Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art Poem by John Keats Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


“Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art” is a poem by John Keats where the speaker compares himself to a star to rejoice the moment of comfort that he spends with his lover. 

About the Poet

John Keats was an English Romantic poet. His poems explored themes of love, and nature’s beauty. 


Line One 

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—

The poem begins as the speaker directly addresses the bright star. The speaker talks to the star and admires its steadiness and desires to be as immobile as the star. 

Some say the speaker is referring to the North Star as it is known for its stillness in the sky and was often used as a compass in ancient times to detect the Northern direction. 

Line 2-3

Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night

And watching, with eternal lids apart,

In the next lines, although the speaker wants to be steadfast as the star, he does not want to be alone in the sky hanging all by himself. He does not want to constantly observe the world from above with his eyes wide open for eternity. 

Here the speaker describes the star’s splendour, its bright beauty. Although it’s appealing, it’s lonesome. The speaker wants to be steady and peaceful but not alone. 

Line 4

Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,

In this line, the speaker describes the star as a “nature’s patient” and a “sleepless eremite”. It seems like the poet is listing down why he does not want to be a star anymore. Its a contradiction to the first line of the poem.

Line 5-6

The moving waters at their priestlike task

         Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,

In the next lines, the speaker now describes what this sleepless eremite must be gazing upon. It’s the moving waters that wash off the shores as ritually as the priests perform baptism as the priest washes off people for purity. 

This is very detailed as the poet uses “human shores” to describe this act of the ocean. The water cleanses the shores with the same dedication of the priest. Nature is associated with religious practices to describe the star’ loneliness, this gives the poem a melancholic tone. 

Line 7-8

Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask

         Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—

The poet uses majestic imagery in these lines to describe the mask of new-fallen snow that lays upon the mountains and the moors which is being watched by the star in the night sky. This again emphases the aloofness of the star. 

The snow is already covering the top of the mountains that are usually perceived as lonely. But the fact that snow is covering them, snow is acting like a companion to these mountains. It adds on to the isolation of the star. 

Line 9-10

No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,

         Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,

The speaker in these lines explains that this is not the stillness he wants. Not the aloof steadiness but still steady as in unchangeable as he lays upon his lover’s ripening breast using them as pillows. 

It seems like the speaker wants to cherish this moment of rest and comfort that he shares with his partner. He wants to be still and make it last for as long as he can. Therefore, he desires the star’s stillness. 

Line 11-12

To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,

         Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,

The speaker in the next lines again refers to the star gazing upon the mountain slopes covered with “soft fallen snow” and compares it to his lover’s breasts as they share the same softness. 

He wants to be still and awake forever, like the star is, to have this sweet unrest. Its unrest because he is awake yet it is comforting. 

Line 13-14

Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,

And so live ever—or else swoon to death.

The speaker reveals that he wants to be still to hear his lover’s tender breaths and therefore wants to live forever or let the emotions take over causing his death. Death is placed as an alternative for love. 

The last two lines also suggest that the speaker prefers being human as the star cannot experience this comfort of human touch. He would rather swoon to death over her breasts than to hang alone in the night sky.