Intentionally timed with the World Poetry Day celebration on March 21st, the second part of our article listing top movies with poetry quotes further explores how this artistic expression can be reinvigorated on the big screen. As the oldest form of literature, poetry remains one of the most powerful ways for humans to communicate their innermost feelings and distinctive worldviews, as well as to preserve oral traditions. By helping us turn complex emotions, contemplations, fears, and agitations into a thing of beauty, poetry is widely celebrated across cultures and generations.

Even though often considered a dying art, poetry still has an important place in people’s lives and, by extension, in popular culture. Below are six additional examples that prove its timelessness.

7. Before Sunrise, 1995

“As I walked out one evening,

Walking down Bristol Street,

The crowds upon the pavement

   Were fields of harvest wheat.

And down by the brimming river

   I heard a lover sing

Under an arch of the railway:

   ‘Love has no ending.”

The first installment of the Before Trilogy follows a couple of strangers who meet on a train to Vienna and get caught up in a thoughtful dialogue on life and love, eventually deciding to spend the night together. Along with the sequels Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013), it remains one of the most authentic and most loved representatives of the romantic drama genre. This is mainly due to the couple’s casual and witty conversations, which make their story beautiful, believable, and memorable.

Literature and music are some of the topics that flow through all three movies, with one reference in particular earning it a place on our list. Ethan Hawke’s interpretation of W. H. Auden’s As I Walked Out One Evening is casual and imperfect, quite like love itself, as described in the poem.

W. H. Auden was a prolific and highly celebrated 20th-century English-American author, whose poetic preoccupations included love, politics, religion, and psychology. Thanks to his ability to revive these social topics in a colloquial yet imaginative language, he is considered to be a successor of T.S. Eliot as a leading literary interpreter of the times. The emotional strength of his expression and his distinctive voice still resonate with readers today, as demonstrated by numerous popular movie interpretations.  

His Funeral Blues, also known as Stop all the Clocks, was used in the 1994 rom-com Four Weddings and a Funeral, where the character of John Hannah reads it at his partner’s funeral. Still, for the purpose of this article, we’re featuring Auden’s slightly less famous As I Walked Out One Evening, mainly because of the author’s personal preference for the Before Trilogy.  

8. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2004

“How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!

The world forgetting, by the world forgot.

Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!

Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d;”

One of the most memorable movie titles of the aughts is rooted in a poem that inspired numerous rewrites, translations, imitations, and satirical interpretations throughout the 18th century. To a modern reader, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a reference to a complex psychological drama featuring Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey, whose bizarre love story evokes a rollercoaster of emotions. Originally, however, this line appeared in Alexander Pope’s verse epistle titled Eloisa to Abelard.

Although centuries apart, these two artworks can be linked to the theme of unwanted yet cosmic love that is difficult to bear. Pope’s poem was inspired by a 12th-century tale of a romantic affair between Héloïse d’Argenteuil and her 20+ years older teacher Peter Abelard, a famous French philosopher. Written from Eloisa’s perspective, the poem reflects on her deepest inner struggles, revealing the rich emotional life of a woman, which was an underrepresented topic at the time. This is also the reason why some later critics call Pope a predecessor of English Romanticists, who abandoned the Age of Reason and turned to contemplations of love, nature, and subjective perceptions of the world around.

9. Skyfall, 2012

“We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

The 23rd James Bond movie has made it to the all-time top five of the series (according to Rotten Tomatoes) and has remained on the list for an entire decade (and counting). The ambitious production that Bond movies are known for takes new levels with this installment, while the story gains a more personable, and emotional dimension. This is the third out of five Craig’s portrayals of our favorite secret agent, each adding more depth to the character whom we’ve previously known as a confident, cool-headed, and a rather shallow individual.

This change in sentiment is also reflected in the use of a popular 19th-century poem amidst the typically Bondian adrenalin-driven ambience. Dame Judie Dench’s masterful interpretation of Lord Alfred Tennyson’s Ulysses is arguably the most outstanding reading of this widely celebrated poem.   

Written by a notable name of the Victorian literature, Ulysses revives the ancient Greek hero upon his return from the Trojan War. Settled at his home island of Ithaca, the fearless king feels nostalgic about his former life and questions his purpose during times of peace. Eventually, he decides to continue pursuing his dream and sail, inviting his mariners to join him on his next and possibly final journey. Tennyson’s technically perfect style makes the poem easy to read and understand, which is why it has appealed to generations of readers for centuries. Yet while the poem is considered a masterpiece of English literature, its author is often seen as a boring and soulless representative of his times. His very nickname “Queen’s Poet” indicates his preoccupation with rather conservative topics, while his obsessive redrafting and rewriting had made his works appear soulless to many. T.S. Eliot saw Tennyson as “the saddest of all English poets”, while the abovementioned W.H. Auden went even a step further, calling him stupid.

Whatever the popular opinion of Tennyson’s focus and practices, his poetry remains exemplary to the popular style of his time. What’s more, its strong imagery and precise language are powerful enough to bring distant themes closer even to a modern reader, and Ulysses is a grand example of this.

10. Kill Your Darlings, 2013

“Be careful, you are not in wonderland

I’ve heard the strange madness long growing in your soul

but you’re fortunate in your ignorance

in your isolation

you who have suffered

find where love hides

give, share, lose

lest we die, unbloomed.”

As opposed to a more traditional Allen Ginsberg biopic titled Howl (James Franco), Kill Your Darlings focuses on a single, life-changing event the great American poet witnessed. His friendship with Lucien Carr proved to be a turning point in his self-discovery, and a ticket to the later established Beat Movement. Everything we know about the wild bunch that came to be synonymous with this social era is incomplete without the story of Lucien Carr, who introduced Ginsberg to W. S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac.

Before these authors published their major works, they were associated with a murder that has never been fully resolved. Kill Your Darlings offers us one perspective on the known sequence of events that led to this tragedy and how it helped shape the edgy, thought-provoking, and revolutionary poetry that Ginsberg came to be known for.

In the scene on a boat, Ginsberg’s character (Daniel Radcliffe) reads a poem written for the purpose of the movie by Austin Bunn and John Krokidas. The poem reflects some of the topics common to Ginsberg in a strong and direct language that reflects his own. There is, however, a more powerful reading of Shelly’s elegy for Keats, titled Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats, towards the end of the movie. Since the scene contains spoilers and explicit content, we decided not to include it, but here are the verses you will recognize if you decide to watch.

 “Wake, melancholy Mother, wake and weep!

       Yet wherefore? Quench within their burning bed

       Thy fiery tears, and let thy loud heart keep”

11. Interstellar, 2014

“Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.”

The current Best Picture Oscar laureate is well known for writing screenplays for his own movies, which is the case with his space dystopia Interstellar as well. Together with brilliant acting, well-developed themes, and scientific accuracy, Nolan’s carefully crafted dialogues are a staple of all his directorial efforts. In this one, he tells the story of a former NASA astronaut who is invited to champion a high-risk interstellar mission with a goal of finding a habitable planet that could offer an alternative to the life on Earth. And while the plot sounds quite typical of its genre, the story moves us on a much deeper level, which is one of Nolan’s specialties.

One of the numerous mechanisms he uses to make his dialogues more emotional is a reference to Dylan Thomas’s Do not go gentle into that good night. Written in 1947, this poem is considered to be dedicated to Thomas’s dying father, as its dominant themes are death and grief. Its dark, nearly ominous tone, and repetitive verses communicate intricate emotions associated with the death of a loved one. From fear and denial to rage and determination, the poem authentically depicts one’s torturous state of mind when faced with this horrible experience. However, the poem can be interpreted as an encouragement to never surrender without a fight, empowering us to face our fears and give our best to overcome the challenges ahead.

In addition to Interstellar, the other movies that referenced it in the past were Independence Day and Dangerous Minds.

12. Nine Days, 2020

“Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,

You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions of suns left,)

You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,

You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,

You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.

This hidden gem of a movie was recommended to us in response to the first part of this article and we cannot be more thankful for it. Nine Days deals with an underexplored, possibly unique theme in contemporary cinema and does it in a completely unexpected way. As opposed to the theme of the afterlife that has been covered and contemplated in many different art forms, Nine Days takes a step back and questions the opposite. Where do our souls come from? Is life an award or punishment?

To all of those who enjoy such contemplations, Nine Days is certainly a special cinematic treat. And if you love poetry as well (and you probably wouldn’t be reading this article if you didn’t), it offers a special cherry on top at the end. The scene in which the lead character recites Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself comes after a full specter of existential questions, offering a gripping answer to some of them. This poem is seen as Whitman’s poetic biography, but also an in-depth exploration of our notion of self and the late 19th-century American society. Its tone is meditative, and often melancholic, perfectly illustrating the dynamics of the long, and often tiring journey of self-discovery.

Whitman is another proof that good poetry can transcend generations and here we see him revived in the energetic interpretation of Winston Duke’s character.

(Spoiler alert – this is the closing scene of the movie!)

Cover photo source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/22/movies/before-sunrise-ethan-hawke-julie-delpy.html

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