In a partnership of the Culture and Arts Sections we bring you the MouthLondon Book Club. Each issue we pick two works, read, consider and meet up to discuss over cake.
Culture’s Choice: The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly is the story of how its author copes with his rare physical condition: locked-in syndrome. The condition paralyses him, evoking the claustrophobic image of the diving-bell. Jean-Dominique authored this book through one of the few movements he had left – the blink of his eyelid. But this is as much a tale about life, as it is about loss and suffering. The butterfly puts forth the role of the imagination in coping with external realities. Play and fantasy become a way to escape the physical condition – an inspiration to any reader.
Arts’ Choice: When I have Fears that I may cease to be by John Keats
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charact’ry,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love;–then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.
Keats had been shadowed by the death of his mother and brother, both of whom died of TB. Having been in poor health, his love of poetry and of the love of his life, Fanny, was thus checked; ‘unreflecting love’ is selfish, and Keats chose to remain alone.
At first, the sonnet seems personal, as the poet states his propensity for writing in the first part and his love for Fanny in the latter. Nevertheless, ‘love and fame’ amount to nothing for anyone. The last couplet ruthlessly contrasts ‘think’ with ‘sink’, reminding us that nothing is eternal. Pessimistic as the poem is, Keats nonetheless renders his eternal love into his lines.