Few lives represent the transiency of this mortal coil as poignantly as John Keats, one of England’s greatest poets.
Jane Campion’s movie, Bright Star, focuses on the last three years of his life, beginning in the late summer of 1818, shortly after Keats returns from a summer walking tour of the English Lake Country, Scotland and Ireland, exhausted, his throat torn from coughing. Within a few months Keats meets and falls in love with Fanny Brawne. The following year declining health prompts him to stop writing poetry and travel to Italy in hopes that the warmer climate will rejuvenate him. Less than three years after meeting Fanny, Keats is dead at 26.
For too many, Keats life and legacy is caricatured as either the iconic, romanticized ideal of the artist taken in his prime, or the personification of what if, as in what if he had lived as many years as Shakespeare, Milton, or other of his artistic peers, what could he have written, what could he have accomplished? Instead of pandering to the idol-lust of Keats’ short life, the movie Bright Star sparks on the unfulfilled love of Fanny and John, effectively capturing the tensions of love and death, dream and waking that Keats’ poetry, including the poem Bright Star, describes.
John Keats short life is a sobering, iconic representation of how tragedy and death are no respecters of who you are.
Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight. Surely everyone stands as a mere breath. (Selah) Surely everyone goes about like a shadow. Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; they heap up, and do not know who will gather. Psalms 39