
To make us feel existence, and to shew
How quiet death is.

from Endymion, Book II, l.153-159.

And from his letter to his friend John Hamilton Reynolds in 1818, a thought that should stay with anyone who has a longing to be a writer but lets real life get in the way of their dreams or fears they may never be good enough (that’s a lot of us I expect):

“Many have original minds who do not think it – they are led away by custom. Now it appears to me that almost any man may like the spider spin from his own inwards his own airy Citadel”

At the end of the trailer above is an example of the sort of prose he employed when writing to Fanny.

I almost wish we were butterflies and liv’d but three summer days – three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain’

However hardened and cynical one might be about love, isn’t it enough to make your heart melt?

So I am setting out to make you fall in love with Mr Keats, as Fanny did, and as many of his circle of male friends did too. I won’t post on the subject every time (still undecided about whether I should set up a blog dedicated to him, but where is the time!) and I realise it might not interest a few of those of you kind enough to look in at my blog on a regular basis. I am only an amateur but can try to offer an insight into his life and and the times he lived in – a time of political upheaval and huge change in science and medicine, a subject Keats studied at a time when anatomy lessons required the services of bodysnatchers, and operations were performed without the use of proper anaesthesia.

He lived to the age of 25, those years full of incident and utterly heartbreaking; his poetry and letters are an example of language as art; his philosophy of life so deeply thoughtful and endearing. Poetry isn’t for everyone (though I think it could be) but the social history alone is fascinating and we are all interested in what makes us human aren’t we?

So, my first recommendation is for you to beg, steal or borrow, literally, a DVD of Bright Star.  If you are unmoved by it, then fair enough. I hope you still pop by my blog when I muse on other things. But I hope at least one person reading this finds John Keats does ‘strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts and appear almost a remembrance’ (to John Taylor 1818).

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5 Responses to In praise of a ‘thing of beauty’… A film to get you started

  1. Still haven’t seen this film…. really should!

    “Of the wide world I stand alone and think
    Till love and fame to nothingness do sink”

    We have one sonnet by Keats in the 101 Sonnets book….. but two out of the 3 people who were asked about their favourite poems in our first lecture called out one by Keats (Both Ode’s but I honestly can’t remember which)

    • keatsbabe says:

      That was a quick response! So glad your English group appreciate the man. He really does speak to young people in a way a lot of other 19th C poets don’t seem to.

  2. Ellie King says:

    I was very keen to see Bright Star when it first came out, but missed it at the cinema. Luckily I managed to see it when on a VERY long flight earlier in the year and liked it very much – although I did find Fanny’s character a little irritating, I thought the portrayal of him was wonderful.
    I have some of his work at home and must read more of it – I know many people probably think it’s awfully soppy nonsense, but for some reason I feel a very strong connection to the poems
    I have read. I think perhaps it is to do with his strong sensitivity to beauty and his own beautiful way of expressing it – i just find poems like his Ode to Sleep so utterly captivating.
    Must stop now because I think I’m becoming dangerously close to sounding like Madeleine
    Basset! 😉 Thanks again for a lovely blog, can’t wait to learn more about him! 🙂

    • keatsbabe says:

      Hi Ellie
      The letters are wonderful and add a really interesting dimension to the poems. It isn’t soppy either – it is great language. Some of his early poetry is a little twee, but his letters from 1817 onwards are outstanding and 1818 to late 1919 is his ‘living year’ for poetry.

  3. Ennis Norman says:

    Best movie ever!

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