Poetry in Movies

Not sure why, but I was thinking about famous poems that have been written into the plotlines of movies. If a poem is used as an essential plot point, it’s the equivalent to “product placement”—like using the Starbucks brand in the Austin Powers series. So I did a Google search and found this partial yet substantial list created by Stacey Harwood from the Michigan Quarterly Review.

Sure, you can find lots of Shakespeare on the big screen, but what about Jane Kenyon or Pablo Neruda? So in no particular order, here’s a sampling of movies I like that feature poetry. (I’m staying away from obvious movie choices such as Shakespeare in Love and Poetic Justice.)

Arnold, Matthew
"Dover Beach"
The Anniversary Party, 2001

Auden, W. H.
"Funeral Blues"
Four Weddings and a Funeral, 1994

Bishop, Elizabeth
"One Art"
In Your Shoes, 2005

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor
"Kubla Khan"
Citizen Kane, 1941

cummings, e. e.
"i carry your heart with me"
In Your Shoes, 2005

"somewhere i have never travelled gladly beyond"
Hannah and Her Sisters, 1986

Dickinson, Emily
"Because I could not stop for Death"
Crimes and Misdemeanors, 1989

"'Hope' is the thing with feathers"
Quiz Show, 1994

"We never know how high we are"
Seabiscuit, 2003

Eliot, T. S.
"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"
Apocalypse Now, 1979

Frost, Robert
"Nothing Gold Can Stay"
The Outsiders, 1983

Ginsberg, Allen
Hairspray, 1988

Keats, John
"When I Have Fears that I May Cease to Be"
Brief Encounter, 1945
The Track of the Cat, 1954

Kenyon, Jane
"Let Evening Come"
In Her Shoes, 2005

Neruda, Pablo
"The Dead Woman"
Truly Madly Deeply, 1991

Various poems
Il Postino, 1994

Shakespeare, William
Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 1 ["To be or not to be"]
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, 1991

Henry IV, Part 1
My Own Private Idaho, 1991

Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene 2 ["The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars"]
Intolerable Cruelty, 2003
Good Night and Good Luck, 2005

Sonnet #116 ["Let me not to the marriage of true minds"]
Sense and Sensibility, 1995

"Venus and Adonis" ["Dismiss your vows, your feigned tears"]
Intolerable Cruelty, 2003

Thomas, Dylan
"Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night"
Back to School, 1986
Dangerous Minds, 1995

Whitman, Walt
"I Sing the Body Electric"
Bull Durham, 1988


There's also a wonderful and mostly obscure film about Taylor Coleridge and Wordsworth which has poetry from both of them as I remember. I can never remember the title of the film, though I remember some scenes from it very clearly.

I’m hosting the Ringing of the Bards poetry blog carnival, June 16. If you’d like to be included, leave a comment here or email me at tielansari @ gmail dot com any time through June 15.

Any style is welcome, but I’m particularly showcasing formal poetry this time around.

Don’t forget to come back and see the carnival!
January said…
Sounds like an interesting project, Tiel. I'll look into it.
Emily said…
Wow! What a great list! I hadn't really thought about this before...
January said…
I'm a big movie buff, so any opportunity to combine movies and poetry is a good one.
jo_annie said…
inspiring list! thank you... I'm fully enjoying reading your blog!

you've been tagged! hope you can join in!! http://neverending-growth.blogspot.com/2007/06/8-random-facts.html
matthew wright said…
The movie you were mentioning is called Pandaemonium, a BBC Films picture, with Linus Roache, John Hannah, Emily Woof and Samantha Morton. It's quite excellent.
Anonymous said…
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steve said…
The movie “The Loved One” is based on the novel of the same name by Evelyn Waugh. The screenplay was written by Christopher Isherwood and Terry Southern. In it, self-described poet Dennis Barlow (Robert Morse) woos a poorly educated woman by plagarizing the work of great poets. It features lines recited from these poems: The City of Dreadful Night — James Thomson; Ode to a Nightingale — John Keats; Sonnet 18 — Shakespeare; To His Coy Mistress — Andrew Marvell; A Red Red Rose — Robert Burns; To Helen — E.A. Poe. The movie also includes references to Coleridge’s Kubla Khan and Homer. Here is a bit of doggerel that Dennis writes to commemorate the passing of his uncle Francis, who, upon being laid off from the Megapolitan movie studio, committed suicide.

They told me Francis Hinsley,
they told me you were hung,
with red protruding eyeballs
and black protruding tongue.
I wept as I remembered how often you and I
had laughed about Los Angeles
and now tis here you’ll lie.
Here, pickled in formaldehyde
and painted like a whore,
shrimp pink, incorruptible–
not lost, but gone before.
January said…
Thanks for the info on The Loved Ones. Had to look up the cast on IMDB.com but sounds like a good film to check out.
vydeo ynkhorne said…
this has been a favorite poem of mine for years...thanks for filling in missing lines!!
vydeo ynkhorne said…
steve, on the francis hensley poem, I recall a line "we come to bury francis hensley with the studio's valediction. they told me francis hensley met with some constriction..."

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