1 December 2020 Susannah

John Keats & Bright Star

Reading of Keats and Shelley by Julian Sands

And here’s another Christmas present for you! Do you love superb language, a sexy actor, one of the best literary locations in the entire world, and fascinating information about two of the greatest poets of all time? If so, give yourself a blissful treat and watch Julian Sands (who acts in my favourite movie moment ever – the kiss in the fields outside Florence in A Room with a View) reading the poems of Keats and Shelley in the Keats-Shelley house in Rome.

Julian is incredibly sexy, he reads the poems with such obvious passion and sensitivity, and he tells us so much that is interesting about the poets. This is one of the best things I have watched all year – DON’T miss it! My only complaint was that it stopped after an hour.

Watch it here now:

Bright Star by John Keats

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.

Critics and biographers are uncertain as to exactly when Keats penned this exquisite sonnet – possibly 1818, or maybe 1819. Probably it was written before he met Fanny Brawne, the women he wanted to marry, but it was then revised for her. Keats copied it into a volume of Shakespeare, probably while he was making his last voyage to Italy. It was only officially published in 1938, 17 years after the tragically early death of the great poet.

The poem, which is punctuated as a single sentence, is addressed to a star. He longs to be as steadfast and unchanging as a star, and yet he comes to see that the star is isolated from human experience, and cannot truly experience the beauty of nature. Not will the star ever know the joys of love. So he acknowledges that while he wants to be eternal with his beloved with the loyalty of the star, yet he does not wish to share its isolation. He sees that his dream is fragile and is threatened by death and all the other changes human beings must face.

Here’s a nice reading of it by Christopher Naylor, but honestly, just do yourself a favour and listen to Julian Sands – sigh!

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Featured image credit- Reading of Keats and Shelley by Julian Sands, https://youtu.be/7BRzMTj3Nrg
Body image credit- John Keats by William Hilton, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6370362

Comments (2)

  1. Lyn Stephenson

    I loved Julian’s readings in that lovely museum by the Spanish steps. He reads with such passion and ,of course, I had to watch the film clip.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Wasn’t he fabulous! And such a setting for it! I was envious – I’d love to do poetry readings there too.

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