John Keats – Letter to Fanny Brawne – I wish we were butterflies…

14 Mar

I watched the film Bright Star (2009) again recently, and I read the letters Keats wrote to Fanny Brawne, and that’s the only thing that’s on my mind these days. These letters are pure beauty. And to think that just recently in my imagination, Shakespeare’s sonnet that starts with ‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments…’ was the most beautiful thing ever, well, I’ve transferred my affections to Keats, sorry Shakespeare!

Keats’ poems are beautiful without a doubt, but his letters just knock me off my feet. I spent hours reading them last weekend, again and again, until the words become etched in my mind, and maybe for a moment, I might daydream they were meant for me. After reading Keats’ letters to Fanny, everything else seems paler, duller, less beautiful in comparison… It’s possible that I’m exaggerating, but why would I deny myself this pleasure? And to think that these are just letters, private intimate letters meant only for Fanny, not for the whole world to read, and they were so beautiful. I can’t imagine anyone today writing letters so beautiful. I always thought that writing a letter, and receiving one, is one of the more pleasurable pursuits in life, I watch a lot of period dramas and I look at the heroines in their long rustling gowns gazing longingly through the window, waiting for their letter to arrive, hoping that it carries sweet words and even sweeter promises, and I know exactly how they feel: there’s a lovely, tingling sensation in expecting a letter, or an email these days, and the moment it arrives, oh what rapture! Fanny was one lucky girl.

Odilon Redon, Butterflies, 1910s

***

To Fanny Brawne, Newport, 3 July 1819

My dearest Lady

I am glad I had not an opportunity of sending off a Letter which I wrote for you on Tuesday night—‘twas too much like one out of Rousseau’s Heloise. I am more reasonable this morning. The morning is the only proper time for me to write to a beautiful Girl whom I love so much: for at night, when the lonely day has closed, and the lonely, silent, unmusical Chamber is waiting to receive me as into a Sepulchre, then believe me my passion gets entirely the sway, then I would not have you see those Rhapsodies which I once thought it impossible I should ever give way to, and which I have often laughed at in another, for fear you should [think me] either too unhappy or perhaps a little mad.

I am now at a very pleasant Cottage window, looking onto a beautiful hilly country, with a glimpse of the sea; the morning is very fine. I do not know how elastic my spirit might be, what pleasure I might have in living here and breathing and wandering as free as a stag about this beautiful Coast if the remembrance of you did not weigh so upon me I have never known any unalloy’d Happiness for many days together: the death or sickness of some one has always spoilt my hours, and now when none such troubles oppress me, it is you must confess very hard that another sort of pain should haunt me.

Ask yourself my love whether you are not very cruel to have so entrammelled me, so destroyed my freedom. Will you confess this in the Letter you must write immediately, and do all you can to console me in it, make it rich as a draught of poppies to intoxicate me, write the softest words and kiss them that I may at least touch my lips where yours have been. For myself I know not how to express my devotion to so fair a form: I want a brighter word than bright, a fairer word than fair. I almost wish we were butterflies and liv’d but three summer days — three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain. But however selfish I may feel, I am sure I could never act selfishly: as I told you a day or two before I left Hampstead, I will never return to London if my Fate does not turn up Pam or at least a Court-card. Though I could centre my Happiness in you, I cannot expect to engross your heart so entirely, indeed if I thought you felt as much for me as I do for you at this moment I do not think I could restrain myself from seeing you again tomorrow for the delight of one embrace.

But no, I must live upon hope and Chance. In case of the worst that can happen, I shall still love you, but what hatred shall I have for another!

Some lines I read the other day are continually ringing a peal in my ears:

To see those eyes I prize above mine own
Dart favors on another—
And those sweet lips (yielding immortal nectar)
Be gently press’d by any but myself—
Think, think Francesca, what a cursed thing
It were beyond expression!

Here you can read all of his letter to Fanny.

***

It’s very sad that Keats died and that his love with Fanny couldn’t be fulfilled. There’s a sad and poignant scene in the film which always makes me cry where Keats and Fanny are saying goodbye to each other before he travels to Italy, and they talk about the imagined beautiful life they’ll lead when he returns in Spring, how they’ll live in a cottage overlooking an apple orchard and a mountain in the mist, and Fanny doesn’t want him to go, and he says, calmly, “I doubt that we will see each other again on this earth”. I can’t think of a sadder sentence, not on this earth… It makes me think of all the people, dead and alive, that I will never meet; I’ll never meet Schiele, Modigliani, Syd Barrett, Lord Byron, Chopin, Rimbaud, Klimt, Richey Edwards, Morrissey, Shelley… never, at least not on this earth. I wish there was a indeed a sweeter, more beautiful existence after this life, in which all our deepest, dearest fantasies could be indulged, an existence in which time wouldn’t play such an important role, and artists and dreamers from different time periods could spend an eternity creating their masterpieces. Oh, how many idle tears I’ve shed over that scene!

Still, I think there’s an underlying romance about it all; the longing, the sadness and saying goodbye. Imagine if Keats had lived and went on to marry Fanny. They’d probably had ten children, half of which would die in childhood, he’d become bored with her and restless, she’d possibly die in childbirth. In that imagined domestic simplicity, where would there lie magic and beauty? If that was the way his life had evolved, he’d be a boring figure like Wordsworth, and I’d be the first one to think it’s pathetic. I always get angry and disappointed with my heroes when I find out that they were married, or even worse had children, I think it’s so pathetic and stupid, it’s a path to mediocrity! Can you imagine Kerouac changing someone’s diapers? No, thank god. There’s something so elevating in devoting one’s life only and solely to one self and one’s art. And fulfilled love itself is unromantic it seems.

I’m sorry, but happiness and family life is just not for artists, they thrive on strong emotions, they must suffer – for their art, which should hold the highest importance in their lives. Forget love, beauty is everything, and truth is beauty!

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5 Responses to “John Keats – Letter to Fanny Brawne – I wish we were butterflies…”

  1. lautreamont 15th March 2017 at 7:33 pm #

    Yes, I can imagine Kerouac changing a nappy-Desolation Diapers. I do love Keats though.He was an opium user so they say. All that bunch were,Byron.Shelly, and then all the pre Raphaelites too,A wonderful drug! Impossible to get these days though.I can’t remember if I told you before,but I have a couple of 18th century chinese plates that belonged to Rossetti,Besides being an opium user; he used to collect chinese porcelain.I did have three, but I broke one.They’re lovely and very usable too.One can stick them in the dishwasher-hard glazed. You seem to have a liking for the poetry and music of despair. Moi aussi, but some of my favourite stuff is the poetry of so called psychotics, the real “wretched of the earth”.A quick starter might be one of Ronnie Laing’s patients Julie.in the last chapter of Laing’s Divided Self. If you get chance check out his quotes from her poem “The Ghost of The Weed Garden” -bleak as hell, but truly beautiful! Hope you are well and not contemplating suicide.Apologies for spelling and punctuation in this,I have “swallowed a gulp of famous poison” and am writing carelessly.Best.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Byron's Muse 15th March 2017 at 9:17 pm #

      Oh, how nice to hear from you after a long and tedious day at uni! Opium – the name itself sounds alluring, irresistibly so, even though I’ve never tried it nor do I think I’ll have the chance, although, in an alternative life, I can see my self visiting opium dens, and then writing mad poetry. Yes, you told me about those Rossetti plates last year, I remembered because I thought that was so cool, but I’m also sad that one’s broken. Take care of the other too. ‘The Ghost of the Weed Garden’ sounds far-out! I’m not contemplating suicide, ha ha, I already have everything planned, if life becomes utterly meaningless, dull, and empty, I’ll put on a white gown with silver stars that touches the ground and throw myself into deep mystic waters, and float on the river forever and ever…

      Hey, what’s your zodiac sign?

      Like

  2. lautreamont 15th March 2017 at 10:10 pm #

    Aries.And yours? I know you like Godard. D’ya like Bunuel?

    Like

    • Byron's Muse 15th March 2017 at 10:15 pm #

      Gemini. Bunuel; I’ve only watched ‘An Andalusian Dog’ and ‘Belle de Jour’, but I’d have to watch more to form my full opinion. So far so good.

      Like

      • lautreamont 17th March 2017 at 5:28 pm #

        Yup Un Chien A is good and Belle de Jour. I always loved Pierre Clementi as the gangster in Belle -great style! Actually I prefer Bunuel’s later films”The Phantom of Liberty” and especially “The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie” .Ha! I just remembered the cannibal hippies at the end of Godard’s” Weekend” eating human flesh and reciting Lautreamont! Great stuff! Best.

        Liked by 1 person

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