Chichester celebrates the great Romantic poets

A special event entitled Bright Stars is being held to celebrate the anniversaries of the Romantic poets in Chichester and Sussex.
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In the spotlight will be John Keats, whose statue resides in East Street, Percy Shelley, who was born in Sussex and Chichester’s very own forerunner of the Romantic movement, Charlotte Smith, who went to school in the city and later lived at Woolbeding House.

It all takes place on Saturday, March 11 at 6pm. St Pancras Church will host a talk by Fiona Price from Chichester University about the short, tragic but productive lives of Keats, Shelley and Smith, together with readings by South Downs poets from the poetry of these illustrious writers along with music from the period. Entrance is free and everyone is welcome to come along and share the celebrations. South Downs Poetry Festival organiser Barry Smith explains: “We are in the middle of celebrating the bicentenaries of the great Romantic poets who all had a connection with Sussex. Last year was the bicentenary of Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was born at Field Place near Horsham. He tragically drowned in Italy at the age of 29. 2021 was the bicentenary of the death in Rome at the age of 25 of John Keats, one of the country’s best-loved poets. After visiting Chichester Cathedral and the Vicars Hall, Keats was inspired by the medieval architecture and atmosphere to begin writing one of his most famous poems, The Eve of St Agnes. Even closer to home is our own poet and novelist and forerunner of the Romantic movement, Charlotte Smith. After many early struggles, including a forced teenage marriage and the imprisonment of her husband for debt, Smith achieved fame with her Elegaic Sonnets as a poet of the School of Sensibility. She later wrote ten novels, praised by Walter Scott, and four books for children.”

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Barry added: “Our Keats-themed events have always been very popular, often filling the church. We began performing to support the campaign to have a life size statue of John Keats erected in Chichester. Vincent Gray’s wonderful bronze of the poet now proudly rests in Eastgate Square where passers by can sit next to the great poet.”

Chichester's KeatsChichester's Keats
Chichester's Keats

The highlight of the day will be a dramatic reading of the romantic poem by Shelley, Adonais, which was written as an elegy on the death of his friend John Keats. There will also be readings of poems by Keats himself and this year by Charlotte Smith. Taking part will be South Downs poets Stephanie Norgate, James Simpson, Naomi Foyle, Chris Hardy, Richard Hawtree and from SDPF itself, Joan Secombe and Barry Smith. The music from the Romantic period will be played by Chichester classical guitarist Linda Kelsall-Barnett.

The event is being organised by the University of Chichester and the South Downs Poetry Festival with the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association. Barry explained: “The idea is to breathe life into the wonderful poetry Keats and Shelley bequeathed us. Keats and Shelley are both the absolute image of the romantic poet – dying so young but writing words that still mean so much to people today. Smith’s struggle to achieve recognition as female author resonates with young people.”