It is not for nothing that Keats has excelled so much in the history of English Literature. A look at the portrayal of nature and the sensuousness displayed in his descriptions. Matchless.
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Pillowed upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Immensely sensual..... Young man wishing to adore the most beautiful things of life with the constant ability as a star in heaven, sleepless, only to realize that such ability would be best used to adore his lover, something he wishes to do forever.... Am I wrong in recognizing this as a rather powerful love poem? Though somewhat lacking of the usual mastery of assonance I have become accustomed to in Keat's writing. Dare I assume Keats was a young man when he wrote this?
Anyone who knows me (or follows my comments on sites like this one) is likely to know that my favorite poets of all time are the British Romantics, and that Keats has been a favorite longer than any other. I became an English major and an English teacher and a lover of poetry after discovering Keats' Ode on a Grecian Urn and reading Earl Wasserman's The Finer Tone (I hate not being able to italicize) . 'Bright Star' may very well be the most nearly perfect sonnet in the English language - yes, Petrarchan or Italian, which probably is even more difficult than the Shakespearean or English form. After almost sixty years of reading and teaching this poem, I am still as moved by it as when I first encountered it as a sophomore in college, maybe even more so. And, yes, it has autobiographical overtones. And, yes, the voice heard in the poem is the voice of the poet, Keats himself. Of course, the speaker of every poem is a persona, a mask if you will. But that's true of anything anyone ever says. What we say, if we are not being deceptive or are not self-deceived, reflects who we are at that given moment - maybe not yesterday, maybe not tomorrow, but nevertheless autobiographical. And, no, Keats I am relatively certain would NOT have wanted this poem entitled his Last Poem. How he hoped against hope that it would not be.
How blessed we all are - how blessed the world is - that he wrote, that he let it reflect some of what he must have been feeling at that time, and that it was preserved for us to read for all time to come.
Sometimes I wonder about the misconceptions some of you have about poetry and poets, but your garbled interpretations cause my wonder to dissipate in the fog of incomprehension I detect in your postings!
Alert to Albert Ahearn- 'His Last Sonnet' by John Keats is NOT a Shakespearean sonnet. Fourteen lines make a sonnet, OK! But when divided into an octave (eight lines rhyming ABABCDCD) - art / night / apart / eremite / task / shores / mask / moors // and a sestet (six lines rhyming EFEFGG) - able / breast / swell / unrest / breath / death, it is a PETRARCHAN sonnet! Remember that your high school teacher impressed upon your adolescent mind that Shakespeare wrote sonnets composed of three quatrains (four lines each) and a couplet (two lines) that summed up or resolved the problem raised in the three preceding quatrains!
The poet differs from the persona, the 'I' character in the sonnet that the poet creates to express the thoughts and feelings that many unwary readers take to be the poet expressing himself as the lover or whomever he pretends to be. Recall if you can that teacher who told you that the term 'persons' literally means 'mask! '
And forget Fanny Brawn or whomever else your restless mind and imagination construes as Keats's love interest in real life. Cite your sources, boy! Your vulgar line about the half-naked wench stretched out on the couch leaves most of us in the dark!
I appreciate your comment, and the time it must have taken you to share it with PH readers.
I'm not sure whose 'fog of incomprehension' you are referring to. I've read eleven current comments, and though most are not as perceptive as yours, they don't sound all that garbled to me. Admittedly, I have not found Albert Ahearn's. Perhaps it has been withdrawn. Perhaps that is what you hoped for.
But how do you know the voice of the poem is not the voice of the poet, Keats himself? And how do you know for sure the poem does not refer to Fanny Brawn as 'my fair love'? If a poem is autobiographical - if the poet speaks with his own voice, or attempts to, does that mean it is not true poetry. Or that it is not good poetry? Or, simply, that it is not poetry written according to your dictates? What about the confessional poets of the 1960s? Or Walt Whitman's extraordinarily personal and idiosyncratic passages? Or your own poems? Is no single one of them autobiographical? Do you not speak with your own voice in any one of them?
By the way, I've read several of your poems, and will certainly read more, and many of them I like very, very much. Many of them - with a good editor or proofreader - are certainly publishable in respected periodicals, by respected presses. Perhaps you are already a published poet. I hope so. As soon as I finish on this site, I'll go to Amazon.com to see if any of your volumes are available there.
But, among us amateurs on PH, perhaps you could be a bit kinder, a bit more encouraging. If you find this offensive, forgive me. Just let me know, and I will comment on your work no further.
For me Keats is the most romantic hero in poetic terms. If this was infact his last sonnet before his death at such a young age, then it is written in the heightened spirit of his inspirations muse! Love and Death...our greatest preoccupation in life, the closer we get, the more inspired we are. When I read him in the 90's, that is when I realised what poetry was all about. Not actively constructed, but euphorically inspired, by death, by love, by life.
Considering the fact that Keats died at 26 years old after a long, malingering battle against TB, his preoccupation with death and his imminent separation from his beloved Fanny Brawn is quite understandable and sensitively penned.
In Keats there is a melancholy (sometimes conscious, sometimes unconsciously expressed) that pervades much of his work. This melancholy proceeds from his frustration at his impending death which will cut off the full development of his poetry, and his sexual frustration. In this poem there is the paradox that he would exchange his eternal genius for love, but love which is like that of the lovers in the Ode to A Grecian Urn - eternally the same, never fully realised, but at the same time never frustrated. It is the poem of a man who passionately wants full sexual love, but at the same time fears it, and it is no less a poem for that. Compare the poem 'When I have fears that I may cease to be...' which deals with both frustrations.