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Themes in Bright Star! Would I Were Steadfast as Thou Art
Nature as a Source of Inspiration and Wisdom: Like many poems from the romantic school, Keats’s “Bright Star!” uses images from nature to explore human feelings and themes. In many cases, the relationship is one of instruction: the poet stands humbly before nature, hungry for wisdom and insight. In the case of “Bright Star!” this stance is made explicit in the opening line: “Bright Star! Would I were steadfast as thou art.”
Stability, Stillness, and Steadfastness: The central theme of “Bright Star!” is the speaker’s desire to live up to the ideal of the North Star. The quality the speaker most admires in the star is steadfastness. The North Star is steadfast in both space and time: it never moves from its fixed position in the sky (hence its role as the “pole star”) and is so ancient as to seem immortal by human standards. The speaker, aware of his own limitations, beholds the star in wonder and admiration.
Themes Examples in Bright Star! Would I Were Steadfast as Thou Art:
"live ever..." See in text (Bright Star!)
This final line underscores the paradox embedded in the overall poem. The speaker longs to be like the star, steadfast and unchanging, so that he can remain in this moment forever. However, the very nature of a moment is to be changeable. Thus, the speaker’s desire to “live ever” will always carry the haunting threat of his coming death.
"fall and swell..." See in text (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.
"ripening..." See in text (Bright Star!)
The verb “to ripen” signifies a fruit maturing to its full potential or sweetness. Ripeness represents the moment a fruit has the most robust flavor as well as the moment before the fruit rots and becomes completely inedible. Ripening suggests change over time, the process of developing. Notice how this characteristic of his lover’s breast contrasts the everlasting, fixed nature that he longs for. This word choice reveals the underlying paradox of his desire: he both recognizes that time will inevitably move on and desires for the moment to never change.
"waters at their priestlike task..." See in text (Bright Star!)
Among other themes, Romantic writers explored humankind’s relationship with nature. Romantics distrusted the human world and chose instead to understand themselves and their emotions through a connection with nature. They used sublime aesthetics and emotional language of praise for the perfection of nature. In this way, the Romantics often conflated natural images with religious imagery; nature became a way to understand the self and God. The conflation of nature and religion in this poem reflects Keats's Romantic literary style.
"night,..." See in text (Bright Star!)
Keats composes this poem in the form of a Shakespearean sonnet, a fourteen line poem in iambic pentameter with three ABAB quatrains and one rhyming couplet. While the sonnet was originally used to express unrequited love, Keats’s poem focuses on a different kind of longing. The speaker wishes to become everlasting and unchangeable like a star.
"steadfast..." See in text (Bright Star!)
The adjective “steadfast” means unchanging, firmly fixed and immovable. With this opening line, the speaker tells his audience, the bright star, that he longs to be as unchanging as it is.