Presiding over Sensuousness in Poetry, John Keats’ Bright Star Embodies Many of the Opposites that had Long Haunted Keats’s Iimagination—Death and Iimmortality, Stasis and Change, Love and Sex

Bright Star

By John Keats
Bright star, would I were stedfast 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 stedfast, 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.

Bright Star is a beautiful sonnet in which John Keats deals with two kinds of love— the astral and the human. Addressed to a star (Polaris), the sonnet expresses the poet's wish to be as constant as the star while he presses against his sleeping love. The use of the star imagery is unusual in that Keats dismisses many of its more apparent qualities, focusing on the star's steadfast and passively watchful nature. The octave is concerned with the love of the star while the sestet explores the poet’s own love. Punctuated as a single sentence, this Shakespearean sonnet (ababcdcdefefgg)    interestingly   makes a compare study of these two forms of love and   evaluates them.  The poem, like most of his poems, describes the beauty of the natural world and art as the vehicle for his poetic imagination. His skill with poetic imagery and sound reproduces this sensuous experience for his reader.

The love of the star is ‘steadfast’ and ‘eternal’. It is not subject to decay or detrimental. It is also Platonic in nature. There is no lunging for physical contact. It is full of ‘splendour’. The star looks down at it beloved the earth ‘with eternal lids apart’, with unceasing interest, but it is not in the least affected either by her impassioned restlessness or by her ordinary calm. It goes on loving her for ever from a distance.

The ideal human love like the stars must also be ‘steadfast’ and ‘unchangeable’. In other words the poet means to state that it must be constant and permanent. If love is deficient in these two respects, it has no call to be called true love. In the absence of these two qualities turns love merely into lust.

Now the question is: Does the poet want lust in place of love? Will he be satisfied with the mere fulfillment of the carnal desire? Certainly not: Had it been the case, he would not have said longingly to the star:

‘would I were stedfast as thou art!’ Nor would behave expressed his earnest intention to be ‘still steadfast, still unchangeable’. Clearly nothing short of an ideal love, a love on a par with the stars can satisfy him.

The next question that arises is: Does the poet wants his love to be as, steadfast an1’immortal as the star’s ?As a hard realist facts can never remain blind to the fact that man’s life is tragically short and it is full of unforeseen events and vicissitudes. Therefore he cuts constancy and permanence of human love to size. He realizes that steadfastness and immortality of love on the star’s scale is neither possible nor desirable for man who has a limited span of life and has to face, many ups and downs. His longing for steadfastness and unchangeability is, therefore on a human scale. He will be contented if his love (in both senses— affection and ladylove) remains constant and lasting up to the last hours of his existence here. He wants love-’to bear it out even to the edge of doom’.

This human love on a lower scale than the, star’s makes him look closely at the love of the heavenly body. He notices that it is not as glamorous as he formerly took it to be. It is, first of all, isolated love, love at a distance. Secondly, it is cold, disinterested, and dispassionate. Thirdly, it is Platonic hermit-like and non-carnal in nature. Obviously these qualities of the astral love could hardly satisfy the hunger of his heart.

Hence, he depicts an entirely different sort of love in his portrayal of the ideal human love; lie wants a kind of love which will be warm and intimate. There will be a close touch between the lovers. The poet wants to recline against the ‘ripening breast’ of his ‘fair love’, his contact with her body being imposed pleasing to him. It turns to voluptuousness when he again expresses his desire ‘to feel for ever’ the ‘soft fall and swell’ of his beloved’s not yet full-formed breast, It reaches a degree higher when by imprisoning her in a tight embrace he wants ‘Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath’. Thus the poet’s love is not Platonic like the stars. Lt is passionate and sensual. It is again not fixed for ever like he love of the star. The steadfastness and permanence of the poet’s love are, like the ever occurring rise and ll of the beloved’s breast, rooted in a continual state of flux. Thus close contact and warmth, involvement and passion, steadfastness and flux make human-love far more varied and enchanting than the love of the star.