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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Bright Star

(Rosa Meditativa by Salvador Dali, 1904-1989,
Spanish Surrealist painter)

John Keats may have begun Bright Star before he met his beloved Fanny Browne. By the time of his final revision, however, it is clear that he was devoting this poem to her.

Two things to note — the reference to his own death and the comparison of Fanny to a star.

Consumption, as tuberculosis was called then, was still a fatal disease during Keats’s time. It had killed his mother and a brother and was now beginning to affect him. This made him painfully aware that he had only a little time left to live. More than once, Keats put this fear into words on paper, as in the beginning lines of a different sonnet:

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,

He also wrote of it in letters, such as one to Fanny on July 25, 1819: “I have two luxuries to brood over in my walks, your Loveliness and the hour of my death. O that I could have possession of them both in the same minute.”

In that letter, he also compared Fanny to a celestial body: “I will imagine you Venus tonight and pray, pray, pray to your star like a Heathen. Yours ever, fair Star.”


Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art —
Not in lone splendor 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 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.

~ John Keats (1795-1821), English Romantic poet

* Eremite – hermit

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