“Bright Star”: Analysis

The Poem

Bright Star

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.

The Message

As the title of this poem suggests, “Bright star” is all about a star. It depicts Keats talking to the star, and considering its negatives and positives, namely: it is lonely and powerless, but it doesn’t have to change or grow old – it doesn’t even have to die. Keats decides in this poem that he wants a little of both worlds; he desires the unchangeable nature of the star, but only so that he can have more time at his lover’s side.

The Analysis

Metre & Structure

This poem is written in (mainly) iambic pentameter, but this is not a rigid meter. It is often broken, particularly by spondees (where there are two stressed syllables in a poetic foot). This is arguably true of the opening words, where “bright” is said with the same amount of stress as “star”. The rhythm is also disrupted around the linebreaks (dashes), which emphasises Keats’ changing opinions, and the altering of his mood.

With an ABABCDCDEFEFGG rhyme scheme, this poem is also a Shakespearean sonnet, which is relevant as this form of sonnet is traditionally associated with themes of love, and, in this poem, Keats spends a lot of time considering his lover.

Line by Line

  • “Bright star!” – In some versions of this poem, the “s” of “star” is capitalised, turning it into a proper noun and suggesting that Keats is speaking to the star as though it were a person. The exclamation mark also emphasises Keats’ passion as he looks upon the star.
  • “Would I were steadfast as thou art” – Keats wishes he could be as “steadfast” as the star; just like in his famous “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, Keats discusses the benefits and disadvantages of being in stasis (frozen in time). It is therefore likely that Keats is considering the North Star in this poem, as this is the one star that doesn’t appear to move as the earth turns on its axis.
  • “-“ – These line breaks generally show a change of mood in the poem (as Keats moves between considering the advantages and disadvantages of stasis).
  • “Lone splendour – Keats now contradicts his previous desire to be like the star by considering its desperate loneliness. Nevertheless, even this negativity is questioned, as Keats considers this loneliness to be a kind of “splendour”.
  • “Splendour” / “Aloft” – It is important to note that Keats, unlike his fellow Romantic poets, belonged to the working class. Elaborate, elevated language such as “splendour” and “aloft” may indicate his desire to reach the upper classes.
  • “Hung” – Here is another negative aspect of stasis: the star can only hang, unable to move or have any control over its own autonomy. Note how this is described in the passive voice, emphasising this suggestion of powerlessness.
  • “Eternal lids” – The star can only ever watch, meaning it witnesses the good and the bad. This could be viewed both negatively and positively, although the term “eternal” again hints at the helpless nature of the star.
  • “Like Nature’s patient sleepless Eremite” – Note the use of a simile (traditionally associated with Ancient Greece). This statement is probably negative, for, although the star is “patient”, it is also “sleepless” – it doesn’t even have enough power or freedom to sleep!
  • “Eremite – “Eremite” is synonymous with the word, ‘hermit’, but also links to classical Greece. Keats was fascinated by this world after he discovered it through translations (as he was one of the working class and did not, unusually for a Romantic poet, understand Greek). His passion for this ancient world can be seen in “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer“.
  • “Moving waters” / “Earth’s human shores” – The “moving waters” and “human shores” (on account of the latter being “human”, as humans are famously affected by time) contrast with the star and emphasise Keats’ dilemma regarding stasis.
  • “Priestlike” / “Ablution” – Both these terms carry religious connotations. It is often suggested that Keats was an athiest, which, if this is to be believed, would suggest that these associations regard another negative aspect of stasis, as the star is forced to eternally watch religion. However, the star is also overlooking these human events, and so it could be argued that it, in some way, usurps the role of God.
  • “Or” – Emphasising the dilemma/conflict within the poem.
  • “Fallen mask / Of snow” – Keats here considers a “mask / Of snow” to emphasise the changeable nature of human existence as the snow changes the landscape around him. These changes/disguises seem to be the reason why Keats envies the star (because he wants to escape them).
  • “The mountains and the moors – Both “mountains” and “moors”, despite their differences in terms of landscape, are changed by the snow, illustrating the power of change (and time). These places are also generally uninhabited; not only is the star alone, but it also has to look at lonely places.
  • “Still steadfast, still unchangeable” – Whilst Keats doesn’t want to be as lonely as the star, he emphasises his desire for stasis through this repetition.
  • “Ripening” – Associations of spring and new life are conveyed through the mention of the narrator’s “love”, yet they contradict with Keats’ longing for stasis – unless this virginal state of spring is permanently preserved?
  • “Awake for ever in a sweet unrest” – Keats finally reveals the true reason why he wishes to avoid change: he wishes to stay at his lover’s side, both of them able to remain young and beautiful. The phrase “awake for ever” also harkens back to the idea of the star having its “lids” eternally “apart”.
  • “Still, still” – Repetition here emphasises Keats’ longing for stasis.
  • “And so live ever – or else swoon to death” – Keats’ conclusion to this poem suggests that he will either live like a star (unchanged at his lover’s side), or he will “swoon to death”. He may also suggest that he does not have a choice as, unfortunately, a part of change is death. The end stop emphasises this finality.

Overview

Bright Star, Keat.jpgAs you may have noticed, “Bright Star” is all about stasis. It is all about how humans change and grow old, but some objects, such as stars, don’t go through this process (at least in terms of a human lifetime). Keats is not suggesting that he wants to be wholly like a star, because he could not stand the loneliness and wants to be with his lover, yet this fixed nature of the star is something that he greatly admires.

This poem also picks up on other issues, such as religion, class and gender (as the female lover is glorified and described with particularly soft language). More than anything else, though, it’s about human existence, and it’s about Keats fearing the processes of age and death. Emphasising words such as “breath”, “fall and swell” (echoing the movement of a breathing chest), it is perfectly clear that Keats is very much attached to his human existence.


I hope you enjoyed this poem analysis. I’m back into the revision period at university so should be sending a fair few more posts like these your way (for my own benefit, if nothing else). Thank you for reading, though, and please do check out my other analyses, including, my review of Keats’ “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer“.

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The Joy of the Game

Entombed in self-pity:
A sentiment of war
For no holy city,
Where duelling sides abhor
The white flag that they tore.

They’re fighting the system,
They’re fighting each other
And no one can miss them
When brother beats brother
Against one another.

Martyrs of history:
Tumbling for a name,
Falling for a mystery,
And yet no one’s to blame
But the joy of the game.


I don’t know why, but I’ve felt the strangest need to write poetry over the last few days, so here’s another one. Please do interpret it as you like, but, when I was writing it, I was thinking about how we complain all too often about things that are, when it comes down to it, meaningless. It just seems to me that the reason for fighting is quite often for the fight, itself… as if we enjoy being unhappy.

Please do leave me a comment; I would love to know what you think!

Spring Breeze

I’ll be right there, I’d said. Just a minute; I’ll be there in a minute.

That had been a minute too long, though, because then I’d turned around, and Danny wasn’t there anymore. He wasn’t there, down the street, or anywhere. Not dead – I know he’s not dead – just gone.

I’ll be right there, sweetheart.

His scooter lay abandoned against the park gates, a wheel slowly turning, and I still clutched his little, knitted gloves in my hand.

Not dead. I know you’re not dead.

IMG_2486.JPGYou expect the world to stop; you expect everything to just pause, but it doesn’t. Nothing gets any easier, but it doesn’t stop, either, and, ten years on, I’m still here.

I’ll be right there.

There’s a Spring breeze behind me. Spring – a new start. I close my eyes, clutching those little, knitted gloves to my chest, and I jump.

I’m coming, sweetheart. I’m coming.


Word Count: 150

I hope you enjoyed this piece of creative writing that was inspired by the competition over at Ad Hoc Fiction. This is a weekly-run prompt that requires only 150 words and the inclusion of each week’s prompt word, which, this week, was “spring”.

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to comment below!

Mirror House – Alice in Wonderland

IMG-2874.jpgIt really was the strangest house that Alice had ever seen. In fact, if she hadn’t noticed its little door, she never would have supposed that it was a house, at all. It had only one room, and its walls weren’t straight as they were in the houses that Alice was used to: they bent inwards, just as the door did, and there they formed a sort of dome-shape over the house.

“What a funny sort of house,” Alice thought to herself. “I wonder what type of person can live in it.” She drew closer, and it was only then that she noticed the most exceedingly unusual thing about the house. She stopped walking, wondering how she could have possibly failed to notice this earlier.

IMG-2873.jpg“Why,” she cried out loud, “this house is made entirely of mirrors.” She could see herself reflected in its walls, her body seeming sometimes bigger and sometimes smaller, and sometimes stretched and sometimes squished. “Oh,” Alice sobbed. “Well, this is no good at all. How can one person possibly look so different all at the same time? In that mirror, I have no head at all, and in this one, my neck is right next to my feet; it looks as though my shoulders are wearing shoes! How strange it would be if shoulders wore shoes… but then, I suppose, my hands and ears would want some, too, and I really don’t think that I own so many shoes!” Alice walked still closer to the house, staring at the many different mirrors that covered its walls.

“I surely can’t look all these ways at once, because I know that a person can only look like one thing at a time, but then surely I don’t look like any of them at all, and then – oh my! Perhaps I don’t have a body at all.” Without knowing quite how she had gotten there, Alice found herself right beside the house, her hands pressed up against the smooth glass of the mirrors. She let out a long breath, and saw, to her complete astonishment, that the breath had fogged up the glass, and that her body really had disappeared!

“Oh!” Alice cried, as tears began to flow down her cheeks. “Oh, but if I don’t have a body, then how can I be I? Surely I should not be here at all, and yet I’m touching this glass with my hands, and I must have a mouth because otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to talk, and… why, how confusing it all is!”


Word Count: 426

I have recently been reading Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Alice Through the Looking-Glass, the former of which has a dedicated review that can be found here. I noted in this review that Alice’s adventures are a lot more complex than they may at first appear, and that there are issues of class, identity and childhood interwoven with its colourful, imaginative narrative, and I haven’t since been able to get Carroll’s writing out of my head. The above is my attempt to replicate this style in a new adventure for Alice, and is based on the idea that Alice constantly questions who she is.

This exercise really led me to appreciate this mode of writing; everything that takes place in Alice’s adventures is filtered through a somewhat curious child, and although Alice is generally quite logical, this logic is often misplaced in Wonderland and at Looking-Glass House. In the first book, for example, Alice realises that she is not remembering certain things, such as simple sums, as she used to, and so assumes that she is no longer herself, but is another girl from her class (again, you can read my review of this book here to learn more). She uses logical reasoning, yet reaches an entirely false conclusion, which is sort of what I have attempted to replicate above.

Thanks for reading, and please do comment if you have any thoughts on Lewis Carroll, Alice’s adventures, or pretty much anything else that takes your fancy!

Icy Leaves

How merciless is Fortune to bind you,
Keeping you hidden with her harsh techniques.
She wounds me thus: forcing my heart in two,
I see the stark-white pallor of your cheeks.

Though nightfall’s gentle cradle shelters them
From gluttonous Time’s fast-decaying grasp,
I dream of muted breath, a stolen gem
That scolds as it slides from lost lovers past.

The thought of skin on skin as fingers touch
Or rush of passion felt as eye meets eye,
Now makes my heart bleed, but too fast, too much!
So Fortune delights; this: the last goodbye.

Too many glances your image receives,
Yet never will you leave these icy leaves.


My uni-task today was to write a sonnet based on one of the common forms (e.g. Shakespearean or Petrarchan), so I thought I’d share what I came up with. I’m not sure it’s too easy to understand, so, if it helps, this poem is about an unrequited lover, whom, according to the first three stanzas, has lost their beloved to death. The volta in the final couplet reveals, however, that all along, the narrator was addressing a portrait in a book.

Thank you very much for reading! I hope you enjoyed my sonnet and, if you did, please feel free to leave me a comment.

Storm Clouds

Here’s my take on this week’s photo prompt challenge from Creative Writing Ink. Today, I had another go at a poem, whilst trying to be pretty experimental with its form. Thank you for reading and enjoy.

Ian Espinosa

Credit: Ian Espinosa

When storm clouds hide a gentle drip-
Drop of the most distant water-
Fall, and the raven silk of dark
Nights lets loose that rushing tidal-
Wave, the sweet lamb kneels at water’s
Edge, her head bent low, fists unclenched,
As charcoal rains from fingers drenched.

The darkest sighs met that sweet good-
Bye, stains of guilt a heavy hind-
Sight, as sweet lambs rock on icy
Paths, and streams run from that backward
Glance. She ducks her head as the rain-
Fall joins with those glassy tears:
The one price for her greatest fears.

A Sparkle in the Night

Here’s my take on this week’s Friday Fictioneers challenge, which poses the challenge of answering a photo prompt using only 100 words or less!


Jan Wayne Fields

Credit: Jan Wayne Fields

The rain had been heavy. It had poured down on us as though some god had sought to spite us somehow.

I can remember how we’d slipped through the mud, tears intermingled with the rain as we sloped towards the campsite. It had been the worst day of my life.

I hadn’t counted on Jamie, though.

Despite the rain, he’d lit little candles and fairy lights all around the tent, so that, from inside, everything seemed to sparkle.

Then, he’d dropped to his knee and made the worst day of my life, the best.


Word Count: 94
Click the blue froggy for more stories!

If you’re looking for more prompt challenges, check out my Sunday Scrawl.