For decades, Hollywood has looked to the annals of literature for inspiration. Literary adaptations are more popular than ever, but poetry is still largely untapped. Films like Ken Russell’s Gothic and Jane Campion’s Bright Star center on famous poets, and there are some great movies based on poems, but we’re looking at the appearance of poetry in films — instances where characters and narratives are reflected in poetic works, recited in the movies themselves. Here’s a video scrapbook of poetry in movies. Feel free to continue adding to the list with your own video examples, below.
Before Sunrise W. H Auden, “As I Walked Out One Evening”
‘I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you Till China and Africa meet, And the river jumps over the mountain And the salmon sing in the street,
‘I’ll love you till the ocean Is folded and hung up to dry And the seven stars go squawking Like geese about the sky.
‘The years shall run like rabbits, For in my arms I hold The Flower of the Ages, And the first love of the world.’
Sophie’s Choice Emily Dickinson, “Ample Make This Bed”
Ample make this bed. Make this bed with awe; In it wait till judgment break Excellent and fair.
Blade Runner William Blake, “America, A Prophecy”
Fiery the Angels rose, & as they rose deep thunder roll’d Around their shores: indignant burning with the fires of Orc And Bostons Angel cried aloud as they flew thro’ the dark night.
He cried: Why trembles honesty and like a murderer, Why seeks he refuge from the frowns of his immortal station! Must the generous tremble & leave his joy, to the idle: to the pestilence! That mock him? who commanded this? what God? what Angel!
Dead Man William Blake
On his 1995 cult western, director Jim Jarmusch explained his reasoning for naming Johnny Depp’s character “William Blake” and the use of the scribe’s poetry throughout:
William Blake was an English visionary poet, painter, printer and inventor. His work was revolutionary, and he was imprisoned for his ideas. I can’t honestly site a specific, concrete reason why he entered my script, except that while I was reading books by Native Americans on Native American thought, it struck me that many of Blake’s ideas and writings sounded as though they could have come from the soul of a Native American. This is particularly true of Blake’s “Proverbs from Hell” which, along with other fragments of his poetry, are quoted by the character Nobody throughout the film.
Dead Man is set in the 1870s. Gregg Rickman has pointed out that […] “Auguries of Innocence,” though written in the early nineteenth century, wasn’t published during Blake’s lifetime, and came to light only in 1866, which means that Nobody would have to be markedly well placed to have read [the poem] during his sojourn in England, datable to the 1850s. But this is only to say that, like most literary works of distinction, Dead Man is derived more from one person’s imagination than from any person’s library.
The Sweet Hereafter Robert Browning, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”
And, like fowls in a farm-yard when barley is scattering, Out came the children running. All the little boys and girls, With rosy cheeks and flaxen curls, And sparkling eyes and teeth like pearls, Tripping and skipping, ran merrily after The wonderful music with shouting and laughter.
The Piano Thomas Hood, “Silence”
There is a silence where hath been no sound, There is a silence where no sound may be, In the cold grave—under the deep deep sea, Or in the wide desert where no life is found, Which hath been mute, and still must sleep profound
Citizen Kane Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Kubla Khan”
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure-dome decree: Where Alph, the sacred river, ran Through caverns measureless to man Down to a sunless sea. So twice five miles of fertile ground With walls and towers were girdled round; And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills, Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree; And here were forests ancient as the hills, Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
Hannah and Her Sisters e e cummings, “somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond”
your slightest look easily will unclose me though i have closed myself as fingers, you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens (touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose
or if your wish be to close me, i and my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly, as when the heart of this flower imagines the snow carefully everywhere descending
Apocalypse Now T. S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”
The eyes are not here There are no eyes here In this valley of dying stars In this hollow valley This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms
In this last of meeting places We grope together And avoid speech Gathered on this beach of the tumid river
Barfly Charles Bukowski, “2 p.m. beer”
nothing but the dripping sink, the empty bottle, euphoria