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Featured Poem: Bright Star! Would I Were Steadfast as Thou Art by John Keats

Written by jen, 9th November 2009

The relationship between literature and film can be much like that of passionate but warring lovers – the two will forever be linked but are not always a heavenly match. I confess to being cynical when words and stories I treasure are transformed for the big screen, fretting that the parts I love will be sacrificed for the sake of cinematic spectacle. But when adaptations are successfully carried from paper to film, it is a joy to behold. A really great book-to-film crossover inspires audiences across the board, adding new levels of insight and meaning into the original works for those of us already familiar with them while encouraging people who don’t consider themselves literature buffs to begin enjoying and embracing it.

One such film which seems to be placed very firmly within the ‘good’ category is the newly released Bright Star, which puts the focus upon one of our most famous and beloved poets – John Keats. Written and directed by Jane Campion (The Piano) and partly based on Andrew Motion’s biography of Keats, the film centres on the famed romance between Keats and his muse Fanny Brawne and has attracted glowing reviews (here's another) since its premiere at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. In many ways, Keats could be considered the perfect subject for a dramatic and intense narrative – Keats’ poetic talent, growing body of work and personal love affair were all tragically cut short by his premature death at 25.

Despite the temptation to over-sensationalise, Bright Star appears to do justice to the beauty, elegance and soaring wonder expressed in Keats’ poetry. Just watching selected clips from the film, you cannot help but feel instantly overwhelmed by the breathtaking scenery which provides a visual counterpart to Keats’ sensual word imagery. A number of Keats’ poems feature throughout the film, woven carefully into the narrative rather than thrown in for effect, making them all the more moving.

To celebrate the release of the film, as well as to commemorate the recent anniversary of Keats’ birth, it seems fitting that this week’s featured poem come from the man himself. Choosing just one poem from the many superb ones on offer is not an easy task, so why not look to the source of inspiration for the title of the film itself? The sonnet expresses the notion that love and desire to love can transcend our time on earth, which is appropriate considering the fact that Keats’ work, love for Fanny Brawne, and indeed life transcended his own existence.

Bright Star! Would I Were Steadfast as Thou Art

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.

John Keats (1775-1821)

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