If Success Falls in a Forest…

John Keats as portrayed in "Bright Star"

I finally got around to watching “Bright Star” this week and it got me thinking – I mean, aside from the tragedy of a great love cut short – about the nature of success.

What really hit me – especially after getting my John Keats-google on (and if you’ve perchance stumbled on here by googling that phrase then hello and I can’t quite decide if I love you or loathe you) – was the revelation that John Keats met his death believing himself a failure.

Not one of the most revered romantic poets in the entire history of mankind, but a FAILURE.

My hubby and I were afterwards discussing the notion of posthumous success, with me saying that it seems so bizarre that somebody so revered would never even be aware of the impact their life actually had on the world.

I rattled off some other names, Jeff Buckley and Eva Cassidy among them. “Yes,” said my hubby, “but even with those two, they at least experienced some success in their careers before they died. John Keats didn’t just find his success cut short, he actually thought he was completely unsuccessful.”

Is our success – overlooking for a moment what you even define that to be – only valid IF we are there to experience it? Or is it still “our” success if we don’t even know that it exists?

I’m so interested to hear other people’s thoughts on this.

One thing I know for sure though – if I find myself on my own death bed before I have achieved whatever it is I’ve set out for myself, I’m going to take great comfort in convincing myself that my Oscar will come posthumously.

Even if I have never acted in a film.

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  1. Franipantz
    January 24, 2011

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. ‘Success’ is only really important to the achiever of such success and how that achiever perceives ‘success’ in the first place. Success, like money, is something we can’t take with us when we go beyond the white light. Success belongs to this existence and this world alone.
    But take our young poet Keats – would he have been half as romantic and committed such beautiful art to paper if he had thought of himself as being a success in life? We will never know, as each artists heart beats for different reasons.
    But how sad! How tragic that someone so great never knew his own greatness! Perhaps not..perhaps he would simply have wished to make enough money to marry his love and live happily ever after. Success thereby becoming a means to an end. Hopefully, a happy end. But death still comes.
    Perhaps we place too much importance on success or what we perceive to be success. Maybe we need to think more about how this success will change our lives so we have more to give to those we love, whether it be time or a place to live with views of the beach. Perhaps being “A success” is over-rated – ask all the post-humous celebrities only recognised well beyond their funeral (if they could even afford one). Do you think they really gave a tickity boo about being a success then when they couldn’t enjoy it in this world with this life? I suspect not.

    • January 30, 2011

      Interesting, but is it really only important to the achiever? If so, it seems like it’s a pretty selfish undertaking really.

      Good point about whether his art would have been influenced by him having success while still alive; it’s such an interesting and rich topic I think.

  2. christine
    January 25, 2011

    He might have not thought himself to be a worldly success, but I but he felt fulfilled getting his art out, and that is why his work stood out when people got around to noticing him. It’s sad that he wasn’t around to see, but at least those in his family and friends were around to witness it (were they? – I have no idea!) and in a way it would have brought him back to life.

    I heard a funny radio bit on CBC. The waiting room to heaven was over-full with dead famous people because the rule was they couldn’t go in until everybody on earth had forgotten about them, and they were sick and tired of being remembered. “Damn it all they printed a new edition of my novel!”

    • January 30, 2011

      Haha, that’s great. 🙂

      I’m not actually sure on when exactly he became ridiculously successful (in terms of exposure, at least). But I don’t think it’s too long a straw to grasp to conclude that he must have felt fulfilled creatively to keep on going, even if commercial success at that point was so elusive.

      I guess maybe it means that you have to really think about the different aspects of success (creative fulfillment, even just being on the path you want to be on!!!) so that the external stuff (whether awards, financial or whatever) is nice if it comes, but you’re fine if it doesn’t.

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