John Keats – Bright Star

Nige marks the anniversary of the death of Keats…

It was on this day in 1821 that John Keats died in Rome, with Joseph Severn at his side. Rather than rehearse that heartbreaking scene, I’ll mark the day with the last poem he completed, the finished version of which was in the volume of Shakespeare’s poems he took with him to Italy.

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.

In my reading of Keats’s letters I came across the seed from which that great sonnet grew – in 1818, on his walking tour of the Lake District, he writes how the lakeland scenery ‘refines one’s sensual vision into a sort of North star which can never cease to be open-lidded and stedfast over the wonders of the great Power’…

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About Author Profile: Nige

Cravat-Wearer of the Year Nige, who, like Mr Kenneth Horne, prefers to remain anonymous, is a founder blogger of The Dabbler and has been a co-blogger on the Bryan Appleyard Thought Experiments blog. He is the sole blogger on Nigeness, and (for now) a wholly owned subsidiary of NigeCorp. His principal aim is to share various of life's pleasures.

3 thoughts on “John Keats – Bright Star

  1. Worm
    February 23, 2012 at 10:10

    A very beautiful poem indeed. Eremite is one of those words that you only ever see in poetry (as far as I’m aware?), there’s another usage of it in Milton’s Paradise Regained

    “Thou Spirit, who led’st this glorious Eremite
    Into the desert, his victorious field
    Against the spiritual foe, and brought’st him thence.”

    and Robert Frost’s Choose Something Like a Star, directly inspired by Bright Star:

    “And steadfast as Keats’ Eremite,
    Not even stooping from its sphere,
    It asks a little of us here.”

    February 23, 2012 at 10:51

    By a strange confluence, this very morning I came out of Guys Hospital (don’t ask) and, stumbling down Thomas Street, came upon No 28, the house the Keats rented along with his friend Henry Stephens, while working at various tasks within the hospital in 1815. About 100 years later a certain Ludwig Wittgenstein could be seen working in the same hospital as a delivery boy and lab assistant.

    February 23, 2012 at 12:00

    I think the word crops up in John Crowe Ransom somewhere, but I could be thinking of “cenobite”.

    Actually, I do know a hermit–or rather I knew someone who since become one. It is family legend that babysitting my then small self helped decide her to take the veil.

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