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What are the themes in Louis MacNeice's "Star-Gazer"?Hey, I am about to go to an oral...

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narppi | Student, Undergraduate | eNoter

Posted June 5, 2011 at 4:50 AM via web

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What are the themes in Louis MacNeice's "Star-Gazer"?

Hey, I am about to go to an oral exam, and there it is possible for me to draw a quesion about this poem. My problem is that for me it seems very straightforward with no deeper hidden meaning. So my quesions is, what are the themes in the poem?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 9, 2011 at 11:55 PM (Answer #1)

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This is a brilliant poem to look at. It is easy with the poems of this author to be distracted by the conversational, everyday tone that he adopts as he relates experiences and discusses themes to miss the deeper meaning in his poetry. This poem, for example, starts off with a simple narration of an experience that the speaker had when he was on a train at night forty-two years ago. Note what excited the speaker about the "Holes, punched in the sky," which are described as being "intolerably bright":

which excited me partly because
Of their Latin names and partly because I had read in the textbooks
How very far off they were, it seemed their light
Had left them (some at least) long years before I was.

Part of the speaker's fascination with the stars then stems from the way that the light that he is seeing now actually was first emitted from the stars before he even existed as a human being. Note how this theme of time and mortality is developed in the second stanza as the speaker talks about the distance and time of the speed of light:

which light when
It does get here may find that there is not
Anyone left alive
To run from side to side in a late night train
Admiring it and adding noughts in vain.

What appears to have struck the speaker is a sense of his own mortality and that of humanity as a whole. As he contemplates the starry universe, he is forced into a realisation of how aeons of time go by in the galaxy, and how man has only been around for such a short time and will probably not be around for much longer from that perspective. There seems to be a note of futility in the "adding noughts in vain." Perhaps the speaker is suggesting that instead of contemplating our mortality and trying to calculate equations, we should just focus on admiring the wonderful, transcendent beauty of the stars and live in the moment--because that, as a species, is all we have.

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