Essays in English Romanticism
Online ISSN : 2189-9142
Print ISSN : 1341-9676
The ‘Bright star’ Sonnet and Keats’s “sweet unrest”
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2015 Volume 39and40 Pages 99-114


This essay explores when and how the ‘Bright star’ sonnet, which has two significantly different versions, was originally written, considering the interrelationship between Keats’s Fanny poems and his Vauxhallwoman verses as well as Keats’s relationship with Wordsworh.

  Three main dates have been suggested for ‘Bright star’: October 1818, July 1819, and October-November 1819. This essay proposes that at the earliest the date could be around September-October 1818 and at the latest in January or February 1819. The date of ‘Bright star’ is closely related to that of his first meeting with Fanny Brawne because evidence suggests that Keats almost instantly fell in love with her when they first met. Before meeting Fanny, Keats had had an experience of love at first sight with the Vauxhall woman in August 1814: this led to the writing of three love poems, one written in 1814 and two in 1818. The affinity between ‘Bright star’ and the Vauxhall-woman poems hints that this unknown woman, celebrated in Keats’s first two Shakespearian sonnets, was afterwards replaced by Fanny in another Shakespearian sonnet, ‘Bright star’.

  Keats’s swing from Wordsworth to Fanny in ‘Bright star’ is not so straightforward as it seems. We see in ‘Bright star’ Keats’s respect for, and attachment to, Wordsworth on the one hand and his disappointment at, and detachment from, Wordsworth on the other, as well as Keats’s adoration and suspicion of Fanny: hence the multi-layered oxymoron of “a sweet unrest” in the poem’s sestet.

  We see Keats’s “Negative Capability” working at its best in ‘Bright star’. ‘Bright star’, especially its original, is a different poem from the rest of the Fanny poems composed between October-November 1819 and February 1820 where Keats’s negative capability is stopped from functioning properly due to his uncontrollable love for Fanny. Seeing that almost all of Keats’s masterpieces in his 1820 volume (mostly written in 1819) mirror the poet’s “sweet unrest” concerning the duality of ‘poetry’, ‘love’, and ‘death’, we anticipate from the Fanny poems as a whole the death of Keats as a negatively capable poet. In this sense the original and the final version of ‘Bright star’ serve as landmarks pointing respectively to the beginning and to the end of Keats’s annus mirabilis.

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© 2015 Japan Association of English Romanticism
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