Apparently, subscriptions for film streaming services have rocketed since we have all been ‘staying home’. No wonder: we need to inhabit other worlds while our own is so ravaged with disease. Films can help us; and both prose fiction and poetry can too. All these can provide imaginative relief from the pressing circumstances of our real world. In search of that relief we spent an evening recently watching Jane Campion’s film ‘Bright Star’ from 2009. It’s about the poet John Keats and his unfulfilled relationship with Fanny Brawne. It’s sad – Keats died from TB in Rome, aged 25; Fanny heard the news in Hampstead. But it’s beautiful, and moving.
As is Keats’s poetry. I didn’t read Keats at school, only coming to him later. But as a teacher I’ve found some of his poems almost miraculous in their beauty. Hearing the skylark again on the Forest a couple of days ago, I wished that Keats had written about that astonishing songbird; sadly we only have Shelley. Keats did, though, write about the nightingale, his poem recording his absorption in the nightingale’s song, his being ‘transported’ by it. There is a kind of intense, ecstatic, even religious fervour in the poem. But listening to birdsong these few, past, quiet weeks, I’m not surprised. Nor does it surprise me that the French composer Olivier Messaien, who based much of his work on birdsong, heard in that song the undying praise of our Creator.