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I share something I just learned about John Keats: his poem Bright Star, which the movie Bright Star shows him writing for and giving to his girlfriend, Fanny Brawne, he had earlier written for and given to his girlfriend, Isabella Jones! Apparently the latter was his first girlfriend; Fanny Brawne was the second, and last (since he died thereafter).
Jan and I really loved this movie. Ben Whishaw is an amazing actor, Abbie Cornish was comparably suitable as Fanny Brawne. Best of all was how resonant the selected poems were as read, especially at the end, where contexts shimmered.
I also want to share a Keats memory or two. In high school Keats was my favorite poet. In college John Donne was my favorite poet. I mentioned Keats to my Donne teacher, James Zito. Zito scoffed dismissively. I defended Keats: told Zito, “In high school, Keats was my favorite poet.” “Mine too”, Zito rejoined, “but we outgrow that”.
I read some Keats to Jan five years ago, when we were first reading together. Read La Belle Dame Sans Merci and it’s the greatest lyric: until you read Kublai Khan, Coleridge, and it’s the greatest poem, ever, impossibly great. Until you remember Shakespeare, or Milton … Bright Star depicts Keats’ friend Brown mocking Fanny Brawne and her ambition to study poetry under Keats all at once: Brown asks Fanny if she didn’t find Milton’s rimes too something-or-other, trying to trap her: then he declares, Milton didn’t uses any rimes. But he did! magnificently! just not in the epics. Read Milton’s sonnets, of course they’re rimed.
Anyway, I’m grateful to Bright Star for reminding me of the major poems of Keats: and for showing us some biography (which I’d known superficially to not at all). Now I’ll read all those featured Keats poems to Jan again. I keep saying I’m ready to die. We just watched Keats preparing to die, and dying. Jan, 83 1/2, is aching and paining: but I say, Wait, hold off on both of us: we gotta reread this Keats. And I have to make love to her yet again.
PS The movie showed us bits and pieces of a bunch of those Romantics: Severn, Leigh Hunt Shelley, Byron … Not long ago Jan and I saw Hunt fictionalized insultingly by Dickens, in Bleak House, and I don’t doubt he deserved it, or much of it; but last night I reminded Jan who Hunt was, quoted Jenny Kissed Me to her! Now that is an immortality-maker right there! Until you realize, if you realize, how much great poetry (and bad poetry, and ordinary poetry) we don’t know, don’t know that we don’t know: ’cause it got sabotaged, blotted, not published, not repeated … censored …
But you know, even in heaven, for those of us who get to heaven, however many persecuted thinkers, writers, and poets are included in God’s heaven-library, there will still be no telling, how incomplete that library is. We certainly don’t know the scope of the cosmos: how could we know how complete or incomplete God’s sense is? Because he told us?
Actually, maybe God didn’t tell us anything: all his lines are written by us.
And when he corrects us, how should we understand the correction?
I don’t know. Neither do you. But I know this: a lot of that Keats is inconceivably wonderful.