11/13/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

A Poet's Love Story Comes To Theaters

A soon-to-be-released movie by director Jane Campion explores the relationship between the great English poet John Keats and his love, Fanny Brawne. A poetry-based period piece might seem like a tough sell to theatergoers, but early reviews have been positive. Campion, at least, is in her element: her best-known film "The Piano," another 19th Century love story, won three Academy Awards. This new movie, called "Bright Star," looks to have a similar feel (you can watch the trailer here).

"Bright Star" takes its name from a sonnet Keats wrote during his three-year relationship with Brawne.

Bright star! would I were steadfast as thou art--
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night,
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like Nature's patient sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors--
No--yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever--or else swoon to death.

Keats died less than two years later (from tuberculosis, not swooning) and Brawne went on to marry someone else, keeping her relationship with the poet a secret, even from her husband. Before she died, she passed Keats's letters, along with his books and a lock of his hair, to her children, believing they would be of some value (Keats had become quite famous by then).

Campion has admitted that while she could immediately relate to the story, Keats's poetry, at first, intimidated her. She and some of her team went so far as to take a poetry class, and she made her actors memorize and recite Keats's verse. Still, Campion relied heavily on Keats's love letters for inspiration.

And those letters are something to behold, offering significant fodder for a big screen romance. In them, Keats is often powerfully and unabashedly romantic:

You cannot conceive how I ache to be with you: how I would die for one hour--for what is in the world? I say you cannot conceive; it is impossible you should look with such eyes upon me as I have upon you: it cannot be.

In one, he makes a memorable reference to "Romeo and Juliet":

I have two luxuries to brood over in my walks, your loveliness and the hour of my death. O that I could have possession of them both in the same minute. I hate the world: it batters too much the wings of my self-will, and would I could take a sweet poison from your lips to send me out of it. From no others would I take it.

And finally,

...I am distracted with a thousand thoughts. I will imagine you Venus and pray, pray, pray to your star like a Hethen.

If that made you swoon, you should know that "Bright Star" is scheduled for limited release this Friday.

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