The poem that has always characterized the John Keats/Fanny Brawne romance in my mind is not Bright Star, the title of the movie to be released in October 2009 on Keats/Brawne, but this one...
This Living Hand
This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calmed--see here it is--
I hold it towards you.
My understanding of the Keats/Brawne relationship is that he was infatuated and she disdainful. The movie trailer suggests that she did love him, but turned away from marriage with him for practical reasons. I never thought that was the case--I always understood that his love for her was unrequited, and This Living Hand, has an immaturity to it that speaks more of infatuation and disillusionment and anger at her indifference than anything else. There is some speculation that the person addressed in the poem is collectively the critics who were harsh towards Keats. If that is the case, then the immaturity and anger I felt the poem expressed becomes pettishness that is distasteful. I'm staying with the camp that says it was directed to Fanny.
I love Keats--his odes and sonnets are among my favorite literature of all time, but I hate to see filmmakers insist on reducing all forms of genius to Hallmark love stories. I can't buy that Keats' prowess as a poet stemmed in any way from his relationship with Fanny Brawne any more than I can buy that Jane Austen's prowess as a novelist stemmed in any way from her relationship with Tom LeFroy.
Somehow our culture has reached the conclusion that love is the only emotion that matters, and so all artists's work must be related to love. When love stories don't exist, they are created for the poor souls who apparently lived without a life-defining love story. Frankly, I think a movie about Keats's relationship with other poets who did truly shape his career would be not only more accurate but more interesting. Does every story have to be a love story?
I have yet to see Becoming Jane, though my curiousity is starting to win out over common sense. I'm not sure about Bright Star. Certainly based on the trailer, I won't like it. Fanny Brawne was not Keats's bright star or guiding light--she was a girl he mooned over and who didn't much care for him. Nor did she inspire his greatest works--it took a nightingale, an urn, and autumn to do that. Bright Star, even if it is about her, is good, but not great. This Living Hand is not even that good.
For the record, here is Bright Star:
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.