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Every now and then I get to use my college undergraduate degree. This may sound odd as most of us have guided our career choices to complement our educational achievements.
Of course I suppose being a librarian is a career choice which encompasses many fields of study. But I graduated with an undergraduate degree in English Literature… specifically the 18th century Romantic Era. So it thrills me when I actually have an opportunity to use my totally unrealistic choice of a college major; an opportunity that has occurred about two times in the past thirty years. The first time I gave a talk on the Romantic poets to the La Grange Literary Club in 1982. And now, well, this is my second time. (And my father said I needed a career I could fall back on!)
I recently attended a Louisville first showing of “Bright Star” a Jane Campion film based on the tragic love affair between English poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne. It was a delightful movie, the kind of movie that I would have had to chain my husband to his seat in order to get him to attend with me…the kind of movie that would have made him gnaw through his own arm to escape. The movie was all British and costume-y and dreamy and filled with oodles of odes and couplets.
Since I am the library director, the movie inspired me to try to encourage library patrons to delve more into their poetic souls and come to appreciate the expressive language of the five greatest English poets of this era: Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Byron and Keats. And since I am the library director it means that none of my staff can stop me from putting together a display of poetry books by these self same odists.
But there is method to this madness for the lives of the romantic poets were as wild and shocking as any “bad boys” of today. Had there been paparazzi in Pre-Industrial Britain, these young men and the women with which they were involved, would have been fodder for the publicity mill.
Wordsworth was a nature freak who could be moved to rapture about a field of daffodils; Coleridge, a drug addict who often lost his train of thought in the middle of a literary effort…hence he often wrote in fragments. Shelley was a social activist and a strong supporter of women’s rights (his wife, Mary, wrote the original Frankenstein). Byron was a notorious ladies man, described as “mad, bad and dangerous to know.” He had an affair with his voluptuous half sister among many, many other scandalous associations. And Keats was the true romantic, melodramatic and tragically doomed. It makes for some good reading.
Go ahead, I dare you… come to the Main Library and check our display about these juicy poets. Who knows, you might find your inspiration.
The views expressed in this column are those of the writer.