Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable
- Hm…was Keats listening to us a moment ago? Just when we thought he was forgetting what he was talking about, he shows us that he was in control all along.
- The "No" at the beginning of this line is kind of like an exclamation, the speaker's final comment on just about everything that has come before. After spinning out that whole long description of what he doesn't want (everything about the star beginning in line 2), it now looks like he's washing his hands of the whole thing…but does he?
- No: the speaker of this poem isn't an either/or kind of guy. He doesn't have to either be entirely like the star or entirely unlike the star. Instead, because it's his poem, he gets to pick and choose which aspects of the star he wants to be like and which he doesn't want to be like.
- Which aspects does he want to be like? He tells us: "still stedfast, still unchangeable." Even though the general idea of this line is probably pretty clear, to have a full understanding of it, it helps to know that Keats is using "still" in an old-fashioned way, where it means "always." So the idea is really that he will be "always steadfast, always unchangeable."
- This matches up perfectly with what we learned in line 1: "Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art." It's starting to look like the speaker definitely admires the fact that the star is so dependable, he just doesn't like where the star hangs out (way up in the sky), and he doesn't like what the star looks at (lonely images of waters and snow falling on barren landscapes).
- OK, fair enough Mr. Poetic-Speaker-Man, you've told us what you like about the star and what you don't like about it. But do you have any constructive criticism to make things better?
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
- Ahh, that does sound better. Now the speaker starts making a bit more sense: sure, he'd love to be as "stedfast" as the star, but he isn't jazzed about sitting up in the high heavens taking in all those dreary sights. Instead, he'd like to be just as "stedfast" in resting his head on his girlfriend's breast.
- Everything in this line seems pretty self-explanatory…maybe except for the word "ripening." What do you think the poet could have been going for here?
- Our best guess is that the speaker's girlfriend is still fairly young and so is still in the process of "filling out," so to speak.
- Do you think it's possible that the word "ripening" also gives a feeling of sweetness and warmth that contrasts with the cold images of the waters and the snow falling on barren landscapes?
- We think this is certainly possible, especially since so many poets describe the skin of their (female) objects of affection as "snow-white" or "snowy." So, the stereotypical thing for Keats to do here would be to follow suit. In fact, if you've read enough Romantic poetry, you might automatically visualize the love's breast as "snow" colored, even without Keats telling you (as in fact he doesn't).
- Thus, you could almost say that Keats is counting on his readers having this expectation, so that they then get a surprise when he doesn't follow the playbook. This heightens the contrast between this image and the images that have come before, and might lead to an even stronger sense of sweetness and warmth at this point.
To feel for ever its soft swell and fall,
- The speaker continues his description of what he would like to be able to do. Now we learn that, while resting his head on his girlfriend's breast, he would also get to feel her breathing.
- By bringing in the idea of "for ever," Keats continues to emphasize the main aspect of the star's existence the speaker would like to have: its permanence.
- Note that, in some editions of this poem, depending on which of Keats's manuscript versions they were taking as their starting point, the words "swell" and "fall" appear in the opposite order. For an example of this, check out this version of the poem, which reproduces the text as it appeared when the poem was first printed in 1848 (27 years after Keats's death).
- What difference do you think the order of the words makes? Which order do you prefer? Why?
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
- Here the speaker spins out his description of what he'd like to do even further.
- Even though he would be resting his face on his girlfriend's breast like a pillow, he doesn't want to fall asleep there and miss out on all the action. Instead, he would rather remain awake forever.
- This is another parallel between the speaker and the star, which keeps its eyes open forever (as we learned from Keats's reference to its "eternal lids apart" in line 3). Once again, context is everything. It's a lot better to be forever awake with your head resting on your girlfriend than in is to be high up in the barren cosmos with nothing but equally barren sights to feast your eyes on.
- This line is also interesting because it takes an idea that might normally be a bad thing ("unrest"), and makes it a good thing, by sticking the adjective "sweet" in front of it.