In AND THE STARS WERE SHINING, there are many fine lyric poems. These poems, for the most part, resist easy explication, as they work out their elegant designs in Ashbery’s faultless diction and deft metaphors. He announces in one of the sections of the title poem a poetic manifesto: “Anyway, in poems are no ideas. No ideas in things, either.” One can, however, discern certain patterns in the poems; in “Token Resistance,” a dream reveals that time has passed and shaped individuals’ lives without their awareness. They can only acknowledge this shaping and the result in what they have become. Amidst the juxtapositions that make up the poems there is the sense of a pattern if not a theme. The poems seem to wend their way through confusion to end with an enhanced sense of having arrived somewhere. The places that are arrived at may be tentative, but the experience of reaching such modulated resolution is exhilarating.
The title poem, “As the Stars Were Shining,” contains thirteen sections as it moves through seasons and the threat of storms and fear to the end in spring. As the poem moves through these cycles, some values such as caring and the importance of beauty and “sweetest song” are affirmed.
AND THE STARS WERE SHINING is an impressive addition to Ashbery’s collected works. Some readers may abandon a fuller and deeper reading of these poems because of their surface difficulty. Nevertheless, those who already are attuned to Ashbery’s complexity and those who are willing to persist in reading and rereading the poems will find a poetic experience that few contemporary poets can provide.