Study Guide

Bright Star, would I were stedfast as thou art Man and the Natural World

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Man and the Natural World

The speaker of Keats's "Bright Star" takes a very mixed attitude toward nature. At the beginning of the poem, he says that he wants to be like a part of the natural world: the Bright Star. But the more we learn about the star, the more we get a picture of nature as bleak, cold, and lonely, culminating in the image of the snow falling on the uninhabited mountains and moors. But before that, we actually get something even more striking: the image of the "moving waters" whose act of "pure ablution round earth's human shores" sounds pretty much like they are wiping humanity off the map. And if wiping humanity off the map is an act of "ablution" – i.e., ritual purification – then that suggests that the humans don't treat nature too well either. But then things shift in the second part of the poem, when the speaker describes his girlfriend's breast as "ripening." By calling our attention to fruit, the speaker reminds us that nature can also be friendly to humankind. And yet, when the speaker says that he wishes he could live as long as the star, but with his head on his girlfriend's chest, it isn't clear if he and nature have really made any sort of truce. After all, we all know that it isn't possible for a human to live as long as a star. This means that the speaker is wishing for something supernatural. This shows that he and nature are still competing at the end of the poem.

Questions About Man and the Natural World

  1. Based on the poem, would you say that humans are part of nature, or are they separate from it? If they are separate from it, what makes them separate?
  2. On the whole, does the speaker want to get more in touch with nature or does he want to get away from nature?
  3. Imagine you are the Bright Star in this poem and are looking down at the speaker of the poem. What would you say to him? Does the speaker give us any clues about what he thinks the star would say?
  4. The speaker only uses the word "nature" once in the poem – in line 4. Why do you think he chooses to put it there, of all places?

Chew on This

The speaker in the poem portrays humans and nature as essentially enemies.

The speaker in the poem doesn't portray humans and nature as essentially enemies; he just thinks that humans should be able to pick out the good parts of nature and reject the bad stuff.

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