Monday, April 25, 2011

On the "minx"-on the true-love--Fanny Brawne

During my reading of Keats, I came across the love letters between him and his belovced, Fanny Brawne. Keats died in Italy, after attempting to recover from tuberculosis which proved to be terminal. After witnessing the death of his brother from the same malady, he eventually suffered a similiar fate after a bleeding lung led to his untimely demise. We all seem to be struck by the untimely deaths of those whose art fascinates us. By age 24, Keats had written all the poems he'd ever write but fame in any magnitude arose only post-humerously. Whatcaught my attention was the clandestine relationship between Fanny and John (their engagement remained a secret because John who gave up a career in medicine to persue his full-time advocation of writing) could not support Fanny in a proper fashion. The two maintained a passionate correspondence. "At eighteen, Fanny Brawne “was small, her eyes were blue and often enhanced by blue ribbons in her brown hair; her mouth expressed determination and a sense of humour and her smile was disarming. She was not conventionally beautiful: her nose was a little too aquiline, her face too pale and thin (some called it sallow). But she knew the value of elegance; velvet hats and muslin bonnets, crêpe hats with argus feathers, straw hats embellished with grapes and tartan ribbons: Fanny noticed them all as they came from Paris. She could answer, at a moment’s notice, any question on historical costume. ... Fanny enjoyed music. ... She was an eager politician, fiery in discussion; she was a voluminous reader. ... Indeed, books were her favourite topic of conversation”.[8]"

In a letter to his brother, Keats describes the Fanny he'd soon become enamored with:

"Mrs. Brawn who took Brown's house for the summer still resides in Hampstead. She is a very nice woman and her daughter senior is I think beautiful, elegant, graceful, silly, fashionable and strange. We have a little tiff now and then—and she behaves a little better, or I must have sheered off" ; the second: "—Shall I give you Miss Brawn[e]? She is about my height—with a fine style of countenance of the lengthen'd sort—she wants sentiment in every feature—she manages to make her hair look well—her nostrills are fine—though a little painful—he[r] mouth is bad and good—he[r] Profil is better than her full-face which indeed is not full [b]ut pale and thin without showing any bone—Her shape is very graceful and so are her movements—her Arms are good her hands badish—her feet tolerable—she is not seventeen—but she is ignorant—monstrous in her behaviour flying out in all directions, calling people such names—that I was forced lately to make use of the term Minx—this is I think no[t] from any innate vice but from a penchant she has for acting stylishly. I am however tired of such style and shall decline any more of it" [13]

I decided to post a moving letter from a dying Keats, living in KItaly to his secret fiancee'. I don't know of any current pop songs that demonstrate this level of passion and devotion:

My dearest Girl,

This moment I have set myself to copy some verses out fair. I cannot proceed with any degree of content. I must write you a line or two and see if that will assist in dismissing you from my Mind for ever so short a time. Upon my Soul I can think of nothing else - The time is passed when I had power to advise and warn you again[s]t the unpromising morning of my Life - My love has made me selfish. I cannot exist without you - I am forgetful of every thing but seeing you again - my Life seems to stop there - I see no further. You have absorb'd me. I have a sensation at the present moment as though I was dissolving - I should be exquisitely miserable without the hope of soon seeing you. I should be afraid to separate myself far from you. My sweet Fanny, will your heart never change? My love, will it? I have no limit now to my love - You note came in just here - I cannot be happier away from you - 'T is richer than an Argosy of Pearles. Do not threat me even in jest. I have been astonished that Men could die Martyrs for religion - I have shudder'd at it - I shudder no more - I could be martyr'd for my Religion - Love is my religion - I could die for that - I could die for you. My Creed is Love and you are its only tenet - You have ravish'd me away by a Power I cannot resist: and yet I could resist till I saw you; and even since I have seen you I have endeavoured often "to reason against the reasons of my Love." I can do that no more - the pain would be too great - My Love is selfish - I cannot breathe without you.

Yours for ever
John Keats

Thursday, April 14, 2011


In sepia he sits beside her
Fixed eyes set on me as she sits in her floral dress
Daydreaming about a dinner, cold on the stove,
a depression era mortgage and two kids who rip holes
in the upholstery, just kids who didn’t know any better
and he stares straight ahead
Bela Lugosi eyes that cut into the twenty-first century
into new millenniums, that scream through golden parchment, burnt at the edges
That say, listen kid, I knew the depression would come again in your time
That remind me to stuff wads of cash into my mattress, not to trust banks
and bureaucracies, that tell me to drive slowly
All these things I have done mean nothing
When I know that you walked door to door selling vacuums to support your hungry family
On weekends you carried a sinking violin case to practice with the
New York Philharmonic orchestra until at 31 you could no longer hear the music
That once on an empty street you closed the car door on your son’s hand as he writhed in pain
And you walked away until a man in a gabardine suit tapped your shoulder, let you know what you’d done
The pain of the language you could no longer comprehend
The crossword puzzles that kept you company in the silence of decades
Your wife’s back pressed up against the wallpaper in a New York kitchen
Because she wasn’t obedient
a bloody lip and the silent screams you wished you could hear
to know you were still alive
You were stuck in the quiet silence for years before the big white took you
Under it’s thick embrace
And I loved you despite the rage
I can understand it now
That fear lights a fire under us whether we like it or not
I was not your baby girl for long enough
And you were scared that I’d turn out
Too Jewish in the nose
Perhaps worse yet, the shiksa I’ve become
Your eyes still stare back at me,
Your wife’s hands wrinkled by time, mind
Has forgotten most of what’s she’s ever known
But she remembers you on a beach in far rockaway
She remembers the dark eyes that held her in a Nat King Cole
Nature boy embrace---
The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved
In return
And you stare back at me
Not blankly but knowingly
My grandfather twelve years dead
Seeing me more clearly
Than I have ever seen myself
My grandfather twelve years dead
You live on in my Russian roulette stare
In the quiet prayer I whisper
through the dashboard of my car.