Bright star, would I were stedfast 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.
This is such a beautiful love poem, and I am in love with it! I came to this poem fairly late in my Keats obsession (which is ongoing!), by which I mean that I read the odes and other sonnets first. I never properly appreciated the love story that existed between Keats and Fanny Brawne until I saw Jane Campion’s film Bright Star a couple of years ago (which is a wonderful film!) I had been so enthralled by his poetry and philosophy and discourse on the nature of poetry that I hadn’t really understood that aspect of his life.
This is an astoundingly beautiful sonnet to the poet’s “Bright star”. As with all of Keats’ work, this is full of the most delicious word pairings and phrases… I love “her tender-taken breath”, I think it is ingenious. I also love the image of the “moving waters at their priest-like task/ of pure ablution”… and “a sweet unrest”, too… I love all of it, in fact!
I have a book of Keats’ poems and letters, and I read through the letters chronologically for the first time while I was still at school. By doing this, you can trace Keats’ life and thought in some sense. His letters are so beautifully-written, touching, charming, philosophical, revealing and terribly sad, and I remember when I came to the last letter — the first time I read it at 18 — I was in tears! Keats’ final letter was to his friend Charles Brown, on 30th November 1820. At this time he was in Italy, dying of tuberculosis. I would like to post the final lines of that letter here because I think it is the most touching ending to a letter that I have ever read. And I’ll leave this at that:
“I can scarcely bid you good bye even in a letter. I always made an awkward bow.”
Reviewed by Emily Ardagh