Ode to Keats


This seems to be the year of John Keats: in July, his house was reopened to the public in Hampstead Heath, London, and this week, “Bright Star”, the new film about Keats’ brief love affair with Fanny Brawne, opens in theatres. Directed by Jane Campion, the movie got a lovely review in the New York Times and I hope that Campion will do for Keats what she did for Henry James in her wonderful adaptation of “The Portrait of a Lady”, one of my favorite books.

Intrigued by the recent Keats renaissance of sorts, I made a trip to the library in search of his poems – thus far, poor Mr. Keats had been rather overshadowed by Percy Shelley and Lord Byron in my modest study of 19th century poets. Reading Keats over the past few weeks, though,  I’ve been struck by how beautifully fresh and almost modern his verse seems, unmarred by the dusty coverlet of nearly two centuries. His words have such a delightful elegance and I’m continually amazed just how much he matured in such a short life — his poems have a depth that’s remarkable when you consider that he was only 25 when he died.

As the Times stated, no movie can ever fully capture the exquisiteness of his poetry as it appears on the page, but I hope that “Bright Star” will at the very least encourage a new generation, like me,  to pick up a volume of his work and appreciate the purity of his genius. I’m certainly inspired to read, in addition to his verse, the Keats biography written by Britain’s former poet laureate, Andrew Motion. And, as I have a weakness for both Romantic poets and romantic movies, “Bright Star” is definitely my must-see film for the fall (it comes to Stamford’s Avon Theater on Friday, Sept. 25).

Here’s a taste of the poem that, I assume, inspired the film’s title. Interestingly, a line from another of Keats’ poems, “Ode to a Nightingale”,  provided the title for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Tender is the Night.”

BRIGHT star! would I were steadfast 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 steadfast, 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.

Olivia Just