Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"Bright Star, would I were stedfast as thou art. . . "

Okay everyone, get ready to sigh and swoon and lament an age when poets not only wrote odes to their beloved, but some of the most beautiful love letters as well. Twitter just doesn't cut it, does it? On the weekend, I saw Jane Campion's new film Bright Star, based on the tragically short romance of John Keats and Fanny Brawne, and if this movie doesn't have you taking down your dusty anthologies of British poetry from university days, and reading some Keats, (and yes, all his greatest hits are in the movie), I don't know what will. Like these lines from his poem "To Fanny":

Yourself - your soul - in pity give me all,
Withhold no atom's atom or I die. . .

Heady stuff, eh? Do try and get an edition that includes some of the love letters as well, which are some of the most passionate ever written. Our movie-tie edition will include the complete poems and a good selection of letters, and also has an introduction by Campion. It will be available in November (in plenty of time to get into some stockings). The movie is very well done, certainly very beautiful to look at, and yes, quite romantic. One of my friends has been told in no uncertain terms by her husband, that she is not allowed to see the movie without him by her side. Critics have been effusive in their praise of Abbie Cornish who plays Fanny but Ben Whishaw as Keats, more than holds his own (you may remember him as Sebastian in the recent movie adaption of Brideshead Revisited). And most importantly, he has a lovely poetry-reading voice.

Keats isn't the only dead poet making the literary rounds at the moment. I've just started Adam Foulds' new novel The Quickening Maze which is on the shortlist for this year's Booker Prize (we found out late that we have Canadian rights to this, but the hardcover edition should be in stores and libraries now, and Vintage Canada has bought paperback rights and is bringing it out quickly in early November). Set about fifteen years after Keats' death, The Quickening Maze tells the story of nature poet John Clare, during the years he spent at High Beach Asylum. Located in the Essex countryside, it's not a prison; Clare is allowed to work each day in the gardens and for good behaviour, he can take walks in the nearby forests. Alfred Tennyson is also a character in the novel; he moves to a nearby house to be close to his brother who is also getting treatment at the asylum. I'm only about sixty pages in but I'm luxuriating in the pacing and lovely descriptions of nature; Foulds is himself an award-winning poet. And it's reminding me of yet another recent novel about a British poet - Robert Edric's In Zodiac Light - which traces the last days of First World War poet and musician Ivor Gurney, who was also confined to a mental institution.

Bright stars indeed, but quick to burn out.

1 comment:

Frances said...

Oh god, I want them all (especially the Keats movie tie-in edition), and yet I have that feeling again that I am in for a wait for US availability. Or will get some crappy substitute cover designed in black and red. Hmmm. Better go look now. Brave the disappoinment. :)