5x poetry reading in movies

Text: Solveig Hansen, 2018

1. Poems from Paterson
2. 84 Charing Cross Road: He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, by William Butler Yeats
3. Interstellar: Do not go gentle into that good night, by Dylan Thomas
4. Four Weddings and a Funeral: Funeral Blues, by W.H. Auden
5. Barfly: 2 p.m. beer, by Charles Bukowski

1. Poems from Paterson
In Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson, Adam Driver plays Paterson, a bus driver and poet in the city of Paterson, New Jersey. As he drives his bus he observes the city life through the windshield and overhears conversations between the passengers. He jots down his poems in a secret notebook. Ron Padgett wrote the poems used in the movie.

In these video clips, we watch Paterson reading the poems aloud as he writes them or thinks about them while walking to and from work:

When I wake up earlier than you and you
are turned to face me, face
on the pillow and hair spread around,
I take a chance and stare at you,
amazed in love and afraid
that you might open your eyes and have
the daylights scared out of you.
But maybe with the daylights gone
you’d see how much my chest and head
implode for you, their voices trapped
inside like unborn children fearing
they will never see the light of day.
The opening in the wall now dimly glows
its rainy blue and gray. I tie my shoes
and go downstairs to put the coffee on.

2. 84 Charing Cross Road
When you are a penniless and lovesick poet with nothing but your dreams to offer your beloved, yank down the heaven and put it under her feet. “Tread softly,” the poet says in “He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” by William Butler Yeats.

Anthony Hopkins recites this poem in 84 Charing Cross Road, a little gem of a film based on the letters between American author Helene Hanff (Anne Bancroft) and Frank Doel (Anthony Hopkins) at the antiquarian bookshop Marks & Co, 84 Charing Cross Road, London. Over the course of 20 years, starting in 1949, they exchanged letters but never met.

With spring coming up in 1950, Helene asked Frank to send her a book of love poems, small enough to stick in a slacks pocket and take to Central Park. “No Keats or Shelley, send me poets who can make love without slobbering,” she wrote.

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

(William Butler Yeats, 1899)

3. Interstellar
As Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his crew set out for a foreign galaxy to find a new planet for humankind, Prof. Brand (Michael Caine) sends them off with Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night.” Thomas wrote the poem for his dying father. It talks about all kind of men who don’t submit easily to death because they haven’t achieved all they wanted in life.

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.


(Dylan Thomas, 1947)

Read the whole poem

4. Four Weddings and a Funeral
With Four Weddings and a Funeral, W.H. Auden’s “Funeral Blues” (also known as “Stop All the Clocks”) was introduced to a whole new audience. Matthew (John Hannah) recites the poem at his partner Gareth’s (Simon Callow) funeral. “Stop All the Clocks” was originally written for a play called “The Ascent of M6” in 1936 as a satiric poem of mourning for a political leader. “Funeral Blues” is a revised version from 1938.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

(W.H. Auden, 1938)

5. Barfly
Mickey Rourke plays Henry Chimaski opposite Faye Dunaway as Wanda Wilcox. The film is based on the life of Charles Bukowski, who wrote the script. The picture below is from the scene in which Henry composes a poem in the bathroom mirror while cleaning off some blood after being hit by Wanda. The lines he quotes are from Bukowski’s “2 p.m. beer”:

nothing but the dripping sink,
the empty bottle,
youth fenced in,
stabbed and shaven,
taught words
propped up
to die.

Read the whole poem

84 Charing Cross Road, Barfly and Paterson are all on the list of my 25 favorite movies about writing.

Photo: Pixabay.com

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