Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Meredith’s remarkable poem arose at a time when arguments were reaching a fever pitch between advocates of the church and advocates of rationalism, many of whom were influenced by the English Deism movement of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Deists had advocated a worldview that embraced the concept of a Creator but that rejected the idea of an interceding deity. Once the mechanical universe of the Deists was set in motion, the Creator’s role was done. The work of such pioneering rationalists as Sir Isaac Newton and James Hutton supported this mechanistic view of the universe. In Meredith’s time, the greatest proponent of rationalism was Charles Darwin, whose evolutionary theory renewed and deepened the debate, often acrimonious, between representatives of the church and the halls of science.

Throughout these centuries, despite the debates and acrimony, many within the rationalist camp never divorced themselves entirely from the church or religious thought. The language, terms, and ideas of Christianity remained important at all levels of discourse. Meredith’s “Lucifer in Starlight” embodies this in dramatic form. By demonstrating its continued interest to contemporary readers, Meredith asserted the power of the biblical story and biblical perspective in the most direct manner. That the poem continued to attract readers through the succeeding century indicates that not only the issues but also Meredith’s rhetorical approach are...

(The entire section is 483 words.)