Monday, April 09, 2007

'Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art'

I love Keats' poetry, particularly poems such as "When I have fears that I may cease to be" (sadly, it foretells Keats' fate), "La Belle Dame Sans Merci," and "Ode On A Grecian Urn."

The Guardian (UK): Film-makers fall in love with Keats:

Rarely has death seemed so cruel yet so poetic. John Keats fell in love with Fanny Brawne when he saw her walking in her garden and was inspired to produce some of the most beautiful verse and love letters ever written. By the age of 25 he was dead, the world robbed of his genius by tuberculosis.

Perhaps it was only a matter of time before such ingredients caught a filmmaker's eye. The intense but doomed affair is to be the subject of a literary biopic written and directed by Oscar winner Jane Campion.
[. . .]
The film's title, Bright Star, comes from a love poem for Brawne which Keats wrote in the flyleaf of his copy of the works of Shakespeare. It begins: 'Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art'. It finishes with the memorable lines: 'Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,/To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,/Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,/ Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,/ And so live ever - or else swoon to death.'

Keats's life was even shorter than those of fellow Romantic poets Byron and Shelley. Living in Hampstead, north London, between 1818 and 1820, he enjoyed a stupendous burst of creativity, producing works including 'Ode to a Nightingale' and 'The Eve of St Agnes'. Brawne was the daughter of the family who lived next door and Keats initially considered her a 'minx' but could not help falling in love with her. They became engaged in October 1819 but the wedding day would never arrive. Stricken by tuberculosis, Keats was advised to seek a warmer climate, and left Britain for Italy in 1820. His final poem was called simply: 'To Fanny'.
Sadly, Keats and Fanny never met again. But such romance . . .

Gravely ill in Naples, he wrote of his love for Brawne to his friend Charles Brown: 'The persuasion that I shall see her no more will kill me... I can bear to die - I cannot bear to leave her. Oh, God! God! God! Every thing I have in my trunks that reminds me of her goes through me like a spear. The silk lining she put in my travelling cap scalds my head. My imagination is horridly vivid about her - I see her - I hear her. There is nothing in the world of sufficient interest to divert me from her for a moment... O that I could be buried near where she lives!... Oh, Brown, I have coals of fire in my breast. It surprises me that the human heart is capable of containing and bearing so much misery. Was I born for this end?'

He never saw her again and died in Rome in February 1821, unappreciated by the literary establishment during his lifetime. Brawne soon fell ill and went into mourning as if she had been married to Keats, wearing a widow's black dress for three years and spending hours in her room re-reading his letters or wandering alone on Hampstead Heath. In 1833 she married and later had two children, but never took off the ring Keats had given her. It is now on display in the museum at Keats's house, along with a lock of her hair and a letter to her from the poet.
You will find more information on John Keats, as well as his poetry, letters, etc., here.

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