The theme of this year’s National Poetry Day was ‘Remember’, encouraging people to share a poem they know by heart. With about a week to go before the big day – Thursday 2nd October – Nick and I decided to try to memorise John Keats’ untitled sonnet, reputedly the last he wrote, which starts ‘Bright star! Would I were steadfast as thou art…’. And which Jane Campion chose as the title for her swoonsome and devastating film about the relationship between Keats and Fanny Brawne. Nick wrote out the poem and BluTacked it to the back of the kitchen door.
We studied it as tea brewed or dinner cooked, and took turns reciting it to each other. I learnt that ‘Eremite’ means hermit, and found some lines came more easily to mind than others. By Monday, I pretty much had the first eight lines, repeating them to myself as I cycled to work, and was able to text them to Nick once I was in the office. He replied with the last six lines as he walked up to Clapham Common tube, thankfully without walking into a lamppost or colliding with another pedestrian. I was struggling though to remember the closing sestet, so on Tuesday evening I transcribed the sonnet (I’m sure this in itself helped) and stuck it to the back of the toilet door.
More studying, reading quietly to myself, reciting on my cycle to work and on one occasion performing the poem to Nick in my best sarf Lahndon accent, and I was almost there. But those repetitions of ‘for ever’, that tricksy rhyme of ‘soft swell and fall’ with ‘unchangeable’, and trying to remember which lines use ‘upon’ rather than ‘on’. O but what a beautiful thing it is, with the movement from the star’s far-distant gaze on earth to the poet ‘pillowed upon [his] fair love’s ripening breast’, and o the ache of it!
On Thursday morning the alarm went at 6:25, and without lifting my head from the pillow or opening my eyes I whispered the sonnet to Nick, word perfect. It will be interesting to see if I can still remember the poem in its entirety in a few months’ time. But I certainly feel the imagery and many of the phrases are now lodged quite deeply in my memory banks.