Now Brown, the Romantic, turns to Keats

Our PM as the poet's 'stubborn rock' in a stormy sea? Well, it's a change from Heathcliff, or mad Mrs Rochester

Mary Dejevsky@IndyVoices
Sunday 14 March 2010 01:00

Gordon Brown has inspired many literary comparisons: from the troubled and brooding Heathcliff to mad- woman-in-the-attic Mrs Rochester. An aide to Tony Blair once even described Mr Brown's life as a "Shakespearean tragedy".

Now the Prime Minister has found himself linked to another great work of English literature: from one of the Romantic poets. However, this time Mr Brown is portrayed as a large, immovable object: a rock battered by the waves of a stormy sea, from an epic poem by John Keats.

Former poet laureate, Sir Andrew Motion, made the comparison after Mr Brown – perhaps seek- ing inspiration to sum up his turbulent reign at 10 Downing Street – recently asked him to recommend a work of poetry.

Motion suggested a passage from Keats's Endymion, where the sea god Neptune is compared to a "fast, stubborn rock" impervious to the stormy waters around him. "He rang me to ask the other day if I could recommend a line from a poem for him," Sir Andrew said. "I gave him a line from Keats about being a battered rock we can hang on to in a stormy sea. So keep voting Labour, keep voting Labour!"

The poet told this month's Vogue: "I realise some people find him a complicated figure, but trust Gordon – he has good people around him."

The premier appears to have taken note. Last week, in a major speech on the economy, Mr Brown talked of the country "weathering the storm together" to survive the recession. He added: "While we have come through the worst of this dreadful storm, the waters are still choppy. There are still real risks to the recovery."

The full quote from Endymion reads: "King of the stormy sea! / Brother of Jove, and co-inheritor / Of elements! Eternally before / Thee the waves awful bow. Fast, stubborn rock, / At thy fear'd trident shrinking, doth unlock / Its deep foundations, hissing into foam."

However, while Sir Andrew is a Labour supporter, the comparison is not the most flattering as it has echoes of Mr Blair's back-handed compliment that Mr Brown would be a "big clunking fist".

The Prime Minister is not the first Labour leader to borrow from Keats. The poet was a favourite of the late Michael Foot, who used a quotation from the poem "Great Spirits Now on Earth Are Sojourning" for the title of his book, Another Heart and Other Pulses.

Mr Brown, often criticised for his poor communication skills, blunt style and obsession with dry statistics, is also an unlikely match for Keats, one of the greatest creators of the imaginary world. In 2008, Mr Brown compared himself to Emily Brontë's anti-hero Heathcliff. The dissident Labour MP Frank Field later described him as Mrs Rochester, the insane and incarcerated first wife of Jane Eyre's husband in Charlotte Brontë's novel.

And, according to Boris Johnson, in 2004 Jonathan Powell, Mr Blair's former chief of staff, told the then Tory MP that Mr Brown's life was a "Shakespearean tragedy" because, despite his persistent attempts, he would never become prime minister.

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