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As I write this at 4am I suddenly realize that “Bright Star” is a poem about coffee–and those who drink it: and like the brandy-comforted old and end-fearing (Hem’s “Clean, Well-Lighted Place”), so too for Keats’ young and loverish, who do not wish to sleep.

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art–
Not in lone splendour 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 stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever–or else swoon to death.

To die, to sleep–exactly, and so why leave it to chance? Better to heat up the percolator, drink it in, stay up. A sweet unrest. This is what romantic poetry is all about, rich smells and endless nights of splendor! But Keats was, like Hemingway, a writer not a bullfighter–Keats is the eremite, as Hemingway the aging solitary man. They are the eternal watchers. And what if you find the stronger connection and beauty in the moving waters and ablutionary toil, than in the hot, swelling, pillowy breasts of…? You’ll sleep in the earth, in the end, not a feathered bed.

An Ode to Coffee then! For the restless youth, brimming spirits, the lovers with all their griefs in their arms–and for the poets, alone at their priestlike task, desperately thirsty always: Come, make me young again.


From → Readings

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