“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.
Forms and Devices
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 entire section is 941 words.)