Reveling in the sensuous, Keats, in an 1819 letter, writes: “Talking of Pleasure, ... holding to my Mouth a Nectarine—Good God how fine. It went down soft pulpy, slushy, oozy—all its delicious embonpoint melted down my throat like a large beatified Strawberry.”
Christopher Ricks (a Romantic Period scholar, evidently), quotes Keats as part of an extended complaint against the film “Bright Star,” which, according to Ricks, fails to let words have their ownmost way. Adjacently, he quotes a contemporary of Keats, Leigh Hunt:
Here is delicate modulation and super-refined epicurean nicety! “Lucent syrups, tinct with cinnamon,” make us read the line delicately, and at the tip-end, as it were, of one’s tongue.Ricks’ article provides a convenient brief for the integrity of the evincing word as “poetic” form (as I’m wondering what it is “exactly” for something to be poetic, and the Romantics would be exemplary). Ricks would dwell with an idea he associates with Ruskin, who “valued the symbiotic relations between truth and imagination.” Poetry expresses, embodies the value of evincing, even enabling, “the mind’s eye,” an enhancement of mentability, one might say. (I coined the term ‘mentability’ years ago, but I see that it’s also a brand name.) Ricks quotes Ruskin’s indication of “a voluntary summoning of the conceptions of things absent or impossible...pleasure and nobility of the imagination.” “For the imagination,” says Ricks, “acknowledges both the power and the poignancy of It is as if....” He is grateful to the poet for “giving us...the experience of imagining the senses, the experience of finding imagined in words...[imaginations’s] own well-grounded truth” or, quoting Keats, “a sense of independence, of power, from the fancy’s creating a world of its own by the sense of probabilities.”
As medium of visualization, poetic form is a graphic art—though Ricks wants to distinguish “description that is graphic” from “the graphic arts,” which, he claims, Campion’s film confuses. “To visualize is not the same as to see,” says Ricks; “more, it is incompatible with seeing,” which, “in all its majesty and power...most threatens to tyrannize over the other senses, even as the senses are among the forces that threaten to tyrannize over us all”—presumably via our consumerist society. “The imagination will help us....Fortunately, to recognize the distinct and distinctive triumph that is visualizing may be one form of protection for the other senses against the triumphalism of sight.” Apparently, the insight here is that imagination is preventive health care for the mind’s eye, for conceptualization. Yes! I’m with Ricks on this (very presumably).
Most interesting to me, though, is the educive capability of words as relationship between mentability and an other—the pleasure of something as derivative of experience with personification, as things “speak” to us or reach us like other persons reach us, in a sense of being richly touching, “the creative power of empathy and of sympathy by means of all the senses,” Ricks says; or, as Keats puts it: “One of the most mysterious of semi-speculations is, one would suppose, that of one Mind’s imagining into another.”
Ricks believes that Campion’s film occludes the creative power of being in word. He grants that “Bright Star respects Fanny Brawne,” but he has much ire for Campion’s treatment of Keats and his poetry by so often visually accompanying what is supposed to be educed by imagination in word. But he’s a curmudgeon here. Campion’s film is about the bright star Fanny Brawne, not Keats. Nonetheless, Campion is right, that the public is too commonly alienated from poetry, such that making Keats more “accessible” is not a bad thing. The film is not aimed at The Keats-Shelly Association of America, which Ricks is overtly representing. But Ricks’ ire proves a useful reminder about being with, in words, and Campion’s film is a beautiful validation of the woman.