Tag Archives: love letter

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

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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!

Jan Vermeer: A World of Tranquillity and Silence

3 Jul

Dear readers, you’re about to enter a world of tranquillity, silence and mystery, the world of Jan Vermeer; the master of light and the master of colour blue, the artist loved by Marcel Proust, the artist forgotten for three long centuries and then rediscovered in the mid 19th century, and above all – a painter who gave beauty to everyday activities.

1658. Jan Vermeer van Delft - Girl reading a Letter at an Open Window Jan Vermeer van Delft, Girl reading a Letter at an Open Window, 1658

I was seduced by the silent beauty of this everyday scene. Day is slowly coming to an end. The last rays of sunlight are piercing through the window and bathing the room with a soft yellow hue. A girl is standing by the window, solemnly reading a love letter. Everything is so light, warm and tender. We can see her reflection in the window. The sunlight spilt its charms across her chamber and everything appears soft and luminous, as if Vermeer himself was dreaming of the warm Mediterranean colours; from her blonde ringlets, rosy cheeks and yellow dress, to the wall and the greenish-yellow curtain on the right. Looking at that soft transitions of colour, you can imagine the rapture Vermeer felt while painting it.

Writing a letter *oil on panel *39 x 29.5 cm *signed b.c.: GTB *ca. 1655

Gerrit ter Borch, Woman Writing a Letter, 1655

On the other hand, the girl seems sombre and lost in her own thoughts. Her eyes are fixated on the letter, her lips closed together. She’s dressed in a fine yellow and black silk, her hair nicely arranged, and she’s surrounded by luxurious fabrics and a bowl of fruit. In this cosy bourgeois interior, this young woman is facing an inner turmoil. The letter is most certainly implying the beginning of a secret love affair, which would be a very risky move in the seventeenth century. Some art historians have implied that the painting shows a young married woman who is about to engage in an affair. There are some elements in the painting that prove this; firstly the letter, then the bowl of apples and peaches, and we know that Eve tempted Adam with an apple, and also the colour of her dress, yellow, was considered a colour of adulteresses and whores, along with crimson red of course.

1669-70. The Love Letter (Dutch De liefdesbrief) by Jan Vermeer

Jan Vermeer, The Love Letter (Dutch: De liefdesbrief), 1669-70

For example, in the 16th century, courtesans in Florence were required to wear a yellow veil, and ‘a letter from 1688‘ notes that ‘whole streets fill’d with Ladies, easily distinguish’d from others by their Habits, being dressed in red and yellow, with naked breasts and painted faces…‘* While I agree that the letter is a hint of a possible love affair, I don’t think this lady is a married one. In my view, she could be a daughter of a wealthy merchant or something similar, who just received a letter from a man her parents might not have had in mind as a possible husband for her. This lady in a yellow dress, reading a mysterious letter in a room brightened up by the gold sunset, feels isolated and trapped by social customs. The open window could symbolise her longing to get acquainted with the outside world. After all, freedom is the sweetest of all the gifts.

1660-62. Woman Reading a Letter - Gerard ter Borch

Gerard ter Borch, Woman Reading a Letter, 1660-62

I’ve chosen some other genre paintings by Vermeer (1632–1675) and Gerrit ter Borch (1617–1681) with similar subject; ladies writing or reading a love letter. Gerrit ter Borch’s Woman Writing a Letter (1655) is especially interesting because it possesses a certain delicacy. Just think about it, these ladies, with their porcelain white skin, their rustling silk dresses, pearl earrings and aloof smiles, have spent four centuries writing and reading the letters we’ll never be able to read. Their longings and inner turmoil hidden underneath an ice-cold blonde facade will forever stay a mystery, but the beauty of the moment that Vermeer and Borch have so delicately captured is here for everyone to enjoy.

1650s Gerrit ter Borch - Messenger (unknown), date unknwon to me

Gerrit ter Borch, Messenger (unknown),1650

I’ve been thinking lately that I lack variety on the blog, and, well, I decided to write about an artist that I’ve never written about before. Vermeer’s paintings that depict everyday scenes with subtle beauty somehow intrigued me and I hope you enjoyed this post.

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*Williams, Gordon, Dictionary of Sexual Language and Imagery in Shakespearean and Stuart Literature