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Literary Devices in Bright Star! Would I Were Steadfast as Thou Art

The Sonnet Form: “Bright Star!” is an example of the Elizabethan sonnet, also known as the Shakespearean or English sonnet. The Elizabethan sonnet has fourteen lines which consist of three stanzas with an ABAB rhyme scheme followed by a rhymed couplet. The meter is the standard iambic pentameter.

Personification: One of the main literary devices Keats uses in “Bright Star!” is personification, a device he uses in many of his poems. The speaker, gazing upon the natural world, sees human qualities in the both the North Star above and the water below. The star watches the world from a distance; the water cleanses the shore. Such personification illuminates the speaker’s inner imagined world.

Tension and Contrast: As the poem progresses into the second half, Keats makes increasing use of formal contrasts to illustrate the speaker’s inner tensions. The volta, the thematic turn at the sonnet’s ninth line, foregrounds the poem’s central tension: “No—yet still steadfast, still unchangeable.” The speaker acknowledges the great gulf—both in distance and character—between himself and the admired North Star. The final line carries tremendous tension as well, for the speaker expresses his desire to “live ever—or else swoon to death.” The speaker wishes to remain in a moment of rapture with his lover but knows he cannot.

Literary Devices Examples in Bright Star! Would I Were Steadfast as Thou Art:

Bright Star!

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"Still, still..."   (Bright Star!)

The repetition of “still” here takes on two meanings of the word. As an adjective, “still” can mean not moving or making a sound. As an adverb, it can also refer to time spent doing an activity, even now. In the repetition, the speaker says that he lies still in order to continue to hear her breath. In a sense, his only way to combat the progression of time is to make his body as motionless as possible. Notice the subtle irony that underlies this statement: the speaker must become motionless to make the moment last longer; he must mimic death in order to gain the feeling of everlasting life.

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"sweet unrest..."   (Bright Star!)

The phrase “sweet unrest” is an oxymoron, or a figure of speech in which contradictory terms are placed in conjunction for emphasis. Sweet means pleasing to the senses; unrest, disharmony or strife. This oxymoron underscores the speaker’s internal struggle: the moment is sweet but his knowledge that it will eventually end causes him unrest. The moment is perfect and it makes it bittersweet.

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"fall and swell..."   (Bright Star!)

The speaker describes the woman’s breaths as a process of “fall and swell.” In this description, he once again shows the fluctuation between two things rather than the continuous existence of one thing. Notice that within this line the speaker juxtaposes the paradoxically opposing forces that command the moment: his desire to “feel for ever” and the rhythmic breath of his lover that signifies the progression of time.

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"No..."   (Bright Star!)

This line opens with the word “no,” which reinforces the speaker’s claims about how he does not want to be like the star. The word “yet” here marks the beginning of a new idea. The speaker repeats his desire to remain “steadfast” and then goes on to explain what he means by this and why he desires it.

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"yet..."   (Bright Star!)

In a Shakespearean sonnet, line nine signifies the volta, or thematic turn, within the poem. The first two quatrains set up an argument that is then complicated by the final quatrain and couplet. In this poem, line nine marks a volta. However, unlike a traditional sonnet, the first eight lines do not build an argument to complicate. Instead, the speaker begins by stating the theme of the point, digresses to clarify the claim of the first line, then returns to his original point at the volta.

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