Synopsis of The Starlight Night


The Starlight Night is one of a number of sonnets written in 1877, when Hopkins was studying at St.Beuno's College, after he had felt it right to begin writing poetry again. There is no particular record of his seeing such a starlight night at that time, though earlier, in his journal for 1874, when he was just about to move up to St. Beuno's, he had written:

‘As we drove home the stars came out thick; I leant back to look at them and my heart opening more than usual praised our Lord to and in whom all that beauty comes home.' (Journal, August 17, 1874)

It may have been this memory, or another such clear starlight night that inspired this poem, whose details stand out in contrast to the general descriptions of the previous sonnet, ‘God's Grandeur'.

Literary traditions

Inspiration from the stars is both:

  • a Romantic trait (passages in Wordsworth's Prelude are a good example)
  • a mark of Christian mysticism. In W.H.Gardner's book on Hopkins, Gardner cites examples both Spanish and English (Gardner Vol.II p.236).

In this poem, both these very different traditions come together. The sestet works hard to tie them in to one another, at the same time resolving Hopkins' own difficulties with ‘mortal beauty' and the Christian life.

Investigating The Starlight Night
  • Do you have any particular memories of a starlight night?
    • Try to recall them in detail.
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