In John Keats' poem Bright Star, what seems concrete and particular in the speaker's observations?

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kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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John Keats, in his poem Bright Star: Would I Were as Steadfast as Thou Art, seems to experiencing the deeply felt urge to remain forever as he is now, a solitary figure but with his head resting gently upon his “fair love’s ripening breast.”  The narrator of Keats’ poem, perhaps Keats himself, gazes upward toward the heavens and fixes on a star, a bright star, probably one noticeably more vibrant than others in the night sky.  This bright, solitary star represents the need to exist in splendid isolation with one’s lover, just the two of them, uninterrupted, with the universe moving on about them.  The emphasis on solitude is evident in Keats’ use of the word “eremite,” which means solitary, or recluse.  Bright Star is replete with imagery associated with solitude and tranquility, as with the following lines:

The moving waters at their priest-like 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—

Throughout history, images of streams and snow-covered mountains have been used to evoke precisely those sentiments, and Keats’ use of them could certainly be considered “concrete,” as could his reference to his desired state with his lover:

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 forever in a sweet unrest,

Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,

Keats eschews subtle metaphors in favor of explicit descriptions of the life he hopes to lead.  The first half of his poem suggests a desire for complete isolation; the second half transitions to his one exception, the woman.  His descriptions of his “fair love” are equally explicit, with references to the “ripening breast” and “her tender-taken breath.”  While Keats employs metaphors, for example, the star itself, and the moving waters’ “priest-like task,” his imagery is not difficult to interpret, although the use of the phrase “pure ablution round earth’s human shores” is perhaps the most interesting in this poem, suggesting as it does a desire to cleanse humanity, as if his need for solitude results from his perception of the rest of mankind as unclean.  Or, it could simply refer, as the word “ablution” suggests, something more Biblical.  In any event, that one line can be viewed as the antithesis of the rest of the poem, more abstract than the other lines and more open to interpretation.

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