“Bright star, would I were as steadfast as thou art”

Well, I think it’s time to acknowledge the Romantics around here, don’t you?

Truth be told, Byron, Shelley (Percy, that is), and Wordsworth have never been my cup of tea (if they’re yours, please direct me to poems that will change my mind!), but I’ve loved Coleridge since I was a child, since Kubla Khan and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner paint such vivid pictures in the mind (and they’re exciting!).

I think I may have run across Keats in high school, but it wasn’t until a Romanticism class in college that I got a big dose. Seriously, the only word that properly describes his poetry is “romantic” — he’s the epitome of the movement. You’ll find Wordsworth and Byron in some of my various anthologies, but one of my prized books is an 1892 copy of The Poetical Works of John Keats; when I win the lottery, I’ll be able to afford a binding repair.

I know it may sound a bit overly, ahem, romantic, but I love having a book of his poems from the same century during which he lived and breathed.

1892 edition of Keats's works

1892 edition of Keats’s works

“Bright Star” is a love sonnet he wrote to Fanny Brawne, his fiancee and center of adoration in the last two years of his life. Jane Campion’s gorgeous, perfect film Bright Star focuses on their relationship; if you haven’t seen it, please locate your handkerchief and then borrow it from your local library (you’ll want to buy it after, I promise.)

Here’s the poem:

Bright Star

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.


Lovely, isn’t it?

Which Romantic poems are your favorites?

4 thoughts on ““Bright star, would I were as steadfast as thou art”

  1. Love, love, LOVE Keats!!!!!! Wasn’t the movie lovely…..so pure and chaste. Awesome post, Carolyn! Bright Star is one of my favorites of his poems. I also like Endymion, Ode to a Nightingale, and Ode on a Grecian Urn…..but there is very little Keats I don’t like…..OH! and I love his Eve of St. Agnes.

    I have quite a “thing” for the Romantics….I can even after a while appreciate some Wordsworth. They were one of my period brackets in grad school (we needed to cultivate some depth in periods immediately preceding and following our focus of study — mine was Victorian lit) so I spent a long time with them. I tend to really like Byron — check out She Walks in Beauty and Manfred. And I really like Shelley quite a bit — his Adonais is an ode to Keats dying young and its sublimely beautiful. Maybe give those a try if you’ve not already.

    Coleridge is great, isn’t he? He reminds me of Guillermo del Toro, with all of his waking lucid dreams of things below the surface……..

    Thanks for making my day with this Keats!

    • I love Keats too! I do like Byron’s “She Walks in Beauty,” and maybe I should try Manfred again. Something always hit me the wrong way about Shelley, though I can’t put my finger on it, but one of these days I will give him a try again, and I’ll start with Adonais at your suggestion 🙂

      I LOVE the comparison of Guillermo del Toro with Coleridge — what a great idea. Can you imagine him directing an adaptation of Kubla Khan?

      • YES! That would be fabulous! He’d be the one to do it, for sure. Come to think of it, he could do Mariner, too. I’d love to see his take on the albatross.

        And I get you about Shelley and Byron. Hopefully, since Keats is the focus, Adonais will resonate. 🙂

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