This famous sonnet was written by Keats in Joseph Severn’s copy of The Poetical Works of William Shakespeare opposite the poem ‘A Lover’s Complaint’. Because it was written during Keats and Severn’s voyage to Italy, many people (including Severn) believed it be Keats’s last poem. It was actually titled ‘Keats’s Last Sonnet’ by Milnes in his 1848 biography of Keats. However, careful studies by biographers / critics have dated its composition to spring 1819. It was first published in a newspaper in 1838, seventeen years after Keats’s death.
Bright star! would I were steadfast 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 steadfast, 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.