The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Country Stars” is a short poem consisting of two five-line stanzas with a rhyme scheme of abbab, cdcdd. The title not only evokes a scene of supreme beauty—the dark night sky studded with stars—but the term “country” also draws the reader into experiencing the sights, sounds, and scents associated with the country.

Contrary to expectations, the poem does not open with a celebration of the sublime beauty of nature, but with a domestic scene where a myopic child “comes downstairs to be kissed goodnight.” The poet follows her actions as she blows on a “black windowpane until it’s white” and digresses to describe a constellation of stars, “a great bear,” passing over the apple trees. This scene of beauty escapes the child, who sees only darkness—a darkness that she distrusts. By taking off the glasses through which she sees, by clouding the windowpane, she is responsible for the barrier between her and the beauty of the night sky, for her own personal state of limited vision and obscurity.

In the second stanza, the poet relates the scene within the country home and the actions of the child to actions taking place within “two cities.” The poet animates cities, chemical plants, and “clotted cars” and visualizes them to be breathing pollutants into the air. The most likely pollutants suggested by the images are chemical fumes and carbon monoxide. The poet holds humanity responsible for the growing man-made darkness that acts as a barrier between humans and the starry sky, like the clouded windowpane that prevents the child from appreciating the beauty of the nocturnal scene outside her window. The child’s fear dissolves into a collective fear as the poet ends his poem with lines that shake the reader’s faith in “the bright watchers” looking down on them. The afterthought, “or only proper fear,” in the lines “But have no fear, or only proper fear:/ the bright watchers are still there” instills that element of doubt in the stars that are initially viewed as guardians watching over humanity. Perhaps the thought occurs that a time may come when the curtain of pollution may be so thick that the darkness may be impregnable, thus severing the bond between people and the sublime beauty symbolized by the stars forever.