John Keats, selected poems Contents
- Bright Star! Would I were steadfast as thou
- The Eve of St Agnes
- ‘Hush, hush! tread softly! hush, hush, my dear!’
- Isabella: or The Pot of Basil
- La Belle Dame Sans Merci
- Lines to Fanny (‘What can I do to drive away’)
- O Solitude, if I must with thee dwell
- Ode on a Grecian Urn
- Ode on Indolence
- Ode to a Nightingale
- Ode to Autumn
- Ode to Melancholy
- Ode to Psyche
- On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer
- On Seeing the Elgin Marbles
- On the Sea
- Sleep and Poetry
- Time’s sea hath been five years at its slow ebb
- To Ailsa Rock
- To Leigh Hunt
- To Mrs Reynolds’s Cat
- To My Brothers
- To Sleep
- When I have fears that I may cease to be
Bright Star! - Language, tone and structure
Language in Bright Star!
The tone changes quite abruptly at the sonnet’s volta, the point where the octave ends and the sestet begins. This would be expected in a Petrarchan sonnet but is less usual in Keats’ chosen structure of Shakespearean sonnet. The purity and steadfastness of the star image turns into the warm sensuousness of physical love with images of ‘love’s ripening breast’ rising and falling.
As Keats states (in lines 10-11) that he would rather be steadfastly pillowed on his lover’s breast (rather than being like the star hanging in splendid isolation in the sky), his choice of language sensuously suggests the physicality for which he yearns: ‘pillowed’ suggests cheeks resting on the plumply swelling breast.
The sounds in ‘soft fall and swell’, the sibilants and the softness of the ‘f’ and ‘sw’ sounds, enact the tenderness of the act of laying his cheek upon the breast.
Investigating language and tone in Bright Star!
- How do you react to the speaker’s desire to feel ‘for ever’ the rise and fall of his love’s breast?
- Does the hyperbole convey passion or is it merely ridiculous?
- How does Keats use sound in this poem to create its effects?
- Explain how the tone changes between the octave and the sestet.
- What does the language suggest is attractive about the star – and what are its limitations?
Structure and versification in Bright Star!
This Shakespearean sonnet is constructed around the contrast of cold isolation and warm communion. The octave focuses on the image of the ‘bright star’, traditionally an image of permanence, which has its appeal when considering enduring love. However, the personified star is rejected as the sonnet moves into the sestet. This turn (or volta) is indicated by the emphatic word ‘No’.
From this point onwards the sonnet becomes much warmer in tone and language as the speaker paints an erotic image of himself pillowed on his lover’s breast.
Investigating structure and versification in Bright Star!
- What is the relationship between the two parts of the sonnet (i.e. the octave and the sestet)?
- Explain the effect of the word ‘No’ which comes at the turn between the two sections.
- What is the effect of the enjambement between lines 2 and 3 and between lines 5 and 6?
The tone of voice in which anything is to be read in: e.g. lyrical, dramatic, contemplative.
Often the volta introduces a shift in tone as the speaker moves from uncertainty to resolution and voices a change in his or her ideas or plans.
The 8-line stanza of a Petrarchan sonnet, always occupying the first eight lines. It sometimes has a division halfway, creating two quatrains. It poses a problem or describes some single object or incident.
The 6-line stanza of a Petrarchan sonnet, occupying the last six lines, sometimes divided into tercets or couplets. It often resolves the problem posed in the octave or comments significantly on it.
A form of sonnet developed by the poet Petrarch.
A form of sonnet developed by William Shakespeare
Making a hissing sound
A figure of speech denoting exaggeration.
Represented or imagined as a person.
The technique used in blank verse and other verse forms in which the sense of a line runs on without a pause to the next one; this often gives a sense of greater fluency to the lines.
Scan and go
Scan on your mobile for direct link.