Friday, 5 October 2012

National Poetry Week (Why Not?) - 'Bright Star' by John Keats

BRIGHT STAR (John Keats)

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art -
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors -
No - yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
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.

This poem has, I think, already been over-posted this week for National Poetry Day's 'Stars' theme, but to say it's overexposed is a bit like saying you shouldn't visit Paris or Prague because they are touristy. Anyway, I think that the effects of National Poetry Day should carry on for at least a few days.

'Bright Star' is probably one of the most beautiful poems ever written. The final lines mirror the opening section; first the poem depicts the faithful star watching tenderly over the almost-personified earth, and the second section depicts the poet's feelings for his beloved, far closer than the distant star and our planet.

Keats was only 25 when he died, just a little older than Keith Douglas. Again, I wonder what he could have gone on to achieve, given that very few can rival what he had already written at a young age.

I loved Jane Campion's 2009 film Bright Star, which depicts the love between Keats (Ben Whishaw) and Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), and concludes with the grief-stricken Fanny reciting the poem after receiving news of Keats's death. It is a very quiet and lovely film, romantic but very believable. Keats and Fanny have contrasting personalities; he is friendly but shy, while she is more outgoing and flirtatious. They don't fall in love instantly and the sad facts of Keats's poverty, and the illness which is to kill him, constantly intrude. For me, it was a relatively rare romantic film in that it was about real people but I was able to believe that this might actually have been how it was.

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