Probably the best known of all Keats's love poems, this sonnet in fact has more to say about the difficulties of loving than it does about love's bliss and consolation. It is continually agitated by ideas about instability. Nevertheless it makes its unrest a very sweet one, by settling into an erotic passivity which touches the very edge of consciousness.
Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art ?
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
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,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors ?
No ? yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d on my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever ? or else swoon to death.
Recording commissioned by the Poetry Archive, shared here with kind permission of the reader.