Bright Star

Bright Star by English poet John Keats (1795–1821)–one of the key figures of the Romantic movement, expresses the poet’s desire to be like a star. In the poem the tone is melancholic while the theme is the desire to live in an unchanging state. Keats uses rhyme and literary techniques to reveal these ideas.

The melancholic tone is expressed throughout the poem. He begins with the use of apostrophe, by addressing the star. “Bright star! Would I were steadfast as thou art”. His desire is to be the impossible, unchanging like a star. Although he understands that a star is “sleepless”, he acknowledges this as a positive trait being “patient”. He also recognizes that the star is alone, but refers to this as “splendour”, giving the impression of the bittersweet existence of the star. The imagery of the next few lines involves the observation of life’s great spirituality as he refers to “the moving waters at their priestlike task” and the snow on the mountains. Keats seems to feel that watching life changing from afar would be better than living in it and having to change with it. He ends the poem by saying that he would like to live as a star “or else swoon to death”. It is apparent that Keats understands the sacrifices of living as a star, but acknowledges its benefits as well.

The theme of the poem is the desire to live in an unchanging state. This is achieved by Keats metaphorical analysis of the star. The entire poem personifies the star as a human creature that watches patiently from above. Keats also relays his message through the use of oxymoronic ideas such as “sweet unrest” and patient sleepless”. This concludes that Keats knows the impossibility of his desire to live in an unchanging state. The descriptions of the “earth’s” gifts represent what is changing and the star represents what is “steadfast” and what he desires to be. He finds comfort “pillw’d” in this locale which helps express the theme.

In the poem “Bright Star” by John Keats the desire to experience a life that never moves forward is expressed. The impossibility of this desire leads to its melancholic feeling. (Source)

Here is the original poem:

Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art–
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors–
No–yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever–or else swoon to death.

Here is the trailer to the upcoming film by Jane Campion featuring Ben Wishaw as the 19th century poet John Keats and Abbie Cornish as his “bright star” Fanny Brawne. (Movie opens September 18, 2009)

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