The other night DH surprised me with tickets to see the movie Bright Star. He knew I'd been quietly languishing to see this movie about the relationship between Romantic poet John Keats and the young Fanny Brawne. I was certain we'd never find the time to go and I just knew it was one I'd want to see on the big screen, sitting in the dark, surrounded by other Keats readers. Then at the end of a long Friday I walked in to see tickets in his hand. *love* Now I know that with a master's in British literature I was predisposed to enjoy this film. But "enjoyed" is too tame a word. I absolutely loved it. And there's a particular scene that has stuck in my mind ever since. In this scene Keats is visiting Brawne's family at Christmas and, when asked for a poem, begins reciting the first lines of "When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be." Folks, I literally burst into tears the moment he started speaking. And it took me completely, utterly by surprise. Up until then I'd certainly been enjoying the film, but I wasn't emotionally invested yet. Then somehow, in that quiet moment on screen, they seemed to capture how it would have been sitting there as the young poet composed that beautiful poem. It was breathtaking, both for its beauty and for its unexpectedness.
Naturally, I came home and started thinking about those passages in the books I've read that hit me in the gut. They come out of nowhere, steal the breath from my lungs with their beauty, and leave me dazed. They may come in the form of a debut book by a new author. They may come in the middle of the seventh book by an author whose style I'm so familiar with I wouldn't have thought she could surprise me again. Either way, they create in me an immediate and visceral reaction. Sometimes tears, sometimes awe, sometimes simply a smile of perfect contentedness. The truth is I don't often cry reading books. I'm much more likely to tear up watching a film and I'm not really sure why that is. Of course, poetry does seem to be the most effective way to get my tear ducts going and so in retrospect I didn't stand a chance at a movie like Bright Star. Which I highly, highly recommend. And whatever you do, don't even think about leaving before the credits are through, as sitting there with the rest of the audience listening to Ben Whishaw's beautiful rendition of "Ode to a Nightingale" is one of the highlights of the entire production.
Natasha over at Maw Books Blog wrote a post on crying while reading awhile back and the discussion in the comments was fascinating. Markuz Zusak's masterpiece, The Book Thief, came up on a number of people's lists of books they sobbed over. I, too, shed several tears over that gorgeous novel. The Harry Potter series, The Time Traveler's Wife, and Tess of the D'Urbervilles were a few others that popped up repeatedly. But this isn't really a post on whether or not you cry while reading. It's about those unexpected moments that give you pause, the passages, the words, the emotions they evoke. These are the passages that become favorites, that you go back and re-read to savor. Even if you're not re-reading the whole book, you'll pull it off the shelf and open to that certain page and let your eyes run over the words as you smile. Recently, I ran across one of these unexpected passages while reading Heroes at Risk. This is the fourth book in a series I'm very fond of. It's a funny, unique series and I'm attached to the characters. But I don't necessarily go in expecting big Wow moments, you know? And yet, I read this one paragraph at the end of a chapter and was, well, moved. It reminded me, in a way, of possibly my most memorable of these moments which occurred when I first read Middlemarch. I was going along, thoroughly enjoying myself, when bang! Eliot felled me in one clean sweep:
"You approve of my going away for years, then, and never coming here again till I have made of myself some mark in the world?" said Will, trying hard to reconcile the utmost pride with the utmost effort to get an expression of strong feeling from Dorothea.She was not aware how long it was before she answered. She had turned her head and was looking out of the window on the rose-bushes, which seemed to have in them the summers of all the years when Will would be away.
Tears, awe, the perfectly contented smile. I was wearing them all in that moment and I have never forgotten it. Mostly I think it's a matter of kairos--when the words, the writer, the reader happen to come together in a single, serendipitous moment of oneness. I live for these moments. I never know when they will happen, with what authors, what characters, in what seasons of my life. But I live for them just the same. Do you?