Context: This poem by John Keats (1795-1821) is fourteen lines long and is usually classified as a love poem. Surprisingly one most read through the very first eight lines before noticing that love is the major theme. It was written around 1819. It was officially published in 1838 in The Plymouth and Devonport Weekly Journal, 17 years after Keats’s death.
Themes: The poem addresses a “bright star” who is described as “steadfast”. In the rich field of metaphors and symbols the bright star could be either a personification or a star in the skies like Venus. In each case here the star in the poem is a representation of Love. Notice how Religion is present in the water with allusions to a sleepless Eremite with a priestly function. Pay attention on how everything takes on a more sensual tune in the lines: “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”. It’s a bit sad Keats is about to stop because one is really curious what more could have happened if not “Death” had entered.
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.
Wikipedia [various entries]