(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for a nocturne, a poem inspired by the nighttime, which I applied to the elegiac notes of a film about the poet John Keats.)
Do you see the stars in their scattered arrays,
Content to fluoresce and to wait between days?
Do you hear the leaves when they flap in the wind,
In summer so teeming, in harvest-time thinned?
Do you feel the stillness of worlds at their rest,
Of closed morning glories and birds in their nest?
I witness these wonders you once wrote about,
Before disease meddled to snuff your light out.
Distractions of day help my memories melt,
But when night becalms them, your absence is felt.
I’ll dream of you here, and though Heaven is light,
I hope you still cherish the joys of the night.
MPAA rating: PG
I thought it was about time I reviewed the film that placed #4 on my Top 12 Poems in Movies list. Bright Star is a film for poets and about poets, one that translates tender word to screen in the form of an intimate period piece. John Keats has never been among my favorite poets, but this film makes him more than a mere authorial name, chronicling his romance with Fanny Brawne during the final years of his short life.
Director and writer Jane Campion of The Piano fame was blessed with two outstanding leads in Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw, known as the latest Q in the James Bond franchise and as the voice of Paddington Bear. Cornish plays Brawne with some early traces of women’s lib in her attitude, proud of her fashion creations and her ability to earn a living from them. On the opposite side of the self-sufficiency spectrum is Whishaw’s Keats, whose chosen profession as a poet is decidedly unprofitable, especially when his published poem Endymion flops. The two aren’t sure that their harmless flirting should continue any further, especially when Keats’s roommate and fellow poet Charles Brown (Paul Schneider) competes with Brawne for his friend’s attention. Soon, however, their romance begins in earnest, with swooningly passionate and eventually tragic results.
The early 19th-century costumes and details are elegantly faithful to the period and somewhat reminiscent of films based on the works of Keats’s contemporary Jane Austen. Another point of comparison might be 1998’s Shakespeare in Love, also based on a literary figure and his love affair, but whereas that film was mostly fictitious and overrated, Bright Star has a greater biographical basis and instills passion into the mundane. No sex scenes are needed to accentuate Keats’s and Brawne’s relationship; it’s in their woodland walks and love letters that their fervent affection is felt. I especially loved one symbolic part that became a microcosm of doomed romance itself, as Brawne fills her bedroom with butterflies while exulting at every letter from Keats only for disenchantment to set in as the butterflies inevitably die.
Bright Star holds much poetic appeal, not only by quoting many of Keats’s works but by voicing his and Brown’s opinions on the nature of poetry and the writing process. “It ought to come like leaves to a tree, or it better not come at all,” says Keats at one point. The quiet tone may be too slow and melancholy for some, but Bright Star makes the most of its poignant themes, graceful cinematography, and brilliant cast, with Cornish and Schneider especially nailing the most emotional moments. It’s not quite among my favorite films ever, but it’s an underrated gem that I’ll always be fond of and one all fans of poetry ought to see.
Best line: (John Keats) “A poem needs understanding through the senses. The point of diving into a lake is not immediately to swim to the shore but to be in the lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water. You do not work the lake out; it is an experience beyond thought. Poetry soothes and emboldens the soul to accept the mystery.” (Fanny Brawne) “I love mystery.”
Rank: List Runner-Up
© 2017 S.G. Liput
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