Bright Star by John Keats Questions and Answers
1. Examine ‘Bright Star” as a romantic poem on love.
Romantic poetry, like any other type of poetry, also deals with love, no doubt sex love, with all its passions and pangs, joys and sorrows, suspense and excitement. In fact, love, as a theme, is no less distinct in the poetry of the great romanticists, like Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley and Keats.
Romantic poetry is, no doubt, definitely unconventional and the romantic poets, too, have made no conventional treatment of love, a conventional matter. Love, no doubt a passion of sex, is not treated by the romantic poet merely from the physical angle. It is not the physical passion of love, but the profundity of the feeling and the intensity of sensibility which may be taken as the keynote af all great love poems of the great romantic age.
Romantic poetry is idealistic and there is the romantic idealisation of love. The physical passion of love, which is, no doubt, a reality of life is found treated in an elevated manner in romantic imagination and love is invested with a lofty sublime ideal that transcends all material limitations.
This idealisation of love, no doubt prominent in Wordsworth and Shelley, is not the primary feature in Byron or Keats. Keats’s ‘Bright Star, for instance, is a sonnet that has a good deal of treatment of love as physical sensibility rather than as idealistic sublimity. The poet speaks here of his longing for the close companionship of his ladylove. He loses himself in his richly sensuous imagination of the ‘ripening breast of the ladylove. He does not seek the constancy of the isolation of the bright star. On the other hand, he craves for the constancy of companionship and prefers to remain, steadfast and unchangeable, in her close embracement and to feel excitedly the soft movement of her heaving breast.
‘No-yet still steadfast, still unchangeable, Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
A melancholy strain se ns to run through the very vein of romantic poetry. This is particularly evident in romantic love poetry. In Shelley and Keats the haunting sense of sadness dominates and makes the poet’s tone tender and tragic. In Keats’s ‘Bright Star’, this tender melancholy note is also heard. The poet romantically yearns here for enjoying his ladylove’s company or dying in her close embrace.
‘Awake for ever in a sweet unrest ; Still, still to hear her tender taken breath,
And so live ever, or else swoon to death.”
2. Bring out the theme of ‘Bright Star’ and point out the poet’s craftsmanship, as expressed in the poem.
Bright Star is not a memorable work to be placed with the great odes of Keats. This is a poem of love, rather a sonnet, written after the Shakespearean pattern. Though it is no great, oem from Keats, it remains still an absorbing love poem from an intensely romantic poet, with a typical romantic tenderness.
The poem is an address to ‘Bright Star, a natural element. Here this has an evocative character of the ode. But the poem, though addressed to the ‘Bright Star’, actually expresses the warmth of sensuality of the poet’s own love. The poet’s main concern is not the constancy of the star, but the warmth of attachment ot his lady. So the poet evokes romantically
“Bright Star! would I were steadfast as thou art
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night.”
As noted already this is a love lyric that presents the poet’s intense yearning for his ladylove. He wishes to remain as steadfast, as the ‘Bright Star’ on the ripening breast of his ladylove. He even is haunted with the desire to remain thereon in a restless ecstasy or to die in such a posture of deep love and attachment to her.
As a love poem, ‘Bright Star’ expresses Keat’s romantic sensibility. It has nothing of the idealistic, didactic note of Shelley’s One Word Is Too often Profane or the profound ring of melancholy of Shelley’s other love lyric ‘l Arise From Dreams of Thee! It has also nothing of the idealisation of the lady in Byron’s ‘She Walks In Beauty! The poem simply expresses the deep urge of love that dominates companionship, for his steadfast attachment, like the Bright Star’ constantly shining aloft in the sky. The analogy of the Bright Star is here introduced to indicate the intensity of the poet’s passion for the lady and this is single, deep and total.
Bright Star is not simply a love lyric. It is also a sonnet, a poem of fourteen lines, belonging to the Shakespearean pattern. The first eight lines-the Octave—have two quatrains with alternate lines rhyming in each quatrain. The last six lines, that is the sestet, has one quatrain and a concluding couplet. The quatrain has lines rhyming alternately. In short there are 7 rhymes in the sonnet-a, b, c, d, e, f, g-with four divisions. The musical harmony of the sonnet deserve particular mention. Keats is acclaimed as one of the most musical English poets, and the little lyric Bright Star definitely testifies to this.
Finally, there is the excellence of Keats’s poetic imagery. In this respect, his description of the Pole Star, with its splendour, constancy and loftiness and of the mountains of nature, chracterized as ‘sleepless Eremite. The soft fall of the snow upon mountains and moors, the ripening breast of the ladylove and the movement of the sea-waters around the shores equally exhibit the poet’s power of imagemaking.
3. Examine ‘Bright Star’ as a sonnet and its structural division.
Lyricism marks a distinct feature of romantic poetry. And in lyrical poetry, sonnet writing forms a popular species. Yet, sonnets are not formidably present in romantic lyrical poetry, as odes and elegies.
Of course, there are sonnets from remarkable romantic poets, such as Wordsworth, Shelley, Byron and Keats. The conventional sonnet, as found in Petrarch, Dante and Elizahethan masters, is on love, rather sex-love and celebrates generally an earnest lover’s passion for a fair, gentle, but unresponsive lady.
Romantic sonnets in general, as noted in Wordsworth and Byron in particular, are not conventional sex-love sonnets. Wordsworth’s ‘On Extinction of the Venetian Republic or Byron’s On the Prison of Chillion is an emotive expression of love for freedom and hatred for tyranny. Some of the sonnets from Shelley and Keats contain, no doubt, the lyrical and passionate feeling of love, yet these have not as much celebrity as their great predecessors’ .
Bright Star from Keats is on love on the lover’s passionate longing for the constant enjoyment of the close companionship of the ladylove. The lover-poet wishes here to be as steadfast and constant as the Pole Star, shining high in the sky, but not in its lonely splendour, in its isolated observation of the scenes around. He seeks to remain with his ladylove, ‘steadfast and unchangeable,’ ‘pillowed upon’ her ‘ripening breast. He is eager to remain in this posture with her, without any break, and thereby either to live ever thus or to swoon to death.
The sonnet definitely expresses the intense passion of love, but this seems more sensual and some artificiality smacks herefrom. The poet yearns more for the posture of intimate attachment than for the profundity of the feeling of love. Indeed, the depth of love seems lacking here. The poet has spent a good many words to represent the magnificence of the operation of Nature, but almost nothing to high-light his passion of love. From the thematic angle, Keats’s sonnet is least expressive of the truth and depth of love.
‘Bright Star’belongs to the class of the Shakespearean sonnet in which there are four structural divisions—three quatrains and a concluding couplet and seven rhymes. The structural division and the rhyme scheme of the sonnet are given below.
First Quatrain Second Quatrain Third Quatrain L. I a (art) L. V c (task) L. IX e (able) II b (night) VI d (shores) X f (breast) III a (part) VII C (mask) XI e (swell) IV b (Eremite) VIII d (moors) XII f (unrest)
Concluding Couplet L. XIII g (breath) XIV g (death)
The first quatrain begins the poet’s main contention—”Bright Star! Would I were steadfast as thou art”. The poet desires to attain the constancy of the Pole Star that
shines high in the night sky, with all its splendour. But, at the same time, he is categorical in his assertion that his constancy is not like its, and does not wish to remain in lone splendour. In this context, he relates the function of the star that is watching with eternal lids opened ‘like’ nature’s patient
sleepless Eremite! The next quatrain carries on the theme of the first quatrain by noting the further task of the bright star to watch the cleansing of the sea-shore by the flowing seawater and to gaze the soft snowfall on mountains and moors. The structural continuity is maintained here.
The third quatrain retraces the poet’s original contention to remain steadfast not in lonely splendour. He clarifies here in what way he is to have constancy in companionship. He will be in a close attachment to his ladylove. Pillowed upon her ripening, he will feel her soft heaving.
The concluding couplet arises out of the last line of the last quatrain and completes the poet’s romantic desire to have constancy not in lone splendour, but in profound oneness with the ladylove in life or in death. He wishes either to remain ever in her embrace or to swoon and pass away gradually in this posture. The sense of the sonnet is quite well conveyed through the structural balance of the sonnet. This deserves commendation.
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