Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"The Woof of Darkness Thick"

Over the weekend, I watched Jane Campion's latest film, Bright Star. It's about the doomed love affair between Romantic poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne. It's a beautiful, tranquil film that manages to convey a sense of both the delights and hardships of early 19th century life and to make the characters seem alive and intense, rather than like paper dolls, or worse—callow actors in ruffled costumes. Keats, as you may remember from high-school English class, was one of the late Romantic poets. He was a medical student turned writer, who had no prospects and no living, and his literary endeavors were critically unacclaimed for the most part. He fell in love with the girl next door, but could not afford to marry her. Plus, he had tuberculosis, which had already killed his brother.  ("Bright Star" is one of Keats' most well regarded sonnets today; it was written for Fanny at the time that Keats was dying.) Keats was forced to move to Rome in the autumn of 1820 in order to avoid another English winter, but the Mediterranean climate did not help him, and he died in Rome, on February 23, 1821. He was twenty-five years old. I have seen the small, dark paneled room in which he lived his final months, and I visited his tombstone in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, but until I saw this film, I had no urge, really, to revisit Keats' poetry.

I don't care much for most of it. It strikes me as a bit gloomy and lovesick without any of the flashes of color or moments of self-reflection that Wordsworth has, or the crazy, psychedelic imagery of Coleridge or Blake. Plus, there are no dogs. No wonder Keats was so sad. Here, however, is a taste of his work:

                    The Day is Gone 
The day is gone, and all its sweets are gone!
    Sweet voice, sweet lips, soft hand, and softer breast,
Warm breath, light whisper, tender semi-tone,
    Bright eyes, accomplish'd shape, and lang'rous waist!
Faded the flower and all its budded charms,
    Faded the sight of beauty from my eyes,
Faded the shape of beauty from my arms
    Faded the voice, warmth, whiteness, paradise—
Vanished unseasonably at shut of eve,
   When the dusk holiday—or holinight
Of fragrant-curtain'd love begins to weave
    The woof of darkness thick, for hid delight;
But, as I've read love's missal through to-day,
He'll let me sleep, seeing I fast and pray.


1 comment:

  1. I'm taking this snowed-in opportunity to catch up on my duties as dedicated commenter ;

    Do you read Design*Sponge? They do a "living in" column where they are inspired by the look/feel of movies. Recently they did Bright Star:

    And today they did The Red Shoes - a personal fave.


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