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Keats and Bright Star

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Through exploring common and disparate ideas and values, the conversation between texts enables us to gain a deeper understanding of the important issues explored. Discuss

Common issues explored in texts allows us to study and compare these issues in different texts to gain a deeper understanding of the issues explored. The parallel between Keats’ poetry, including When I have Fears That I May Cease to Be, Ode to a Nightingale, To Autumn and Bright Star, and Campion’s Bright Star give us an insight into the issues of love and mortality. Both Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale and Bright Star, and Campion’s Bright Star explore the temporary nature of human experience and life, and humans desire for eternity and timelessness. Campion’s Bright Star also looks into the gradual and inevitable progression of life to death, highlighting the ways in which mortality has effects not only on the individual, but also those around them. This is contrasted with Keats’ When I have Fears That I May Cease to Be, and To Autumn, which are more focused on the self, and looking at our own reaction towards death.

Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale and Bright Star explore the transcience and fleeting nature of human experience and emotion, and the human desire to immortalise these experiences. In Nightingale, Keats describes the nightingale as it “singest of summer in full-throated ease”, emphasising the natural beauty of summer through the use of sibilance. However, it foreshadows the temporary nature of this experience through the use of “summer”, as summer does not last forever, and will eventually end. This temporary nature is highlighted as the poem claims it will “fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget … the weariness, the fever, and the fret”. The experience of beauty is juxtaposed with the reality of life and suffering, as it is slowly replaced by this harsh truth. This is emphasised by the alliteration of “fever, and the fret”, highlighting the multiplicity of suffering and the accumulation of this negative experience. The motif of fading shows this gradual disappearance of the experience, as it shifts back to reality. The transcient experience is further emphasised as “beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes/ or new love pine at them beyond tomorrow”. The personfication of “beauty” allows us to see that while it seems she has “lustrous eyes” in the moment, it is not eternal, and ultimately, it may be gone “beyond tomorrow”. The final stanza reminds us that alll good things eventually come to an end, just like the Keats must bid “Adieu!” to the nightingale as “thy plaintive anthem fades”, once again referring to the motif of fading, and highlighting the sadness of this loss as the anthem is “plaintive”, as opposed to joyful as it originally was. The final line encapsulates the meaning of the entire poem: “fled is that music:---do I wake or sleep?” showing the Keats’ own uncertainty of the experience, unsure whether it was all just a dream. The transcience of experience is contrasted with the desire to allow these experiences to transcend this and become eternal. Keats cries out to the nightingale that “thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!” showing his desire to have the experience immortalised and become timeless. This is emphasised through the use of historical and biblical allusions to “ancient days by emperor and clown” and “Ruth”.  Keats describes the Romantic ideal of being immortalised through the power of poetry, metaphorically describing the nightingale song as “charmed magic casements … in faery lands” to show its magical powers. However, he ultimately shows the impossibility of this desire, as he shifts back to the human experience, describing the “faery lands” as “forlorn”. He claims that the word “forlorn … is like a bell/ to toll me back from thee to my sole self”, using simile to show that the idea of immortalising experience is nothing but a fantasy. This fantastical desire to make trascient experiences eternal is further explored in Keats’ Bright Star. The poem starts with an apostrophe, directly referring to the “bright star” that Keats wishes he “were steadfast as thou art”. Keats desires the timelessness that the star, however, he wishes to be “not in lone splendour”, showing his desire to transcend time is to immortalise his experience with Fanny. Keats personifies water, describing it as being “at their priestlike task/ of pure ablution round earth’s human shores”. The cleaning of “earth’s human shores” acts as a metaphor for the coming and going of different generations of humans, showing the transcience of all humanity as they come and go with the water. Keats shows his desire to be “yet still steadfast, still unchangeable” through this, as he wishes to stay forever in the transcient experience of being “pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast”, and “to feel for ever its soft fall and swell,/ awake forever in a sweet unrest”. The synecdoche of his “fair love’s ripening breast” represents his desire to be with Fanny forever, as the juxtaposition of the “sweet unrest” indicates his willingness give up everything else to eternalise this experience with Fanny, even through an discomfort. Keats indicated his sadness over the transcient nature of human experience, and his desire to immortalise his experiences through his poems.

Campion’s Bright Star shows a heavy focus on shifting of the seasons, similarly showing the temporary nature of human experience as it constantly changes. The film begins in winter, representing the beginning of Fanny and Keats’ romance. Throughout the film, as the season changes, so to does the romance between Fanny and Keats move through different stages. The film finally also ends in winter, signifying the end of the relationship between Fanny and Keats. This symbolises that while it may seem like nothing has changed, a lot has shifted, as we see Fanny walk through the snow. This, combined with the recital of Keats’ poem ‘Bright Star’ shows us Fanny’s desire to be with Keats. The film fades out to black as the poem ends with the lines “or else swoon to death”, showing us the pain of losing this experience. The experience is now gone forever, as shown when Toots exclaims “And don’t come back” as she throws away the autumn leaf and it shifts to winter. When Fanny is staring out the window at Keats while ‘Nightingale’ is recited in the background, we see a constant cutting back and forth between Fanny and Keats. However, Keats suddenly disappears, foreshadowing Keats’ death and showing the transience of life. The transcient nature of life further is explored through the butterfly scene. While butterflies have seem to have a beautiful life, as shown through the contrast between the drab scene of Fanny in bed to the colouful field. However, butterflies ultimately have a short life. We see a dead butterfly being swept up, foreshadowing the short life of Keats and the transcient nature of life, it must end. However, in contrast to Keats poems, we also see a willingness to accept this transcient experience to in exchange for a short moment of beauty. Keats say to Fanny in a letter “I almost wish we were butterflies”, despite their short life. This is further emphasised when Fanny writes “three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years”, showing Fanny’s preference of a short life with Keats, rather than a longer one without him. The reading of ‘Ode to a Nightingale” over the credits further emphasises the transcient nature of the experience, acknowledging that Keats is now gone, and the experience is over. Campion’s Bright Star contrasts the pain of transcience with the beauty it gives, showing the audience that even though experiences may not be eternal, they may also bring great joy.

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