Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art

Bright Star

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.

Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art is the first line of a sonnet by John Keats that was first published in The Plymouth and Devonport Weekly Journal in 1838. Keats had previously inscribed it into Joseph Severn's copy of Shakespeare's Poems, opposite "A Lover's Complaint" on September 28, 1820. Keats and Severn were travelling along the Dorset coastline aboard the Maria Crowther en route to Italy and Severn would always believe that Keats had composed it specially for him. Although it was long thought to be Keats's last poem, it is now thought to have been written between February and April of 1819. Colvin believed it to have been in the last week of February 1819, immediately after Keats' engagement to Fanny Brawne.

Addressed to a star (presumably Polaris), the sonnet expresses the poet's wish to be as constant as the star while he presses against his sleeping love. The use of the star imagery is unusual in that Keats dismisses many of its more apparent qualities, focusing on the star's steadfast nature. In the first recorded draft (copied by Charles Brown and dated to early 1819), the poet loves unto death; by the final version death, is an alternative to love.

The poem is punctuated as a single sentence and uses the rhyme form of the Shakespearean sonnet (ababcdcdefefgg) with the customary volta (turn) after the eighth line.


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