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What does the whole poem 'Bright Star' mean?

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lollypop0710 | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 16, 2012 at 11:28 AM via web

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What does the whole poem 'Bright Star' mean?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 21, 2012 at 8:13 PM (Answer #1)

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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 swell and fall,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever — or else swoon to death.

Viewed as John Keats's declaration of love to Fanny Brawne, this sonnet follows the pattern of Shakespearean sonnets that are composed of three four-line quatrains with the last two lines being a heroic couplet that presents a concluding, or summarizing statement. However, while the form of Keats's sonnet is Shakespearean, thematically it follows the form of a Petrarchan sonnet which is divided into an eight-line octave and a six-line sestet.  As such, the octave poses a situation and the sestet solves this situation.

In Keats's sonnet, the poet expresses his desire to be in his devotion to his love as steadfast as a star that watches eternally and constantly over the earth. Extending his wishes beyond his own ego, like the star that is eternal and patient, steadfast and unchangeable, the poet hopes that his devotion to his love will be lasting and that his emotions unchanged and he will feel "for ever in a sweet unrest" the "tender-taken breath" of his lover. In the sestet, the poet transcends the human realm as Keats mentions images such as the "pure ablution" of the waters in their "priestlike tasks," elevating his love from the physical to the spiritual. Nevertheless, the poet expresses his desire to not be in solitude like the star, but instead to be

Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft swell and fall,

His heroic couplet, the concluding statement, of the poet indicates the intensity of his love, for he wishes that if he cannot live his life in this way, he should die. 

 

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