Everyone once in a while, I come across a word that I have never heard before or that I may have heard but have no idea (or can not remember!) what it means.

Eremite is one of those words.  I heard it in a song that I played for our local high school choir sometime last school year.  I searched around for some insight into the word, and wrote nearly all this post many months ago while I was searching.  One of my endeavors this year is to attempt to publish all my drafts (or decide they are not worth sharing and thus delete them).

Harry L. Heffelfinger wrote:

I recently received a question from a colleague of my wife’s asking about the word eremite. I believe that the word means ‘religious recluse’. The question arose because Robert Frost made reference to Keats’s eremite in one of his poems. Could you help us to understand the word and who may have been Keats’s eremite?

An eremite (pronounced ERR-uh-mite) is indeed a ‘religious recluse’, someone who, from religious motives, has retired into a solitary life. Both eremite and hermit came into English late in the 12th century and were used interchangeably for over 400 years. Hermit is now the more common word. In Modern English, especially since the 16th century, eremite is most often used poetically or to create a certain effect. Time magazine referred to J.D. Salinger as “the eremite of Cornish, N.H.” in a 1999 article.
The Greek adjective eremos means ’empty or desolate’. From this came the noun eremia ‘desert’. Toward the end of the 3rd century, it became common for Christians in Egypt to go into the desert, where they lived a solitary life of contemplation and asceticism. A person who did this was known as an eremites in Greek or an eremita in Latin. An eremite is, therefore, literally ‘someone who lives alone in the desert’.  *from Wikipedia

In the poem “Bright Star,” Keats speaks of “nature’s patient sleepless Eremite.” The reference is to an unidentified star which, like a hermit, sits apart from the world. Frost, in “Choose Something Like a Star,” refers to the steadfastness of “Keats’ Eremite.” I’ll leave it to those of you who are interested to look up the full texts of the poems. They can be easily found on the Internet.

Here are a few more words to expand your vocabulary:
“eremic” means ‘relating to deserts’
“eremophilia” is ‘a love of solitude’
“eremophobia” is ‘a fear of being alone’


I’m struck by the opposite definitions of the last two words in that short list.  “Philia” denotes an “abnormal love for a specified thing” or an “undue inclination” for something.  “Phobia” is a label we use for “extreme or unnatural fear” of something.


Text of the sonnet Bright Star
Text of the sonnet Bright Star (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bright Star
by John Keats
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 stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft swell and fall,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever — or else swoon to death.

Addressed to a star (perhaps Polaris, around which the heavens appear to wheel), the sonnet expresses the poet’s wish to be as constant as the star while he presses against his sleeping love. The use of the star imagery is unusual in that Keats dismisses many of its more apparent qualities, focusing on the star’s steadfast and passively watchful nature. In the first recorded draft (copied by Charles Brown and dated to early 1819), the poet loves unto death; by the final version, death is an alternative to love.

The poem is punctuated as a single sentence and uses the rhyme form of the Shakespearean sonnet (ababcdcdefefgg) with the customary volta, or turn in the train of thought, occurring after the octave.

from Frostiana, “Choose Something Like a Star”
(Randall Thompson, Lyrics by Robert Frost)

Embed from Getty Images

“My thoughts are stars I can not fathom into constellations.”

(Gus, from The Fault in Our Stars by John Green).

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I am a pianist, musician, music teacher, choir director, mother, wife, daughter, sister, cousin, sister-in-law, friend, neighbor. I enjoy music (of course!), quilting, sewing, beading, traveling, kayaking, camping, biking, hiking, gardening, knitting, scrapbooking, cooking, reading, poetry, drinking good coffee, and having fun with family and friends. NOTE -- Creative Commons License: All work of The Tromp Queen (quirkyjazz, aka Jill) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 Unported License.

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