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Thursday, 1 October 2009

Snow Has Fallen (Winter 1819)


File:Pantheon Masquerade edited.jpg

I can't stand the echoes of that
orchestra when I can't dance
with you myself, I dwindle,
I feel confused, I feel distracted,
I feel unfairly treated by my fate,
I feel a nervous tightness in my throat
and chest, I am tired of feeling,
it grows cold, snow has fallen,
I don't feel like going out,
I am listless in my writing,
I don't feel like picking up my pen,
I shall publish nothing I have written,
let the lovers of my poetry find their
way into each other's arms if I may not.

File:Frost Fair of 1814 by Luke Clenell.jpg

A masquerade at the Pantheon, Oxford street, London
: Augustus Pugin and Thomas Rowlandson, from Ackermann's Microcosm of London (1808-1811)
Frost Fair on the River Thames: Luke Clenell, 1814

from TC: Junkets on a Sad Planet: Scenes from the Life of John Keats


Phanero Noemikon said...

Have you seen the Jane Campion film yet? Was just curious..

TC said...


The Campion film -- have you seen it, I wonder? -- had no influence on these posts. The writings come from a book I published in 1994. I'd been working on Keats and his period for some time before that.

I haven't seen the whole of the Campion film, only a number of excerpts. Which I'm afraid rang a bit false for me.

Much of the film can be found on You Tube and other sites, if one has the patience. On the strength of the posted clips, I'd imagine sitting through two hours of this sort of thing might pose a daunting challenge:

A Room of Butterflies--and did Jane provide those captive Blue Morphos a ticket back to the rain forest when it was over?

First Kiss (Awww...)

The latter scene is one of several I've viewed in which a rather insipidly "sensitive" Keats is conveniently made to say out loud things which in fact he wrote but never said.

In another widely-posted scene that strains credibility, Campion's Fanny proposes that, while Keats was away in Scotland, she may have slept in a bed that was later to be his. "It was possible," Campion has said, defending this scene. Maybe. It's also not only possible but probable that the director was just fabricating these imaginal hothouse intimacies for her soap-operatic uses.

But I fear I may be the victim of knowing a bit of the history, which can be crippling in viewing a Major Biopic. At any rate I got the impression from what I've seen that the subject of the film is anyway not Keats himself but the great clothing designer and sensualist love martyr Fanny Brawne, someone of whose existence I hadn't been aware.

Of course there have been many reviews, written by people who, we are led to believe, actually sat through the whole two hours. Here are pieces by two critics whose judgment I respect:

Howard Schumann--Cinescene:

Faux Free Spirits

J. Hoberman--The Village Voice:

Impossibly Mad and Hopelessly Bourgeois

To be honest, I suspect, from the parts of it I've seen, that the film is a prettified and predictably fictional feminist fairytale (Fanny's ridiculous "butterfly scene" for example, pure fantasy), intended for arthouse gentry, the faux-"refined" consumer classes into whose orbit of consumption it was Keats's impossible project to enter, for all the pathos of his trying.

As it happens, the contemporary class issues in the poet's story are tricked out by negation in Byron's cruel yet also very telling comments on Keats and his work, which I once plotted out in this "Deep Keats Scroll":

Byron on Keats

And in this second scroll some of the further complications deriving from the class issues are cartoonistically hinted at:

Want of an Object

(The full detail madness of the Scrolls can be accessed by clicking.)

Fanny B. was of a different class than the Cockney Keats, amid the new commercial gentry which was her habitat he was always going to be a fish out of water, and it was the class difference finally which kept them apart. But she was a shrewd cookie, kept all his letters and later, in another life, sold them off for financial security. Not much love martyrdom in that. Just good business sense, of which the poor lad who'd penned those desperate missives never had a whit.

Phanero Noemikon said...

I thought you'd have a few thoughts on it. I hadn't even looked into it other than just heard there was some such film made. Thanks Tom.

Zephirine said...

Having seen the film, Tom, I think you should give it a chance and watch it all the way through as it was meant to be seen.

True, the character of Fanny is dealt with heavy-handedly at the beginning, with somewhat irritating attempts to modernise her, and there are dramatic liberties such as the tropical butterflies, and the house being much larger and grander than the real one.

Nevertheless I found the film moving and absorbing, and, for me at least, Fanny's level of emotional involvement was very believable - as much fascinated by Keats's intensity as swept away by any emotions of her own.

Zephirine said...

And though I am probably a member of the 'arthouse gentry', I must point out that Jane Campion is not James Ivory! And yes, the class issues are certainly there in the complete film.

TC said...

Zeph, Thank you for your comments.

I now learn from repeated circuits of the internet that the entirety of Bright Star may be watched in segments, entirely free of charge.

The climactic scene amid the bluebells in which Keats confronts Brown -- the scene indeed which is depicted in all the previews as the pride of the film -- is the scene which from the first has troubled me most.

When Brown, played by Paul Schneider -- in what is certainly both a cartoon representation of the actual Mr. Brown, and also by far the most forceful male performance in the film -- says that what is at stake is no more than a game of flirtation, the quotation is apocryphal, but probably not far off the view of not only Brown but the majority of Keats' friends, to whom Keats's obsession with Fanny, particularly in his terminal condition of morbidity, was something between unfortunate and seriously unhealthy.

Much of what we may think of any or all of the movements of Keats's heart are of course speculative.

But the facts are these.

In that climactic scene in Ms. Campion's film, Keats is made to reprove Brown for being unfeeling, for failing to grasp "the holiness of the heart's affections."

The scene is pure fiction absolutely without historical basis.

The key phrase in this key scene of the film is actually extracted from a letter written on November 22, 1817, a full thirteen months before Keats began to concern himself with Fanny Brawne. The letter was directed neither to Mr. Brown nor to Miss Brawne but to Keats's friend Benjamin Bailey, then a student of theology at Magdalene Hall, Oxford. Here is the operative passage:

"... I wish you knew all that I think about Genius and the Heart -- and yet I think you are thoroughly acquainted with my innermost breast in that respect, or you could not have known me even thus long and still hold me worthy to be your dear friend. In passing however I must say of one thing that has pressed upon me lately and encreased my Humility and capability of submission and that is this truth - Men of Genius are great as certain ethereal Chemicals operating on the Mass of neutral intellect - by (for but) they have not any individuality, any determined Character - I would call the top and head of those who have a proper self Men of Power.


TC said...

"But I am running my head into a Subject which I am certain I could not do justice to under five years Study and 3 vols octavo -- and moreover long to be talking about the Imagination... O I wish I was as certain of the end of all your troubles as that of your momentary start about the authenticity of the Imagination. I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart's affections and the truth of Imagination -- What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth - whether it existed before or not -- for I have the same Idea of all our Passions as of Love: they are all, in their sublime, creative of essential Beauty... The Imagination may be compared to Adam's dream, -- he awoke and found it truth. I am more zealous in this affair because I have never yet been able to perceive how anything can be known for truth by consecutive reasoning -- and yet it must be. Can it be that even the greatest Philosopher ever arrived at his goal without putting aside numerous objections? However it may be, O for a Life of Sensations rather than of Thoughts!


TC said...

"... And this consideration has further convinced me, - for it has come as auxiliary to another favorite speculation of mine, -- that we shall enjoy ourselves hereafter by having what we called happiness on Earth repeated in a finer tone and so repeated. And yet such a fate can only befall those who delight in sensation, rather than hunger as you do after Truth.... You perhaps at one time thought there was such a thing as Worldly Happiness to be arrived at, at certain periods of time marked out, -- you have of necessity from your disposition been thus led away -- I scarcely remember counting upon any happiness -- I look for it if it be not in the present hour, -- nothing startles me beyond the Moment. The setting sun will always set me to rights, or if a Sparrow come before my Window, I take part in its existence and pick about the Gravel. The first thing that strikes me on hearing a Misfortune having befallen another is this -- 'Well, it cannot be helped: he will have the pleasure of trying the resources of his spirit' -- and I beg now, my dear Bailey, that hereafter should you observe anything cold in me not to put it to the account of heartlessness, but abstraction - for I assure you I sometimes feel not the influence of a passion or affection during a whole week - and so long this sometimes continues, I begin to suspect myself, and the genuineness of my feelings at other times - thinking them a few barren Tragedy-tears..."

This remarkable letter has everything to do with the sort of person and poet Keats was and would turn out to be, and absolutely nothing to do with either Mr. Brown or Miss Brawne. At the time of writing it Keats was well away from Hampstead, at Box Hill, Burford Bridge, Surrey, coming to the end of the long labours of the composition of Endymion. His long meditative letter to Bailey, correctly regarded as a milestone in his thought and perhaps the first full expression of his voyaging into the "dark passages" of his own mind, was written on his first morning in that place. In the evening he scaled the hill above the inn and watched the moon come up. When he came down, he wrote another hundred lines of his poem about the young shepherd with whom the goddess of the moon had fallen in love.

It was as I say not for over a year after that stay at Burford Bridge that Keats met and paid his first notice to Miss Brawne. The notice came in a letter to his brother George and George's wife Georgiana. This was one of John's long, wonderfully generous "journal letters". The entry concerning Fanny was made on December 17, 1818:

"Shall I give you Miss Brawn [sic]? She is about my height -- with a fine style of countenance of the lengthen'd sort -- she wants sentiment in every feature -- she manages to make her hair look well -- her nostrills are fine -- though a little painful -- her mouth is bad and good--her Profil is better than her full-face which indeed is not full but pale and thin without showing any bone -- Her shape is very graceful and so are her movements -- her Arms are good her hands badish -- her feet tolerable -- she is not seventeen -- but she is ignorant -- monstrous in her behaviours flying out in all directions, calling people such names -- that I was forced lately to make use of the term Minx -- this I think not from any innate vice but from a penchant she has for acting stylishly. I am however tired of such style and shall decline any more of it."

(Quotations from The Letters of John Keats, ed. Harry Buxton Forman, Oxford, 1931)

If what is at issue is the question of whether Bright Star is a good film, then plainly each of us is entitled to her or his own opinion.

If on the other hand the question at issue is whether or not a bio-pic is a falsification of the facts of someone's life, then the answer should be plain from the above.

Zephirine said...

Tom, I don't presume to debate this with you as your Keats scholarship is infinitely deeper and more wide-ranging than mine.

Only to say that I didn't expect the film to be a factual documentary about Keats, since it was clearly presented as a drama based on his life, a particular film-maker's take on the story.

And I was rather pleased to recognise Keats' written words being used as his dialogue, since it showed the film-maker had bothered to read the writer's work, which as you well know is not always the case. (Have you never re-used the same words in conversation that you'd written in an earlier letter or poem? I know I have).

But I can see I'm not going to persuade you! At least some people, having seen the film, will have gone off to look up Keats's poems, and they wouldn't otherwise have done so.

bowiehagan said...


Thanks for your poems, and your deep study. I found it interesting lately to speak to a historian of the eighteenth century, who burst my bubble, by informing me that Charles Francis Adams, John Adams' biographer, had 'cleaned up' significantly his ancestors' writings to suit his own taste, which Pound imbibing as fact, took to form a narrative. I, never dreaming of such a possibility of faulty editorship, was equally duped as to the matter of JA's writings, which I have now to research in primal form.

What we receive is always in some sense a translation- may our hearts make full use of what history gives to the imagination, and to the intellect, we are blessed to dream-

what an allegory, that those same half-truths, and intrigues which Pound recorded in the state of France were equally present in the record which he used to gauge them-

Let our hearts be faithful!


bowiehagan said...

Someone makes a comment on the difference between Duncan and Pound- I have forgotten who- to the effect that Duncan, as Duncan himself discusses in "The Truth and Life of Myth", includes the darkness of his own travail, and error, in the tale, while Pound - here, as ever, I defer to your greater scholarship, Tom, often left out (which tendency seemed to shift in the Pisan Cantos) the admissions of process, which occupied Duncan in a poetical delirium.

Tak the fruyt, and lat still the chaffe! And still resounding-

Peace be with you, Amen.

TC said...


As to your final good point here, you have persuaded me.

As to myself, as it happens I don't repeat in other places what I've said in a poem, which may be either because it never occurs to me do so, or because I am never in the right places.

TC said...


Pound wrote in Guide to Kulchur:

"It does not matter a twopenny damn whether you load up your memory with the chronological sequence of what has happened, or the names of protagonists, or authors of books, or generals and leading political spouters, so long as you understand the process now going on, or the processes biological, sociological, economic now going on, enveloping you as an individual, in a social order."

Even in the Adams Cantos, he does make the compositional act of the poem synchronous with its representation of history, foregrounding the rush to record, the limitedness of his knowledge, and the "blanks in the record" where there were things he could not be certain of. In these ways, the lyric moment keeps interfering with the record-keeping, so that errors and memory lapses become part of the process.

In this sense, I think he'd say to you that the work you are having to do to research in primal form is actually an advantage, giving you the opportunity to bring Bowie into the poem as a co-maker -- thus keeping both you and the poem alive. So let our hearts be thankful!

TC said...

Bowie, re. your great question about Pound and the admission of process:

In the intermittent illuminations and darknesses of the final Cantos it feels at times as though all Pound's concealments had been burnt away, perhaps not so much through a deliberation or determination on the poet's part -- one gets the impression he had drifted beyond intentions and for that matter beyond spoken language some time earlier, certainly I got that sense from those around him when I went to try to seek him out at his retreat in the Dolomites in the 1960s, he had then, as I was told, faded back into a further and deeper silence at Venice -- so that here and there in the late Drafts & Fragments there are passages of such transparency as would imply the message and its reflection, the image and its mirroring, the speech and its echo, were all being contained in the same eerie, unearthly text-units, each an irreducible knot at once of lucid revelation and opaque self-enclosure. It was almost as though, tossed upon the storms and seas of his great bewilderment, lost in those wanderings of the night, he had found something as well, a way beyond himself to transform the chaff into the fruit upon his withered tree so that it would bloom with a transfiguring light.


I have brought the great ball of crystal;
Who can lift it?
Can you enter the great acorn of light?
But the beauty is not the madness
Tho' my errors and wrecks lie about me.
And I am not a demigod,
I cannot make it cohere.


To confess wrong without losing rightness:
Charity I have had sometimes,
I cannot make it flow thru.
A little light, like a rushlight,
to lead back to splendour.


I have tried to write Paradise.

Do not move
Let the wind speak
that is paradise

Let the Gods forgive what I
have made
Let those I love try to forgive
what I have made

These admissions seem candid and not solicitous of forgiveness so much as ready to accept what may come, the openness creating a different register for the poetry, in which it was no longer a matter of speaking than of listening, not a putting out of breath so much as letting a breath flow through. The process then becoming the product without a differentiation between the two. He could not make it flow through, but it was flowing through. Perhaps that thing he had sought all along was at last coming to him because he had ceased looking for it, a language of paradise.

TC said...


By the way, thinking about our exchange here, I was reminded of these two passages I thought might be of interest to you:

Samuel Johnson: Prayer: After Time Negligently and Unprofitably Spent:

О Lord, in whose hands are life and death, by whose power I am sustained, and by whose mercy I am spared, look down upon me with pity. Forgive me, that I have this day neglected the duty which thou hast assigned to it, and suffered the hours, of which I must give account, to pass away without any endeavour to accomplish thy will, or to promote my own salvation. Make me to remember, О God, that every day is thy gift, and ought to be used according to thy command. Grant me, therefore, so to repent of my negligence, that I may obtain mercy from Thee, and pass the time which Thou shalt yet allow me, in diligent performance of thy commands, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

William Hazlitt: On Living to One's-Self:

What I mean by living to one's-self is living in the world, as in it, not of it: it is as if no one knew there was such a person, and you wished no one to know it: it is to be a silent spectator of the mighty scene of things, not an object of attention or curiosity in it; to take a thoughtful, anxious interest in what is passing in the world, but not to feel the slightest inclination to make or meddle with it. It is such a life as a pure spirit might be supposed to lead, and such an interest as it might take in the affairs of men, calm, contemplative, passive, distant, touched with pity for their sorrows, smiling at their follies without bitterness, sharing their affections, but not troubled by their passions; not seeking their notice, nor once dreamt of by them. He who lives wisely to himself and to his own heart, looks at the busy world through the loop-holes of retreat, and does not want to mingle in the fray. 'He hears the tumult, and is still.' He is not able to mend it, nor willing to mar it. He sees enough in the universe to interest him without putting himself forward to try what he can do to fix the eyes of the universe upon him. Vain the attempt! He reads the clouds, he looks at the stars, he watches the return of the seasons, the falling leaves of autumn, the perfumed breath of spring, starts with delight at the note of the thrush in a copse near him, sits by the fire, listens to the moaning of the wind, pores upon a book, or discourses the freezing hours away, or melts down hours to minutes in pleasing thought. All this while he is taken up with other things, forgetting himself. He relishes an author's style, without thinking of turning author. He is fond of looking at a print from an old picture in the room, without teasing himself to copy it. He does not fret himself to death with trying to be what he is not, or do what he cannot. He hardly knows what he is capable of, and is not in the least concerned whether he shall ever make a figure in the world.

bowiehagan said...


Thanks for your kindness in offering these prayers.


TC said...

Re. Bright Star, Bill Sherman, who knows a bit about poetry and movies (he directed the short film Maximus to Himself, original in Nat'l Archives, BFI), has posted his views on the Campion film at his blog omoopart5:

Bill S. on Bright Star

human being said...

really really loved this poem!

i feel it
i feel it deep...

Anonymous said...

Oh I am loving these words, you. Really loving them.I truely feel them. Feel the beauty of their sense and the echoes in my Soul's tomb.

TC said...

hb, SarahA, many thanks.

I think it's plain that none of us can have another's feelings, so we must imagine them as best we may; we can't have them, but perhaps we can sense them.