Thursday, January 08, 2009

Bright Star! would I were steadfast as thou art

by John Keats

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 steadfast, 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.

* * *

I'm starting a series on sonnets today, in the hopes I will post a little more frequently if I have a theme. Also, I have plans for sonnets in the future ... but for now, just take a look at the form. Notice especially the "volta," or turn, where I left a space. This is de rigeur for Italian sonnets. The octave, the first eight lines, presents the subject, and the sestet, the last six, presents a contrast, conflict, or change. Here the contrast is between the pure steadfastness of the star (this purity emphasized by words like "Eremite" (hermit), "priestlike," and "ablution"), and the more fleshly steadfastness the speaker wants to practice. No lone splendor for him! He prefers his lady's bosom -- yet there is a kind of purity in faithfulness as well. Purity is not solely based on the rejection of earthly pleasures, but on utter faithfulness in those called to enjoy them.

I am not quite sure Keats had the same ideas on faithfulness as I. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. I also don't much like a man saying he's going to "swoon to death" -- it's a bit much! But he was a Romantic, and they do it all the time. (Say they will, not actually do it!)

Altogether, I like this poem. It continues Keats' habit, which I discovered in "The Eve of St. Agnes," of using the repetition of words similar in meaning to emphasize a point. Here it is purity. At the beginning of "Eve of St. Agnes," it is cold. Look it up and see what I mean!

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