Themes in The Starlight Night

Faith and beauty

The main theme to emerge is that earthly beauty and religious faith are reconcilable (similar to a later sonnet, ‘To what Serves Mortal Beauty?'):

  • if nature is God's book, then a wonderful starry night, where fathomless space and piercing light awe the beholder, reflects the ecstatic aspect of religious belief.
  • yet the actual practice of religious faith can seem very ordinary after such an intense experience of beauty
  • the exact relationship of the two needs to be established.

Hopkins wrote several poems wrestling with this (the most famous being The Windhover):

  • his efforts to persuade himself that there is a simple reconciliation are shown in repetitions like ‘Look, look'
  • is he addressing himself as much as the reader?
  • the reconciliation is expressed in somewhat Catholic terms ‘Christ and his mother and all his hallows' (‘hallows' meaning ‘saints') - as if he is forcing himself to make an orthodox statement.

(Look also at the themes of The beauty, variety and uniqueness of Nature, and of Serving God in the Themes and significant ideas).

Investigating The Starlight Night
  • People often ‘compartmentalise' their experiences and beliefs.
    • Are you aware that you do this?
  • How successful do you think Hopkins has been in breaking down the separate compartments of beauty and religious practice?
    • One way of judging poetically might be to ask yourself:
      • how well within ONE sonnet are the two component parts integrated;
      • or do the octave and sestet seem almost two different poems?
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