Wednesday, 7 December 2016

CRITICAL APPRECIATION: BRIGHT STAR! WOULD I WERE STEDFAST AS THOU ART BY JOHN KEATS

CRITICAL APPRECIATION OF 
BRIGHT STAR BY JOHN KEATS

1, Introduction
(i) Title: Bright Star! Would I were Stedfast as Thou Art / Keats's Last Sonnet
(ii) Poet: John Keats (1795 - 1821)
(iii) Date of Composition: 1819 and revised in 1820
(iv) Collection: Joseph Severn's Copy of "The Poetical Works of William Shakespeare"
(v) Poetic Genre: Shakespearean Sonnet
(vi) Setting: The time is night. North Star hints that the speaker is somewhere far from home, may be at sea.
(vii) Speaker: John Keats
(viii) Addressee: Bright Star and Fanny Brawne
2. Lines 1-2
Bright star! Would I were stedfast as thou art --
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night,
     In these lines the speaker wishes to be steadfast as the "Bright Star", but does not wish to be alone like this star. The word "stedfast" suggests that he is talking to the North Star, also known as Polaris, which is the only star that remains motionless in the sky. However, the speaker immediately realizes that steadfastness cannot be achieved by a human in this world of change and flux. So he asserts a negative "Not". He points out the star's splendour and isolation in the night. In fact, the speaker does not want to lead a life of  "splendour" in loneliness and isolation. 
3. Lines 3-4
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like Nature's patient sleepless Eremite,
     These line emphasize the star's loneliness and motionlessness. The star keeps an eye on stuff. It spends its time watching with "eternal lids". "Eternal lids" is a transferred epithet. So, the idea is that, not only does the star watch things and keep its eyelids open, but it does so eternally. "Patient" and "sleepless" are both adjectives modifying "Eremite"; a religious hermit who has retired into a solitary life. The star's sleeplessness is a part of the characterization of the star's non-humanness, which makes it an impossible goal for a human being to aspire to. In short, the comparison of the star with an Eremite is a good simile. 
4. Lines 5-6
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
    The star observes that the waters of the earth are engaged in a "priestlike task" of ablution. There is movement, aliveness and spiritually on the earth. The meaning of "ablution" here is of ritual cleansing. Thus it matches up pretty well with the idea of "priestlike" quality of the waters' task. "Earth's human shores" means that human activity has stretched all over the globe; the shores of a continent of land are the edges of human life. In short, the speaker knows that he is subsequent to change and needs something to return to his pure state. 
5. Lines 7-8
Or gazing on the new soft fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors --
     These lines describe snow as being a mask that hides the ugliness of the mountains and moors. The star is gazing on the "masque of snow". "Masque" here is just an old-fashioned, slightly way of spelling "mask". However, this mask is not a real mask, but instead a metaphorical mask. Literally speaking, the star is gazing on a layer of "new" and "soft" snow falling upon "the mountains and the moors". "Moor" is a barren, lonely, uninhabited place. And so are mountains, usually . Thus beauty (the snow) is found in diverse places on earth. In short, we get a chilly feeling from these lines. 
6. Lines 9-10
No -- yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
     These lines show the real intent of the poem. The "No" at the beginning is like an exclamation, the speaker's final comment on everything that has come before. "Still" is an old-fashioned way of saying "always". So the idea is that the speaker will be "always steadfast, always unchangeable". He would love to be as "stedfast" as the star, but he is not jazzed about sitting up in the high heavens taking in all those dreary sights. Instead, he would like to be just as "stedfast" in resting his head on his girlfriend's "ripening breast". "Ripening" here means that the speaker's girlfriend is still fairly young and so is still in the process of "filling out". 
7. Lines 11-12
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
     These lines describe the speaker's desire, in which his lover be alive for eternity. While resting his head on his girlfriend's breast, the speaker wants to feel her breathing. "For ever" emphasizes the main aspect of the star's existence the speaker likes to have: its permanence. "Soft" intensifies the sensuality introduced with "pillow'd". The speaker spins out his description of what he likes to do even further. Even though he is resting his face on his girlfriend's breast like a pillow, he does not want to fall asleep there and miss out on all the action. Instead, he wants to remain awake forever. "Sweet unrest" is an oxymoron and a typical Keatsian paradox. 
8. Lines 13-14
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever --- or else swoon to death.
     In these lines the speaker says that if he cannot hear his lover breathe, he will welcome his own death with no regrets. Repetition of "still" suggests that the speaker wants to do the same thing forever and ever for the rest of all eternity. "Breath" is flux, and "tender" makes it positive. "Ever" emphasizes the eternity of love, passion and sensuality. In a swift reversal, the speaker accepts the possibility of dying from pleasure. "Swoon" has sexual overtones and "death" carries a great deal of weight in the final effect and meaning of the poem. In short, these lines portray the speaker's feelings towards life where death brings no fear and life means nothing without his lover. 
9. Literary Devices
(i) Rhyme Scheme: ABAB/CDCD/EFEF/GG
(ii) Meter Check: Iambic pentameter
(iii) Alliteration: "the mountains and the moors", "still steadfast, still unchangeable", "soft fall and swell", still, still to hear her tender-taken breath", "so live ever ---or else".
(iv) Symbols: Bright Star (eternity, isolation), Eremite (isolation), pillow (comfort), ripening breast (growth, warmth) 
(v) Personification: The Star (it is watching and gazing) and waters (they are engaged in the task of ablution)
(vi) Tone: Sad and depressed
(vii) Imagery: Bright Star, moving waters, earth's human shores, mask of snow upon the mountains and the moors, love's ripening breast.
(viii) Themes: Love, death, time, loneliness, change and transformation, man and the natural world, art and experience.
10. Conclusion
     The sonnet shows the speaker's infatuation to be with his lover for eternity. He aspires to the fixed and ethereal beauty of the Star, yet is aware of its limitations: though bright, steadfast and splendid, it is at the same time solitary and non-human. The human heart can never be tranquil like the star, for human emotions know the conflict of joy and pain. The speaker tends to dip into mystic and unexplained phenomena in the universe to describe his feelings. This is probably due to the fact that his earthly human self is on the verge towards death and his spiritual side is fully alive. In short, Keats, like Shakespeare, has combined a brilliant poetic mind with deep insight into human emotions and experiences. Thus the poem is a powerful meditation on love, death, time, and nature. 

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