Bright Star, would I were stedfast as thou art
How we cite our quotes:
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 (lines 3-6)
One of the most interesting things in this poem is how Keats weaves together similarities and contrasts between the way he would like to live and the way the Bright Star lives. We know that, after he shifts gears in line 9, the speaker makes it clear that the major problem with the star's existence is its lack of connection with human warmth. But does that mean the star is entirely without love? What do you make of the fact that the star is "nature's […] Eremite" who spends all eternity "patient[ly], sleepless[ly]" watching life down on earth? Does this description imply that the star has feelings of caring for what happens on earth, and is caring the same as loving?
Similarly, what about those waters "at their priestlike task / of pure ablution round earth's human shores"? Why did Keats choose the word "priestlike"? If you have a positive view of priests, you might interpret this as meaning that the "ablution" is performed with love. But then again, if you think that a priest is someone doing a job like anyone else, then those "ablutions" might start to seem pretty routine, and hence lacking in love – especially if the ablutions are destined to be repeated for all eternity!
Finally, doesn't it kind of sound like humans are a form of pollution on the shores, and that the waters are washing the shores clean of humanity? (We're not saying this is the only interpretation, just one possible one.) If so, who benefits from the waters' ablutions? Is it humanity, or the earth itself? If the waters love the earth, do they hate humanity? And, if so, what attitude would Keats's speaker take towards the waters? Each one of these questions is extremely challenging and thought-provoking, and it is hard to find clear answers to them in the text. Even so, if we ever hope to come to a full understanding of Keats's poem, we will need to come up with some answers; only by understanding where the star and the waters stand on love can we understand completely what makes Keats's speaker want to be different from them. What's your take? Remember though, these are the questions that even the most advanced readers of the poem ask themselves (or ask Keats). You don't have to answer them to enjoy the poem; instead, part of enjoying the poem is seeing what questions it gets you to ask.
No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable (line 9)
Even though we can't tell just from reading it on its own, if you look at the poem as a whole, it is clear that this line introduces the theme of love. It is significant that the theme of love is introduced by emphasizing the value of constancy. Does this emphatic position mean that constancy is what Keats's speaker values most when it comes to love?
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast (line 10)
But now we see that Keats's idea of love isn't all in the mind: there is a physical aspect to it too. OK, to be clearer: it is still in his mind in the sense that he's imagining, but what he's imagining includes physical contact. Is there anything more we can say about this? What do you think about the word-choice "Pillow'd"? Does that risk transforming his "fair love" into something of an inanimate object? Now what about "ripening"; now she is definitely alive, but seems to be likened to a piece of fruit. Do these two words, "Pillow'd" and "ripening" harmonize with each other – that is, can you fit them together into a single picture? If not, do you think Keats's speaker is changing his mind over the course of the line? If this is true, and we are, in fact, watching his thought evolve, what direction is it going in? If you do think that "Pillow'd" gives off a hint of something inanimate, would you say that the progression of the speaker's words makes the beloved become more and more alive as the line goes on? (Not to get ahead of ourselves, but if this is true, you can see the progression continuing on into the next line.)
One additional way in which you could think about the beloved as coming to life over the course of the line is in the sound of the line. The way we hear it, there is a stress on the first syllable of "Pillow'd" and on the second syllable of "upon": "PILLow'd upON." Then, something interesting happens. The way we hear it, there is a bit of a crescendo of louder and louder syllables as you go up through "my fair love's ripening," so that it looks kind of like this: "my FAIR LOVE'S RIPEening." Then, "breast" is just your ordinary stressed syllable, so that the whole line sounds like this: "PILLow'd upON my FAIR LOVE'S RIPEening BREAST." When you have that crescendo effect up to "ripening," we think it's pretty likely that Keats was going for an effect of increasing intensity, which also means increasing life. What does this say about the speaker's thoughts on love?