Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The Bright Star of Keats

Bright star, would I were steadfast 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 steadfast, 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.

I am just returned from watching a film about John Keats and his love affair with Fanny Brawne, named 'Bright Star'. I highly recommend you all to see it, for it is a beautiful testament to their short romance. I also highly recommend that you take a large box of tissues - you will use them all. I think it a testament to the film that as the credits rolled no one moved, until Ben Whishaw had spoken the final lines of 'Ode to a Nightingale'.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Historical fiction

There are certain authors who remain close to your heart long after others have arrived and stolen the genre for their own benefit.

For me, Jean Plaidy is one such writer. I discovered her at school and the library there will bear witness to my love, as each sign out card probably has my name on it at least five times.

Born Eleanor Hibbert in 1906, she started writing in the 30s, but wasn't published (under her maiden name of Burford) until 1941. Her pseudonym of Jean Plaidy was first used in 1945 until her final novel in 1993 - the year of her death. She had six other pseudonyms (including Victoria Holt and Philippa Carr) and over the span of sixty years, she wrote almost 200 books. She died at sea, somewhere between Greece and Port Said, Egypt - which seems almost fitting for someone who spent much of her writing life moving about various historical periods.

The reason I love Jean Plaidy, is because she creates the world of the time she is writing about so fully that you can't help be entranced. You feel the danger Henry VIII's wives are in; you understand the boredom Victoria feels as she is kept sequestered by her mother; the idea that Catherine de Medici could poison those closest to her is very real.

Before I realised that some of my favourite Plaidy's were written in the 80s and early 90s, I was going to say she was dated. That more modern historical authors like Philippa Gregory managed to get deeper beneath the skin of those times. But it's not actually true. Something continues to sparkle about Plaidy's writing and she will forever remain a favourite.

So - I have thirty of her books on my shelves, and I think I'm going to dive back into the worlds she writes about. Now to decide - Tudor, Georgian or Victorian era first?

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

In Memoriam

Aftermath - Siegfried Sassoon

Have you forgotten yet? ...
For the world's events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you're a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same - and War's a bloody game ...
Have you forgotten yet? ...
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you'll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz -
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench -
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, "Is it all going to happen again?"

Do you remember the hour of din before the attack -
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads - those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?
Have you forgotten yet? ...
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you'll never forget.