For myself I know not how to express my devotion to so fair a form: I want a brighter word than bright, a fairer word than fair. I almost wish we were butterflies and liv’d but three summer days – three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain.
~ John Keats
I’ve been reading through the love letters of John Keats to Fanny Brawne, his Bright Star. We live in an age when letter writing (much less love-letter writing) is practically obsolete. E-mails, text messages, and chat conversations have become our main sources of communication. Perhaps this is why reading the love letters of Keats, which have survived the centuries, are so beautiful and touching to read. But beyond our desire for the old-fashioned romance of hand-written sentiment, the letters of John to Fanny hold a virtue all their own. They resonate of poetry, of unbounded love, of thoughtful (and thoughtless) tenderness.
I confess it almost feels wrong to read these love letters, as if I am invading the privacy of a lover who was writing to his beloved and to her only. We are, after all, given his legacy of poetry, those beautiful verses that we memorize and repeat to ourselves in the quiet of the lonely hillsides. But are we given his private letters? Is it wrong to read the delicate heart-thoughts of a man to a woman, people we have never met? Though John and Fanny have been gone two hundred years, the words of the letters are still so fresh, as if they have just been written, as if the tears dotting the pages are still wet.
The quote above is from the first letter of John Keats to Fanny Brawne. Though they never married and though John was taken before he reached his twenty-sixth birthday, they loved each other very much and filled what little time they had together with whatever happiness they could scavenge. To live three summer days as butterflies… It reminds me of a Kate Rusby song, “Withered and Died”, which goes:
If I were a butterfly, I’d live for a day. I would be free, just floating away.
When we are with the one we love, even a day, short as it is, can be filled with decades of joy and delight.