Last Sonnet (or Bright Star as the poem is also known as) was written by John Keats in 1819 and, then, revisited in 1820. Nevertheless, his biographers suggest different dates for this same poem, which contemplate his meeting with Fanny Brawne and, later, his engagement to her. Nevertheless, the poem was written between 1818 and 1819. The final version of Last Sonnet was supposedly copied into a volume of Shakespeare’s poetical works, opposite to A Lover’s Complaint. The poem was published in 1838,17 years after Keats’s death, in The Plymouth and Devonport Weekly Journal. The readers have frequently associated “Bright star” with Fanny Brawne, and the poem is thought as a declaration of love. Therefore, Last Sonnet can be read as a love sonnet.
The main theme of Last Sonnet is eternity. The lyrical voice makes an emphasis on the importance of the figure of the star. Consequently, the star not only represents eternity, but, also it makes a conjunction with transience. Last Sonnet acquires a melancholic tone, as the lyrical voice longs to be someone else in several moments of the poem. Furthermore, Last Sonnet also makes a personification of the figure of the star, as it is the main symbol in the poem. The poem is also filled with natural imagery and constant mentions and comparisons to nature. Finally, Last Sonnet acquires a dreamlike tone throughout the stanzas, thanks to its constant rhythm and night setting.
Last Sonnet is a lyric poem and, particularly, a sonnet. Keats follows the thought-pattern of the Italian sonnet (octave+sestet), but he follows the rhyme scheme of the English Shakespearean sonnet. The rhyme scheme is ABABCDCDEFEFGG and it has Iambic pentameter.
Last Sonnet (Bright Star) Analysis
Bright Star, would I were steadfast as thou art–
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night,
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like Nature’s patient sleepless Eremite,
In this first stanza, the lyrical voice refers to a star (“Bright Star”). Through the first line, the lyrical voice seeks a desire for an ideal and talks to the star. He/She longs to be as steadfast as the star. However, he/she is unable to identify even briefly with the star, as he/she denies it in the second line (“Not in lone splendor”). The rest of the lines reject the qualities and the star’s steadfastness, denying the statement made in the beginning of the stanza. The star is cut off from the beauties of nature on earth and is positioned as a passive observer of life. Notice how the lyrical voice describes the star as “Nature’s patient sleepless Eremite”. As the star is mentioned and described, the setting can be thought as a night environment. A certain melancholic tone can be perceived in the passive position of the star and its relation to the lyrical voice.
The moving waters at their priest-like 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—
In this second stanza, the lyrical voice expands on the qualities of the star. He/ she continues to reject the qualities of the star’s steadfastness. There is a strong natural imagery that portrays the force of nature in human life. Religious matters are associated with nature, but in a cold and isolated way; the water has a “priest-like task” and it is followed by the depiction of a mountain full of snow. Hence, natural imagery acquires also a melancholic tone, which was already introduced in the first stanza with the image of the star. And, although nature and the figure of the star have very dissimilar connotations for the lyrical voice, they portray a certain tone towards life.
No–yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
In this third stanza, the lyrical voice makes a strong statement. The first line starts with a negation. After that, the lyrical voice emphasizes on the star’s steadfast quality, the eternal and “unchangeable” element in it. The star is associated with the lyrical voice’s loved one. This is crucial, as many have read Last Sonnet as a love poem. The star, and its eternal qualities, can be found in the loved one’s breast, building a strong bond between the main symbol of the poem and the lyrical voice’s loved one. Then, the lyrical voice talks about love, and how it makes him/her feel. The unchangeable character found in the star is also found in the lyrical voice’s love. The lyrical voice expresses his love: “To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,/ Awake for ever in a sweet unrest”. The eternal quality in the star is also found in love, as it makes the lyrical voice feel “awake for ever”.
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever–or else swoon to death.
In this final stanza, the lyrical voice emphasizes on the figure of his/her loved one. He/she repeats the place of comfort in the breast of the loved one and the importance of this loved one (“Still, still to hear tender-taken breath). The lyrical voice also emphasizes on the eternal quality of the loved one, which associates it with the image of the star previously portrayed. The final line accentuates the eternity of love and how the lyrical voice feels about his/her loved one. The alternative of death is presented as opposite as love; either love or die (“And so live ever—or else swoon to death”).
About John Keats
John Keats was born in 1795 and died in 1821. He was an English Romantic poem and was one of the main figures of the second generation of Romantic poets, alongside Lord Byron and Percy Shelley. He died at a very young age, at 25 years old, and his works had been published only four years before his death. John Keats’s poems were not critically acclaimed during his lifetime. However, Keats’s reputation grew after his death and, by the end of the century; he was considered to be one of the best English poets of all times. He had a significant influence on a great number of writers. John Keats’s poems are characterized by their sensual imagery, and their use of natural imagery to accentuate extreme emotion. Some of his most famous works are “I Stood Tip-toe Upon a Little Hill”, “Sleep and Poetry”, and “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer”.