Bright Star Thoughts

Discussion on the works of John Keats.

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Bright Star Thoughts

Postby BrokenLyre » Mon May 26, 2014 7:01 am

I was reading some articles on astronomy when I came across a quote from Spenser, calling Polaris (our North star) a "steadfast star." That made me recall Keats' our poem "Bright Star" in which he says, "...would I were steadfast as thou art." Which star is Keats talking about? Made me realize that Keats must have been thinking about Polaris as the star of this poem (remember Spenser's hold on Keats). Moreover, Shakespeare's Sonnet 116 also refers to Polaris and love. I was wondering what star Keats was referring to in his poem. I now think with good reason that it was Polaris. Perhaps this is old news to some of you but I enjoyed seeing the connection for the first time.
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Re: Broght Star Thoughts

Postby Cybele » Thu May 29, 2014 3:11 am

BrokenLyre, you got me thinking. I've never considered that the Bright Star might be something other than Polaris. And that's even with knowing about the poet's fondness for Spenser. I poked around a bit on the web (obviously not too thoroughly) and came across this:http://www.shmoop.com/bright-star/summary.html It's kind of a fun read -- if you can stand all the pop-up ads and somewhat (IMO) self-conscious "cool-speak." Maybe it's the bit about the star being unchanging and steadfast, I don't know. But I think that the Bright Star is absolutely, positively the North Star.

As an aside --
Last summer, I took a week-long poetry workshop and we all ended up in a pub one night talking about this very same poem. We did not disagree over what particular star Keats was talking about, but rather continued our earlier-in-the-day discussion about the place of "swooning" in his poetry. I and several other people thought that swooning frequently referred to sexual climax. Others appeared to be a bit shocked by the idea. (Why, yes. There was indeed some wine -- red, of course -- passed around our now-raucous table.
Why do you ask? :wink: )

My favorite part of the poem is "Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell. . ."
I love the image of two lovers snuggling, listening to each other breathe.
Last edited by Cybele on Thu Jun 05, 2014 2:08 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Broght Star Thoughts

Postby Saturn » Thu May 29, 2014 5:53 am

I think some people are shocked because they think sex was invented in the 60s and no-one from the supposedly repressed, genteel time of the 19th century could ever dare to even think of such a thing!

Have they never read Isbella, the un-self-censored version? Or anything by Byron or Shelley.

Some people seem to have this strange idea of a Keats as some virginal, innocent and prettified young man, as if young men then were any different in terms of their interets, wants and desires, and needs than they are now. Yes they may not have had the freedom to explore such desires as modern men, but anyone that thinks Keats or any other poet of the era was some pixie-fied ethereal asexual they really haven't understood much of their poetry at all, or are blinded by delusions or misconceptions about the past.
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Re: Broght Star Thoughts

Postby Saturn » Thu May 29, 2014 3:19 pm

I realise I've talked about this before on this forum, but I do think it's a point worth repeating as the Victorianised portrait of Keats lingers long in the popular imagination.
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Re: Broght Star Thoughts

Postby Cybele » Fri Jun 06, 2014 3:56 am

Oh, I so agree with you, Saturn. Starting with Wm. Michael Rossetti's biography. (Honestly, I don't remember much about, except that I couldn't wait to be finished with the book.)

I don't think that many people think that sex was invented in the 60s (except maybe some of those who were very active in the 60s :lol: ). But there are certainly several living in this town who believe they invented it, as can be seen every winter with our first snowfall of good "packing snow." Someone almost invariably makes a 10 foot tall phallus out of snow and no doubt pats himself on the back for the sheer cleverness of it all, like he is the first human being in history to think of doing this. (I must re-state that I live in a college town. From September through May the population of this small town approximately doubles from its full-time, year-round population. )

Back to topic: you are correct. Those who aren't super-familiar with Keats or his works often view him as an asexual, albeit gifted, child, too pure to deal with the realities of life, who tip-toed through fields of flowers sprinkled with fairy-dust.

LOL -- it's really kind of a shame that more of his bawdy jokes haven't survived and come down to us. -- We have so few of those. -- Things he thought funny would help give us a more three-dimensional picture of the poet.
Last edited by Cybele on Tue Jun 10, 2014 3:21 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Broght Star Thoughts

Postby Ennis » Sat Jun 07, 2014 10:58 pm

Cybele wrote:Oh, I so agree with you, Saturn. Starting with Wm. Michael Rossetti's biography. (Honestly, I don't remember much about, except that I couldn't wait to be finished with the book.)

I don't think that many people think that sex was invented in the 60s (except maybe some of those who were very active in the 60s :lol: ). But there are certainly several living in this town who believe they invented it, as can be seen every winter with our first snowfall of good "packing snow." Someone almost invariably makes a 10 foot tall phallus out of snow and no doubt pats himself on the back for the sheer cleverness of it all, like he is the first human being in history to think of doing this. (I must re-state that I live in a college town. From September through May the population of this small town approximately doubles from it's full-time, year-round population. )

Back to topic: you are correct. Those who aren't super-familiar with Keats or his works often view him as an asexual, albeit gifted, child, too pure to deal with the realities of life, who tip-toed through fields of flowers sprinkled with fairy-dust.

LOL -- it's really kind of a shame that more of his bawdy jokes haven't survived and come down to us. -- We have so few of those. -- Things he thought funny would help give us a more three-dimensional picture of the poet.


True! As you all know, Gittings's biography has an appendix that discusses Keats's use of bawdy terms in his letters! He certainly had young man's interest in . . . . Well, I suppose some things never change!
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Re: Bright Star Thoughts

Postby Raphael » Wed Jun 18, 2014 4:44 am

People of those days eh.... :lol: George Elliot (Mary Ann Evans) lived with George Lewes who had an open marriage. They went to Germany for their "honeymoon" and didn't even try the hide the fact! Then in 1860, she created yet more scandal by marrying a man John Cross, who was 20 years younger than herself. And to top it all she was an agnostic and after her death was interred in Highgate Cemetery for such people!
John....you did not live to see-
who we are because of what you left,
what it is we are in what we make of you.

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Re: Bright Star Thoughts

Postby Ravenwing » Tue Jul 28, 2015 9:28 pm

I can agree that it is fairly easy for most people to interpret Keats' "Bright Star" sonnet as being about Polaris, especially after their having read the line of verse by Spenser which BrokenLyre did mention, because it readeth:

The Faerie Queene,” Book 1, Canto II, Stanza I
By Edmund Spenser (1590)

BY this the Northerne wagoner had set
His seuenfold teme behind the stedfast starre,
That was in Ocean waues yet neuer wet,
But firme is fixt, and sendeth light from farre
To all, that in the wide deepe wandring arre:
And chearefull Chaunticlere with his note shrill
Had warned once, that Phoebus fiery carre
In hast was climbing vp the Easterne hill,
Full enuious that night so long his roome did fill.

Source: http://www.luminarium.org/renascence-ed ... Cant.%20II.


But I can interpret Keats' "Bright Star" sonnet in another way, especially after having read Michael Drayton's fourth sonnet in his book of sonnets, entitled "Idea," which was composed in 1602, and published in 1619, because it readeth:

IV
By Michael Drayton (1602)

BRIGHT Star of Beauty! on whose Eyelids sit
A thousand nymph-like and enamoured Graces,
The Goddesses of Memory and Wit,
Which there in order take their several places.
In whose dear Bosom, sweet delicious LOVE
Lays down his quiver, which he once did bear,
Since he that blessèd Paradise did prove;
And leaves his mother’s lap, to sport him there.
Let others strive to entertain with words!
My soul is of a braver mettle made:
I hold that vile, which vulgar Wit affords,
In me ’s that faith which Time cannot invade!
Let what I praise, be still made good by you!
Be you most worthy, whilst I am most true!

Source: http://www.bartleby.com/358/706.html and http://www.luminarium.org/editions/idea.htm


Because Keats' "Bright Star" is a sonnet, I saith that means it should be interpreted with sonnetry in mind, and not with free verse poetry in mind. Being a poet is not necessarily the same as being a sonneteer: Every sonneteer is a poet, but not every poet is a sonneteer. Not every poet is talented enough at poetry to be a sonneteer. The fine art of sonnetry, which requires the talent to sing, is a finer art than the art of poetry, which merely requires the talent to recite.

It is traditional for sonnets to feature a volta. The volta is the main turning point in the sonnet's song. Lines two to eight of "Bright Star" describe a star in negative terms, and as that sonnet itself doth feature a volta, its last six lines describe a star in positive terms.

Is the negatively described star and the positively described star of "Bright Star" the same star, or, as the traditions of sonnetry themselves do suggest, are they two different stars which Keats did contrast by means of the volta?

Are there actually two stars in Keats' "Bright Star" sonnet? Is the negatively described star Polaris? Is the positively described star Venus?

Traditional names for Venus include "Lucifer" and "the Morning Star," because of how bright it is. There are dozens of celestial objects, including Venus, each of which doth always appear as brighter in the night sky to the naked eye than does Polaris. Besides the Sun and the Moon, there is no other steadfast celestial object as bright as Venus. Perhaps historically, some comets did temporarily appear as being brighter than Venus, but comets are not steadfast, nor are comets traditionally described as beautiful. Traditionally, comets are described as being a bad omen—as a sign foretelling of war, plague, and death.

It is absurd that Keats, whose naked eyes were greatly familiar with the night sky, would have decided to describe Polaris as bright, and bright to the point where he did entitle his sonnet as "Bright Star," even though he knew from his own experience, that the most prominent physical characteristic of Polaris is its steadfastness, and that the most prominent physical characteristic of Venus is its brightness.

Furthermore, in his letter to Fanny Brawne, dated July 25th, 1819, he wrote:

"I will imagine you Venus tonight and pray, pray, pray to your star like a Heathen.

Yours ever, fair Star,
John Keats"

Source: http://www.john-keats.com/briefe/250719.htm


In Keats’ day and age, the planets were also called stars.

Spenser's "stedfast starre" is Polaris, but Drayton's "Bright Star" is Venus, as Venus is the mother of Cupid who is traditionally known as Love.

Which star is Keats' "Bright Star" sonnet about? Is it about both Venus and Polaris?

If so, which star is it mostly about?

Although its first line describes a star as being bright and steadfast, the title of his sonnet is "Bright Star" and not "Steadfast Star." Nor did Keats entitle his sonnet as "Bright and Steadfast Star."

I saith that the star being negatively described in lines two to eight is the same star as that of Spenser in his poem which readeth "His seuenfold teme behind the stedfast starre,". I saith that the star being positively described in line one, and also in the last six lines of “Bright Star,” is the same star as that of Drayton in his sonnet which readeth “BRIGHT Star of Beauty! on whose Eyelids sit”.

As for Keats' use of the word "swoon" in his "Bright Star" sonnet somehow being an euphemism for sex, that interpretation does not fit the fact that in Keats' aforementioned July 25th, 1819 letter to Fanny Brawne, he wrote:

"My dear love, I cannot believe there ever was or ever could be any thing to admire in me especially as far as sight goes - I cannot be admired, I am not a thing to be admired. You are, I love you; all I can bring you is a swooning admiration of your Beauty."

Source: http://www.john-keats.com/briefe/250719.htm


Keats' own poems and letters demonstrate that he was passionately devoted to Beauty. Is there anything in his work which shows that he was equally devoted to steadfastness? Doesn't the speaker of "Bright Star" place beauty above steadfastness, by their having come to the conclusion that steadfastness without beauty is a fate worse than death?

If it be true that "no poem is an island," to paraphrase John Donne, then surely Keats' "Bright Star" sonnet is best interpreted when having read his July 25th, 1819 letter to Fanny Brawne, along with the aforementioned poems by Spenser and Drayton.

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Re: Bright Star Thoughts

Postby BrokenLyre » Tue Sep 01, 2015 4:52 am

Nice find Ravenwing. I enjoyed your analysis - very interesting connections you make. Thanks for the insight.
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Re: Bright Star Thoughts

Postby Ravenwing » Mon Sep 07, 2015 8:25 pm

Hey BrokenLyre,

You're welcome. Mine analysis of Keats' "Bright Star" sonnet probably would not have been possible without your firstly having mentioned that stanza by Spenser; I appreciated your having posted that.

When I read the opening line of that aforementioned sonnet by Drayton, I could not help but recognize it as something which Keats himself might have read. I think that it begs the question as to whether or not there doth exist additional works by Drayton which possibly did influence Keats. If so, then what new insights into his life and work might be gleamed from them?

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Re: Bright Star Thoughts

Postby Ravenwing » Thu Oct 29, 2015 9:54 pm

The mystery of Keats' "Bright Star" sonnet deepens! When reading Keats' "To Chatterton" sonnet today, I couldn't help but notice how similar it is to his "Bright Star."

To Chatterton
by John Keats (1815).

Chatterton! how very sad thy fate!
Dear child of sorrow—son of misery!
How soon the film of death obscur'd that eye,
Whence Genius mildly flash'd, and high debate.
How soon that voice, majestic and elate,
Melted in dying numbers! Oh! how nigh
Was night to thy fair morning. Thou didst die
A half-blown flow'ret which cold blasts amate.
But this is past: thou art among the stars
Of highest Heaven: to the rolling spheres
Thou sweetest singest: nought thy hymning mars,
Above the ingrate world and human fears.
On earth the good man base detraction bars
From thy fair name, and waters it with tears.

Source: http://webspace.webring.com/people/tl/l ... cha01.html


Then, when looking for a digital image of its manuscript, I found the following book as digitized, its page 146, https://books.google.ca/books?id=WTfUQz ... ar&f=false which suggests that Keats' "Bright Star" sonnet might have been inspired by Hannah Cowley's "O Chatterton!" poem, as it includes the line "Bright star of genius!"

"O Chatterton!" by Hannah Cowley: http://spenserians.cath.vt.edu/TextReco ... tsid=35143

Is the bright star of Keats' "Bright Star" sonnet neither Polaris nor Venus, but Chatterton?

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