Bright Star by John Keats: Summary and Analysis

It was the last poetical work of Keats, was composed in October 1820 on board the ship that took him from London to Italy. The sonnet with its measured space and serene dignity is a flawless composition in design and craftsmanship. Nothing is feverish or hysterical in or about it. Every line is balanced and luminous with calm and inner radiance.


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The poem starts with the wish of the speaker to be like the 'stedfast' star which does not change. His desire to be still and unmovable contrasts with the ever fluctuating life of humans. The speaker immediately shows his wit in wishing to be like the star stating that he loves the patience of the star but not the loneliness it possesses.  He wants to be unaffected by the natural change that occur in the earth, meanwhile he loves to watch the changing process of snowcapped mountains, the moving water and other happenings. He cleverly puts the reason of his impossible desires to remain same forever; he wants to lay on the lap of his beloved. On that very time, he denies to be changed. He carves to see changes of the nature laying on the lap of his beloved. He wants to cherish the moment forever. He also wishes to die if his wish for the eternal love does not fulfill.

This sonnet reflects the mood in which the poet was after saving boarded the ship. It is consoling to know that the feverish agitation of the previous few weeks when the very thought of leaving his beloved Fanny was unspeakably torturous to him, had given place to the tranquility of spirit to which this sonnet is the most eloquent and convincing testimony. The first eight lines of the sonnet are an address to the Pole Star which is ever constant and watchful. The star gazes down at the ceaseless movement of the waters cleansing and purifying the shores of the earth, and at the pure white mantle of snow that covers "the mountains and the moors." The gentle heaving of the waters and the purity and innocence that "the mask of snow" suggest, lead with infinite subtlety and delicacy to: "...my fair love's ripening breast, To feel for ever its soft swell and fall."

So that the first eight lines and the last six of the sonnet are beautifully linked and yet distinctly separate, for while the first eight lines are occupied with the constancy of the star, the last six lines are occupied with the poet's desire to be as faithful and true to his beloved as the star is to the earth and to its course in the heaven. The sestet of the last six lines opens": "No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable".

Nature and the woman he loved have been almost identified in language that for sheer beauty and finesse must remain unsurpassable. And over this scene of Nature in all her lovely innocence is the watchful star, "stedfast and unchangeable", and the poet longs to be thus privileged to watch over his beloved "with eternal lids apart"—the natural feeling of every lover when the woman he dearly loves is asleep and he himself is awake by her bedside. In the last six lines this desire is countered and yet repeated: "Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast."

He now wishes that he might be able to lay down his weary head and spend eternity with her listening to her peaceful breath, or else be swallowed up in death at the very moment when his joy is at its zenith of perfection. There is no feverish anxiety in this last sonnet of Keats, no dread of separation, no loathing or fear of death, no painful longing for woman's physical feature — everything is quiet and triumphant:

There is a melancholy interest attached to this sonnet. It expresses Keats's yearning for ideal human love, and hints at his own impending death. When he wrote it in his copy of Shakespeare's poems, it was almost his last piece of writing, his last will and testament so to say. This is perhaps the only poem in which passion is attuned to tranquility: and surely no death song of a poet or lover came ever in a strain of more unfevered beauty an: tenderness, or with images of such refreshing and solemn purity.

It is assumed that the poet hs written this poem with Fanny Brawne in mind. This poem is absolutely striking in its composition and vividly states the emotions of a lover. Keats uses dominant imagery to portray the unmanageable desire to still the time and conveys the reality of life. His desire directly contrasts with the mortal life which is constantly in change. Star is personified with the use of the word “thou” that watches patiently from above.