Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art – John Keats

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art – John Keats

One of Keats’ last poems tells the tale of his doomed love for Fanny Brawne.

Bright star, would I were stedfast 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 stedfast, 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.
Through Charlotte’s love of Keats, I have become a fan of the great man. Watching the film Bright Star with her and hearing her wide knowledge and infectious passion for the poet is something which will stay with me. The cover photo for this post is taken from the film. One of the memorable scenes for us was Ben Whishaw looking up having climbed a tree barefooted. Reading Keats is very much, for me, like this photograph. Floating atop a tree and letting the words wash over me. This poem is no different.
The poem starts on a melancholy note, as thought he speaker is longing to be someone else. The star is the object of the poem and represents both eternity and transience. The star is of course Fanny Brawne, his neighbour and companion through the later years of Keats’ short life. Keats wishes to remain with his fair love, with his head on her chest looking up, forever. I imagine given the year this was written (1818 or 1819), Keats may have been aware of the illness which was to take his life in 1821. The main themes of the poem are love, life and death, purity, steadfastness and sensuality.
The last four lines are particularly evocative. We can see the depth of moving passion he has for his bright star. He takes special pleasure in listening to her breathe and indeed breathing with her while looking up. He is so profoundly and purely in love that this moment will suffice for him eternally. Would that we could have a love as steadfast as this. How lucky is the man who can love purely in this age of relentless and aggressive secular rhetoric.
I would like to thank my own bright star, as I do daily, for her own steadfastness and for introducing me to one of the immortals in Keats.
Mount Fuji – Japanese Wonder Restaurant – Birmingham

Mount Fuji – Japanese Wonder Restaurant – Birmingham

Charlotte and I discovered a few weeks ago that there are very few reasonably priced restaurants in Birmingham city centre which are not either deafeningly loud, or bard which happen to sell food. We set out the other day, after church, to go to lunch. We were headed towards a known restaurant to us in Chinatown but we decided to stop en route and look at the menu of Mount Fuji. We were soon convinced. The rest as they say, is history.

We started our journey up the mountain by ordering some sushi. We ordered Nigri Sushi Set B. This included tuna, salmon, prawn and eel. There was one other fish but I do not remember it. The totality was beautifully presented, the rice was perfectly sticky and the portion was correct for two people. There was some pickled ginger to go with it which was searingly flavourful. My favourite, I think, was the eel, otherwise known as Unagi Nigiri. This was made with BBQ or grilled freshwater eel on top of hand-formed sushi rice. It had a sweet and salty flavour with a rich, meaty texture.

Chicken Katsu Curry
Tender Chicken breast coated in breadcrumbs, rice, curry sauce & Salad

My dearest Charlotte in her inestimable wisdom ordered the chicken Katsu curry. This is nothing like an Indian curry, they are more sweet and richer flavour thanks to the variety of spices used and the soft onion and garlic flavours. The sweet flavours are enhanced by using soy sauce. This was a divinely delicious dish. The chicken was tender and enriched by the sauce and sticky rice. A true delight.

Chicken Teriyaki Bento
Marinated Chicken thigh lightly fried with Mount Fuji Teriyaki sauce poured over.

The bento box was beautiful itself and contained some really rather delicious food. The Japanese omelette was squishy and firm. The chicken itself was so very tender and complemented nicely by the teriyaki sauce, a simple marinade made from a base of soy sauce and mirin, a low-alcohol, sweeter version of sake. Sake is Japanese rice wine. The rice was, again, perfect. A great, fulsome and balanced meal.

Finally we decided to have some delicious drinks. Charlotte had the matcha smoothie, which tasted like grass but that is okay. I had the ramune, an odd and very sweet drink which you consume by forcing down a plastic knob to push a glass bead through the opening.

A magnificent, central Birmingham find, which is affordable, high quality and delicious.


La Belle Dame Sans Merci – Dicksee & Keats

La Belle Dame Sans Merci – Dicksee & Keats

Frank Bernard Dicksee (1853–1928) created this beautiful work after reading Keats’ 1819 poem, or ballad, of the same name. This is quoted below. The poem itself is a sort of fairy tale gone awry. The knight at arms finds a women who is ostensibly in love with him, only to find her deserting him after their first and only night together. The poem itself is quite frappant and I shall leave you to read it.

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
       Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
       And no birds sing.
O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
       So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
       And the harvest’s done.
I see a lily on thy brow,
       With anguish moist and fever-dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
       Fast withereth too.
I met a lady in the meads,
       Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
       And her eyes were wild.
I made a garland for her head,
       And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
       And made sweet moan
I set her on my pacing steed,
       And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
       A faery’s song.
She found me roots of relish sweet,
       And honey wild, and manna-dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
       ‘I love thee true’.
She took me to her Elfin grot,
       And there she wept and sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
       With kisses four.
And there she lullèd me asleep,
       And there I dreamed—Ah! woe betide!—
The latest dream I ever dreamt
       On the cold hill side.
I saw pale kings and princes too,
       Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—‘La Belle Dame sans Merci
       Thee hath in thrall!’
I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
       With horrid warning gapèd wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
       On the cold hill’s side.
And this is why I sojourn here,
       Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
       And no birds sing.

Dicksee, Frank; La belle dame sans merci; Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives

This splendid painting captures the moment after the knight at arms places the belle dame on his steed, and she leans over singing a faery’s song. We can see the garland on her head and the bracelets made by the knight on her head and arms, respectively. The knight is besotted with his new beloved. The expression on his face and the possessiveness with which he grips onto the horse are both evident in the painting’s rendering. The horse seems to be the only one who is with the programme and sees what is coming, having bowed his head in shame, almost.

The knight’s armour is done beautifully. I should note that while Dicksee was never a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, his work does show the extent of their influence on his artistic vision. The lighting, the subject matter, the beautiful colours, the red flowing hair of the belle dame herself – all of these elements form a striking picture. The portrait in my view does homage to Keats’ masterful poem.

The predominant mood is one of enchantment, intensified by the idyllic setting of the English countryside: ‘I met a lady in the meads, Full beautiful – a faery’s child, Her hair was long, her foot was light, And her eyes were wild… I set her on my pacing steed, And nothing else saw all day long; For side long would she bend, and sing A faery’s song.’ A fascination with chivalry had lasted throughout the nineteenth century, typically combining romantic escapism with a cautionary note of the ‘femme fatale’. Art UK

I shall leave it to my dearest to explain the vicissitudes of Monsieur Keats’ poetry. I was quite taken aback by this poem on second and third reading. It is beautifully crafted, symmetrical and pierces through the reader. The reader finds him or herself on the hill, with the knight at arms, alone and deserted, bereft of swiftly developed love. These two are a beautiful combination of art forms, I am grateful to Charlotte for sharing these with me.

Nanook of the North – Inspiring Documentary Film 1922

Nanook of the North – Inspiring Documentary Film 1922

Goodness me, where to begin? It is not often that I notice a masterpiece while I am watching it, but Nanook was just that. This was a documentary film made in the early 1920s, after two failed attempts in the 1910s. It follows Nanook, a master hunter in the Ungava region of Hudson’s Bay in Canada, and his family through their life in the Arctic wilderness.

Inuits from the Ungava region of Hudson’s Bay, Nanook, his wife Nyla and their infant son survive the Arctic wilderness by adhering to traditional methods of ice fishing, igloo building, and walrus, fox and seal hunting.
This is a black and white, silent 100 year old film. This is a hard sell for many but I tend to throw myself into films without much research. This movie, directed by Robert J. Flaherty, was the first commercially successful feature length documentary film. Flaherty followed Nanook and his family for one year and portrayed the most surprising and harsh episodes from the life of the family. We see their eating habits, hunting, sleeping habits and even their building of an igloo. The film is silent but for some music, though I have seen some showings available with live music. This must be quite an experience!
Flaherty consciously selected his cast and suggested episodes to convey the harshness of Nanook’s struggle with his forbidding environment. But rather than breaking the rules of the still-undefined documentary tradition, Flaherty worked according to the principles of Inuit art, by which the spirit of an artefact emerges during its creation and not as the result of some preconceived design. Consequently, this remains a remarkable piece of film-making and humanist anthropology… Empire
Why do I like this film? I have read and can dismiss some of the critics’ concerns about the family’s clothing being old, the igloo being too large (to accommodate for the cameras) and the selected episodes chosen to convey some drama. However, in spite of this, I believe this to be a relatively faithful portrayal of a family’s life. Indeed, some of the members of Nanook’s family ended up helping the camera crew, manning cameras and fixing some of the tripod legs as filming went on. I was moved by the lengths to which Nanook would go to protect his family and provide for them in the almost un-livable wasteland they inhabited. The ingenuity of the Inuit methods of survival are such that at points I could not quite believe what I was watching. Overall this was a very impressive and moving portrayal of a family living in impossible conditions, and, as the director notes in the opening slides, being among the happiest people in the world in so doing.

Please do watch this film. It is on Youtube for free.

Three Favourites – June 2022 Edition

Three Favourites – June 2022 Edition

Hello and good greeting, as Ed Balls would say. Welcome to this month’s edition of ‘I am working too hard so have a few album covers rather than five’ Favourites. See below this month’s picks of top shelf covers.

Takin’ It To The Streets – The Doobie Brothers (1976)

Picture the scene – it is Monday evening. I have just sat through a 7.5 hour mediation at work over a relatively small claim for some encroaching vegetation. I am shattered beyond the normal level for a Monday. Charlotte, my guardian angel, comes over and cooks me a beautiful walnut, pear and gorgonzola risotto. It Keeps You Running by the below band comes on. I am in heaven. Enjoy this splendid cover!

The Dreaming – Kate Bush (1982)

Oh Kate Bush, my lionheart. The below has features as our resident writer Nick’s album of the month for May 2022. I could not help but pay his impeccable taste homage in having this as one of the three favourites. Depicting a passage from the song Houdini:

The album cover depicts a scene described in the lyrics to the song “Houdini”. In the picture shown, Bush is acting as Harry Houdini’s wife Bess, holding a key in her mouth, which she is about to pass on to him. The photograph is rendered in sepia, with just the gold key and Bush’s eye make-up showing any colour. Wikipedia

Queen – The Miracle (1989)

This absolutely horrifying number was Queen’s 1989 album. The album was recorded as the band recovered from Brian May’s marital problems and Freddie Mercury’s HIV diagnosis in 1987 (which was known to the band, though not publicised at the time). The cover itself is very strange indeed. I am not sure that I possess the vocabulary to describe the level of horror this induces inme. The merged eyes are particularly disturbing. But it is certainly a memorable cover!

Join me next month for the July Edition of (?) Favourites.