Eternal Love Through Death in John Keats Bright Star

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Kwok Lai Chu, Yukie

Prof. Michael O’Sullivan

ENGE 2370

18 Oct 2013

Eternal Love Through Death in John Keats’ Bright Star

        Love, being one of the most debated topics in literature, often serves as a source of inspirations for many of writers and poets, including John Keats. Throughout his life, he wrote countless love poems and letters, addressing his lover – Fanny Brawne. The star, apart from being the symbol of steadfastness and constancy, it is also a metaphor representing Keats himself. Through Keats’ idea of “Mansion of life”, the poem is consisted of two floors where the first floor displays his passionate love for Brawne while the second floor talks about his inner desire for death.

        Keats first expresses his ideal, however paradoxical love. There are two essential yet conflicting qualities in this poem – the reality verses the ideal and the immortal verses the mortal. On one hand, he would like to be like a star, steadfast and unchanging. On the other, he dislikes the solitude of the star as it has to watch “the moving waters” and “the new soft-fallen mask/Of snow” from afar like a “sleepless Eremite”.  He continues to state that if he “has to live ever”, he would rather “pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast”. The ideas to be eternal and to love simultaneously do not go hand in hand. To love, one has to be human and therefore not an immortal, steadfast star. In the last line of the poem, Keats acknowledges that he would like to “live ever” in love, but he has to be human in order to experience love, which hints that the love between Keats and Brawne will not last and will eventually fade away as time goes by. The other possible alternative to immortalize their love is “swoon to death”. One of Keats’ letters from 3 May 1818 to Fanny Brawne echoes the idea of “swooning” and it says “…I love you; all I can bring you is a swooning admiration of your Beauty.”( This can be interpreted that he wants to die while experiencing intense, ecstatic love or according to the letter, overwhelmed by her beauty. While I was reading Bright Star, I could not help but catch the similarity between Keats and Shakespeare’s idea of love. In the opening of Shakespeare’s sonnet 116,

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Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.” (Shakespeare)

Shakespeare talks about his ideal love and marriage. Keats, being a reader of Shakespeare, is in some way affected or inspired by him. Shakespeare describes love as an “ever-fixed marks” that “is never shaken” even in the wildest storms. Keats transformed Shakespeare’s “ever-fixed” into steadfastness.

        Keats ...

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