Oct. 31, 2002

Bright Star

by John Keats

(RealAudio) | How to listen

: "Bright Star," by John Keats.

Bright Star

Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art-
Not in lone splendor hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike 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-
No-yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
Pillowed upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel forever its soft fall and swell,
Awake forever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever-or else swoon to death.

Today is Halloween. It refers to the Eve of All Hallows Day, a Catholic day in honor of saints. In the 5th century BC, it was also the official end of the summer in Celtic Ireland. According to legend, on that day the disembodied spirits of all those who had died throughout the preceding year would come back in search of living bodies to possess for the next year. It was to be their only hope for the afterlife. The Celts believed that all laws of space and time were suspended during this time, allowing the spirit world to intermingle with the living.

It's the birthday of Juliette Gordon Low, born in Savannah, Georgia (1860). She founded the Girl Scouts. She was born into high society and was groomed to be the perfect "Southern Lady." She founded the Girl Scouts because she felt that she herself did not possess the skills necessary for everyday life.

It's the birthday of the poet John Keats, born in London (1795). He was the oldest of four children and he took care of his brothers and sister while they were growing up. His father died early, his mother's second husband took all the inheritance, and his mother ran off with a third man, leaving behind her children. He studied anatomy and physiology to become a surgeon. He studied poetry as well, translating the Aeneid and reading for the first time Ovid, Milton, and Spenser's Faerie Queen. In 1815 he became a licensed surgeon and did very well. He passed all the tests to be certified but in the end turned to poetry. He had a long courtship with Fanny Brawne, to whom he was engaged. She inspired The Eve of St. Agnes, a long poem about romance and desire. He wrote other poems on romantic subjects such as Ode to a Nightingale and Ode on a Grecian Urn, in which he said, "Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all / Ye know on earth and all ye need to know." He was a doctor so when he first contracted tuberculosis, he knew enough to know what he had when he saw the blood on his pillow. He knew it was his death warrant. He went to Rome to try to recover and died there in his room near the fountain at the Spanish Steps. "There is nothing stable in the world; uproar's your only music."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show