The Poem

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 381

“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.

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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.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 560

From the very beginning, William Meredith makes effective use of contrasts. The bright stars are seen against the backdrop of the black night sky. When the “near-sighted child” takes off her glasses, she moves from the state of seeing to that of unseeing. As she blows on the windowpane, she transforms it from “black” to “white.” Such key terms as “country stars,” “apple trees,” “cities,” “chemical plant,” and “clotted cars” establish the contrast between the serene, fresh, natural beauty of the country and city smog, chemical fumes, and dust. The warmth, trust, and love inherent in the word “kissed” is contrasted with such emotions as distrust and fear. Finally, the protected state of the child within the room is contrasted with the fear of abandonment as the poet questions the presence of the “bright watchers” in the sky.

Throughout the poem, Meredith uses words associated directly or indirectly with vision. “Country stars,” the constellation passing over the apple trees, and “the bright watchers” all call upon the reader to appreciate a scene of beauty from a distance. The nearsightedness of the child expresses a state of blurred vision. Haziness again is suggested by the image of the clouded windowpane used to describe the thick layer of pollution hanging over the city. Beyond the blurred vision is the fear of total loss of vision. This is expressed through the predominance of the color black in the poem.

The act of seeing takes another dimension when the reader examines Meredith’s use of frames. The child’s lenses are contained within frames. The window through which she views the darkness presents two differing framed pictures: one constructed by her, the other by the poet. She sees a black-framed scene, whereas the poet distinguishes the pattern of the stars above the apple trees. Both the poet and the child are viewing the same scene, but the child does not possess the clarity of vision that the poet does. Again, the extension of the image of the clouded windowpane to the second stanza gives another framed picture: the picture of dimly perceived stars viewed through a cloudy film.

Meredith’s power of animating inanimate objects is evident in the way he personifies cities, chemical plants, and cars as living, breathing things. The stars also seem to be alive as they watch over humanity from afar.

Above all, there is a unifying principle linking the first and second stanzas, as individual actions, images, and emotions in the first stanza are related to collective actions and sentiments in the second stanza. The blurred vision of the child is related to the blurred vision of the masses; the clouded windowpane of one room is related to a huge windowpane obstructing the vision of the multitude of city dwellers; and the fear of the child is related to the collective fear of humanity in general. This reconciliation of the individual with the collective gives the poem an air of universality.

In “The Language of the Tribe: William Meredith’s Poetry,” in Southwest Review (1982), Neva Herrington writes of “the marvelous mystery of the associative power of words.” Indeed, the poetic cosmos of Meredith’s “Country Stars” is a world in which words, images, actions, and sentiments interact with one another in such a way that through the power of association, the poem grows in significance with each new reading.

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