Thursday, 7 January 2010

I wonder whether Keats

would still have been considered a great Romantic poet if he had lived to 75 rather than a mere 25.
We went to see Jane Campion's "Bright Star" last night. The complex we went to has several small theatres. One of the other theatres was showing some extra screenings of "Finding Beethoven" which led to talk of "Finding Mozart" and then the "die young at the apparent height of your powers for certain immortality" question.
I do wonder. Did Keats really write that well? Is it because he died young that he is considered so great? How much does the tragedy of his life influence our perception and understanding of his poetry? What was he really like? Precocious? No. What is it?
We saw Campion's understanding of him on screen - viewed from our own understanding, background and experiences. I know I saw it differently from my father who is, after all, male and much older, and from my aunt who is female and not much older than I am but a scientist rather than an artist. All of us however shared the wondering at how much the fact that Keats died so young was an influence. It is the same with Mozart, although he was not quite so young. He has a tragic life. He (apparently) composes very early. (I still wonder how much input others had into his childhood efforts.) He dies young. He must be a genius. Would Keats and Mozart have burnt out if they had lived a great deal longer? Yes, almost certainly. I wonder how we would have seen them then.
I am more inclined to believe genius of Beethoven because he was not getting the most essential feedback of all for a composer -auditory feedback. He was angry and frustrated - and rightly so. He was driven, unable to stop writing. He was probably an appalling person to be around but his life must have been hell on earth. For me his music has a complexity that Mozart lacks. Is it maturity or is it something else? I know others will disagree and even accuse me of sacrilege.
Keats is a Mozart of words for me but not a Beethoven. It is a matter of taste.
But the film was worthy of attention. I wonder whether a male could have directed it with the same sensitivity. Perhaps. Perhaps not. The question of a "tragic and die young life" remains.


Rachel Fenton said...

Well...I like Mozart and Beethoven, though I do think some of Mozart's music has him sounding like a show off - technicality at the expense of emotion. Beethoven moves me to tears...Keats, I think, would have written better as he matured. I imagine him writing something akin to Tennyson's "In Memoriam" in his old age. I find it difficult for any Romantic poet to move me as much as Coleridge's Frost at Midnight however. There was a film of his life but I never saw it but I saw a scene from it on youtube....not really a proper comment, more of a waffle...but it's all I've got left today :)

catdownunder said...

Interesting idea though Rachel - no, I don't think I can see him writing a sort of In Memoriam. Coleridge? Yes. Would be interesting to see what someone like Campion made of his life.

Christine Coleman said...

I adore Mozart's music - have no idea how he'd have progressed if he'd not died young but I don't think his fame is due to that.
When it comes to Keats, I think I agree with Rachel - he would probably have written differently as he matured - as did WB Yeats - I loved his early work when I was younger, and now prefer the later poems.

One danger of writing profusely over several decades is that a certain amount of less goood stuff is left behind - e.g. some of Wordsworth's.

catdownunder said...

Nice to virtually meet you Christine!
I was never a "It is X therefore it must be good" sort of person. Even the greats of this world must have bad hair days!

Lord Byron said...

You are joking aren't you - have you read Keat's poems? He is considered a great poet because he wrote great poetry... Take any of his odes for example.

Wordsworth is also considered a great Romantic poet and he lived to a great age. Although much of his later stuff isn't highly regarded, this does not detract from his earlier poetry because quite simply it is good.

Whether Keats would have continued his amazingly prodigious (both in amount and quality) output if he hadn't died so young is another matter!