To consider place in “Bright Star! Would I Were Steadfast as Thou Art” time must also be considered. The two places discussed in the poem are the speaker's place on earth and the position of the north star in the sky. The speaker describes his desire to be as steadfast,...
To consider place in “Bright Star! Would I Were Steadfast as Thou Art” time must also be considered. The two places discussed in the poem are the speaker's place on earth and the position of the north star in the sky. The speaker describes his desire to be as steadfast, in one place, and as eternal as the star. He compares the star's method of gazing on the purifying waters of the earth as if the star were a priest, a “sleepless eremite.” The speaker wishes to be eternal like the star, to be awake forever, watching the beauty of nature.
However, in the second line, the speaker does not wish to be “in lone splendor.” He does not want to be alone, as the star is, and he would not wish for the life of a priest because priests can't marry. Most critics agree that Keats wrote this poem about his love for Fanny Brawne. So, Keats purposely turns from this metaphor for these reasons and because to be in love, one needs to be human. A star can't love. He wished to be eternal, but to love, one must be human and necessarily mortal. Keats might consider love to be eternal, but in this poem he is talking about the empirical, sensual experience of love. This must occur in life.
The change from wanting to be like the eternal star to wishing to be like a paradoxically eternal mortal occurs in line 9.
No—yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To fell 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.
The change is indicated by the opening word, “No.” The speaker wishes to be eternal, but in the act of something that requires time and change. The “swell and fall” occurs within time. To hear her “tender-taken breath,” he must be there with her over a period of time. A length of time includes change and with mortality, change inevitably leads to death, so the eternal state is out of the question.
Since the speaker, Keats, can't be immortal while in his lover's embrace, “so live ever” he would choose death. That is, he would choose to die while “Pillow'd upon” her breast. Notice the repetition of words referencing wakefulness and sleep: pillow'd, awake, unrest. If he can't live forever in this state of the embrace and rise and fall of her breath, he would like to die while doing so. In other words, he'd like to die at his happiest moment. Also, this would be his last experience in life, his last memory and perhaps, the last impression on his soul. Tragically, Keats died one year after writing this poem.
In this poem, place determines the experience. If he is in the position of the star, he is removed from humanity. He can watch, from afar, his love sleeping and this allows him to be eternal. Or, he could be with his love on earth with the catch that he must be mortal and this experience will end. He chooses the ephemeral experience with her on earth and, in a sense, chooses to “love her to/until (his) death.”