Keats lives! (for a while)
Poor fellow! His was an untoward fate:—
'Tis strange the mind, that very fiery particle,
Should let itself be snuffed out by an Article.
Keats didn’t actually die because of a bad review. But if he had, how would he feel now that Bright Star, Jane Campion’s film about him, is garnering so much positive press?
Being dead, he probably wouldn’t feel much of anything. If he weren’t dead, though, his waxen cheeks would flush, his vague eyes focus, his chapped lips tremble. He’d study Entertainment Weekly and Time Out and The San Francisco Chronicle. He’d linger over the blog entries, gasping with pleasure – or horror? “O, for a glass of vintage!” he would whisper, emotions high. It would take him so long to read all the reviews that, unfortunately, he would die before he finished.
And so it is in memoriam to John Keats (1795-2009) that I offer a round-up of numerous, luminous Bright Star reviews. Your blogger found a total of 55, terminating her search only when she could no longer focus her eyes.
(Scouring the Internet for Keatsian kudos, I noted another, perhaps related phenomenon: Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist, a novel about a poet, has inspired at least 38 articles, including ours. Yes, I counted those too. Perhaps the public’s supposed skittishness about poetry fades when novelists and filmmakers use non-poetic forms to enter the poetic realm?)
Out of respect for the recently departed Keats, I have focused on portrayals of the poet himself, aiming to select the most flattering commentary possible. But out of respect for Truth, which, as you know, is Beauty, I have also tried to maintain objectivity. Here are film reviewers on the poet’s latest reincarnation:
“Self-important scribbler….Keats is clearly a proto–rock star—driven, yet lovable, and always attuned to himself….Artfully tousled hair.” – J. Hoberman, The Village Voice
“Tubercular young man…who spends his days sitting with a friend in a darkened room in his house in London or wandering Hampstead Heath in a seeming trance.” – David Denby, The New Yorker
“A bit of a slacker, a little too quick to have his friends pay the bills while he gazes mopily into the distance.” – Stephen Whitty, The Star-Ledger
“Struggling with money, bad reviews, and poor health….Pallid.” – Lou Lumenick, The New York Post
“Pale, intense and faintly wasted.” – David Gritten, The Daily Telegraph
“He broods; he coughs (signaling the tuberculosis that will soon kill him); he looks dreamily at flowers and trees and rocks.
“But these moments, rather than feeling studied or obvious, arrive with startling keenness and disarming beauty, much in the way that Keats’s own lyrics do. His verses can at first seem ornate and sentimental, but on repeated readings, they have a way of gaining in force and freshness. The music is so intricate and artificial, even as the emotions it carries seem natural and spontaneous.” – A.O. Scott, The New York Times
Abigail Deutsch, the winner of Poetry magazine's 2010 Editors Prize for Reviewing, lives in New York. Her criticism appears in the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Village Voice, n+1, Bookforum, and other publications.