A Few Things I Learned About Life as a Poet from Watching Bright Star

I approached this movie ready to be snarky and suspicious. No romantic frippery for this lady, in either senses of the word. However, with a deft cinematic hand, Jane Campion “trace[s] the comminglings and collisions of poetic creation and amatory passion” in this tale of young John Keats (Ben Wishaw) in love. 1. Her cinematography in Bright Star is at once gorgeous and lived in, brilliant fields of lavender heath and daffodils in a meadow, roughly hewn wooden door frames and sparse furnishings. And the costuming, especially on budding seamstress Miss Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish,) from whose point of view the movie is told, caused many a wanton cry to erupt from my mouth. (Wanton = I want one.) Cornish wears a series of empire-waisted jumpers in striped linen or brown satin with frilly blouses underneath. Ruffly bonnets or “triple mushroom collars” frame her face. And the most fantastic pair of multi-buckled shoes I have seen in any movie. Oh, it is to swoon!

Drawing by Bertie from Melbourne, Australia. She is Who lives in that teacup? and Victorian Tea Party online
Oh, right, the poetry. In any case, I was able to glean one or two kernels of insight as to what the Life of a Poet might comprise:

* Poets never did make much money from their endeavors.

*Art, on the other hand, is generally for the rich.
* Wait a minute, Fanny Brawne and her siblings spend their days on needlepoint, reading, ballet and French lessons, though their mother is a widow and their dead father was a farmer? Shouldn’t young Miss Brawne be dispatched to the city to cook and clean for some other family? Who is financing this beautifully aesthetic life?
*Though the question of poverty does come up later in the film. In fact, it’s such a problem that Keats’ friends must chip in to send him off to Italy for the putatively better climate. But these dudes (Keats and friend Charles Brown) don’t even try to get day jobs.
*Poets like cats.
*Girls need to be taught poetry by boys who write it. (Apparently they cannot read and figure it out for themselves.)
*”Poetic craft is a sham. If poetic craft does not come as naturally to leaves to a tree then it better not come at all.” Which seems a bit disingenuous coming from one who wrote sonnets.
*Boy poets have mommy complexes. Or woman complexes. Or both.
*”Doing nothing is the musing of the poet.” Interrupt at thy peril.
*Musing = making one’s mind available to inspiration.
*Those who are not themselves poets will always remark, “Is it successful? It’s selling well, then?”
*It dost helps one’s infamy to die young
* A dead poet’s lady love must wrap herself in black and walk the heath mournfully the rest of her days. (Only according to the film; the real Ms. Brawne married twelve years after her poet’s death, and by some accounts came to consider her earlier estimation of Keats to be “overrated.” 2)

Here is the poem on which the movie is titled. I find it a bit mawkish, but I am reading from a 2010 perspective.

Bright Star, by John Keats (1838)

Bright star, would I were stedfast 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 stedfast, 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

Nikki Reimer is the author of [sic] (Frontenac House, 2010). She lives in Vancouver, where she volunteers for the Kootenay School of Writing collective and chronicles the East Van Cats.
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