Monday, October 7, 2013

Poetry Time - John Keats as read by contemporary British male actors.

I post a lot about fiction on this blog. But in my undergratuate days, I was quite the fan of poetry. Shakespeare to Bryon. Keats, Shelly, Blake. Eliot, Hughes, Plath. It didn't matter to me.

It wasn't that poetry readings were stereotypically shorter than novel readings in courses that often had less time than desired for reading the course content. It was that... I could read something by any of these writers and be transported. I could put it down, only to pick it up and read it again, gaining some other insight to what the poet might have been trying to say.

From there, it was a short step to biographies, trying to find out exactly what they had been trying to say with these words, what were the influences that were pressing in on them in the times of their writing and, in Byron and Shelley's cases particularly, the connections that these poets made in each others lives.

I'm not so much a fan of contemporary poetry, but I am a fan of contemporary actors reading out Keats in their beautiful English voices. There's just something about having poetry read out to you to make you hear it completely differently.

A few years ago, a movie called Bright Star came out, starring Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish. I was, of course, one of the first people in line to watch this movie as soon as I found out it was based on the story between John Keats and Fanny Brawne, the love of Keats' life. It was there that I first saw understood the meaning written into the above poem.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine posted another Keats reading on Twitter and drew my attention to 'Ode to a Nightingale' being read by none other than Benedict Cumberbatch.

This poem is one of my absolute favourites, filled as it is with Dryads and Bacchus and "starry Fays" and Darklings. The wonder of this poem is only increased with Benedict's deep and moving reading of it.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
         I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
         To take into the air my quiet breath;
                Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
         To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
                While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
                        In such an ecstasy!

Edit: I mentioned Ben Whishaw in his role as John Keats in Bright Star, and lo, here is another reading: 'La Bell Dame Sans Merci' ('The Beautiful Lady Without Mercy').

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