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Movies with Famous Poetry: Poems in Skyfall, The Blind Side, and others

Updated on June 18, 2013

Poetry in Modern Movies

Quoting or referring to literature is increasingly common in modern movies: The Dark Knight Rises ends with a reading from Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, while Life of Pi shows the protagonist reading Notes From Underground by Dostoevsky and Albert Camus' L’Étranger.

Therefore, it is only to be expected that poetry receives media attention too. The most popular example in recent years must be M's quoting of Tennyson in Skyfall, which I have written about on my blog. Some may say that this literary reference was excessively melancholy and staged, but I love intertextuality in films. The quote is taken from Lord Tennyson's Ulysses, which the poet famously claimed described his own "need of going forward and braving the struggle of life" after his friend Hallam's death. It's a very fitting choice for the circumstances in Skyfall, and as Poet Laureate during much of Queen Victoria's reign, Tennyson's a very patriotic choice.

Here's the passage that was read by M:

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

I hope you gain some personal meaning from the poem, as I have. The last two lines of the above passage are on a post-it next to my desk, for reference when I'm having a bad day and not feeling particularly strong. It makes me realise that although the past has often hurt me, it doesn't mean that I'm weak-willed or possessed by my memories. If you want to read the whole poem online, click here.

From "i carry your heart with me" by e.e. cummings
From "i carry your heart with me" by e.e. cummings | Source

Other Examples

This list is by no means extensive, although it contains some of my favourite mentions of poetry. Do feel free to give your contributions in the comment box.

  • Dead Poets Society (1989) - "Oh Captain! My Captain!" (Walt Whitman)
  • Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) - "Funeral Blues" (Auden)
  • Bridget Jones' Diary (2001)- "To Autumn" (John Keats)
  • In Her Shoes (2005) - "i carry your heart with me" (e.e. cummings)
  • Blade Runner (1982) - "The Tyger" (William Blake)
  • Apocalypse Now (1979) - "The Hollow Men" (T.S. Eliot)
  • Hairspray (1988) - "Howl" (Allen Ginsberg)
  • Little Ashes (2009) - "Poem of the Solea" (Federico García Lorca)
  • Regeneration (1997) - "Dulce et Decorum Est" (Wilfred Owen)
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) - "Eloisa to Abelard" (Alexander Pope)
  • Groundhog Day (1993) - "Patriotism" (Sir Walter Scott)
  • Intolerable Cruelty (2003) - "Venus and Adonis" (William Shakespeare)
  • The Notebook (2004) - "Spontaneous Me" (Walt Whitman)
  • Million Dollar Baby (2004) - "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" (W.B. Yeats)
  • Spider-Man 2 (2004) - "The Song of Hiawatha" (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
  • 21 Grams (2003) - "The Earth Turned to Bring Us Closer" (Eugenio Montejo)
  • Into the Wild (2008) - "I Go Back to May" (Sharon Olds)
  • The Blind Side (2009) - "The Charge of the Light Brigade" (Alfred Lord Tennyson)

Why does poetry appear in films?

Perhaps because poetry is intrinsically linked to national identity. Tennyson was the British poet laureate, which may explain why he was chosen to be quoted in Skyfall, a "typically-British" film. Similarly, Walt Whitman - an "all-American poet" - is referenced in The Notebook.

Alternatively, the script writer may wish to appeal to literature lovers, like myself, who enjoy a movie considerably more if it makes literary references. However, maybe we should not question why, but merely enjoy the poetry as it comes. Hopefully production teams will note the success of Skyfall, and the revitalised interest in Tennyson it has resulted in, and make similar inclusions in their script.

The Blind Side
The Blind Side | Source


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      Laura 3 years ago

      Awesome list! I posted to fb to ask my friends what movies they knew with poetry before I found your list. My sister had added Seabiscuit's quoting of Emily Dickenson's We Never Know How High We Are.

      I think there are others in that movie too.

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      Joe May 4 years ago

      You must include Kirby Bruno's recitation of the St. Crispin's Day Speech from Shakespeare's Henry V in the film, Renaissance Man. It ranks equally with the quotation from Ulysses performed in Skyfall.