This sonnet by Keats is a lovely combination of an accumulation of imagery relating to a star and the sensual image of the poet resting his head on his lover’s breasts. The poetry is in how these two themes are linked as well as how he deals with each of them individually.
And this is a great reminder of Keats’s technical and verbal mastery achieved while still a young man – for he wrote all his poetry as a young man before he died at the age of 25 from tuberculosis, a bit like the heroine of a Romantic opera.
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. –
The “Bright star” of the title takes up all the first eight lines of the poem, kicked off by the first line in which the poet wishes he were as steadfast as the star, meaning always there, always shining. But the following lines paradoxically list the ways in which he does not wish to be like the star – he does not wish to be alone, watching the oceans move across the surface of the earth, or looking at the snow-covering of the mountains or the moors. This star would be a voyeuristic observer, not engaged, not intervening, just persistently present. So how does the poet wish to be like the star? Well, you can get suspense even in a fourteen line sonnet, so we need to wait for the final six lines to find out that it only the quality of persistence, steadfastness which the poet wishes to emulate as he pillows his head upon his lovers breasts and feels them rising and falling as she breathes. He is living in the moment but wants the moment to last as long as the star will shine. And only death should break the spell.
The Poetry Dude