The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

George Meredith’s “Lucifer in Starlight” explores a motif introduced in the Christian Old Testament and examines the stymied ambitions of an angel fallen from Heaven who was the embodiment of pride and temptation. Meredith’s poem achieves distinction in approaching the theme from a rationalist, possibly Deist-influenced, point of view.

In the poem, the fallen angel Prince Lucifer rises out of his “dark dominion,” the region beneath the earth to which he had been consigned after his rebellion against Heaven. His flight above the world is marked by his rising higher than the birds or any other natural beings, until, as the sun might be, he is “in cloud part screened.” He catches glimpses of the “rolling ball” of Earth below, including views of “Afric’s sands” and “Arctic snows.” He rises into a region closer to Heaven, which brings renewed pain to scars left from his embattled rebellion, apparently still not completely healed. He has reached a “middle height,” where he regards the stars. These stars, however, represent not Heaven but natural law. They are the “brain of Heaven.” The fallen angel, who still nursed hopes for ascension to the highest places, is chastened by the sight and falls again.

The poem plays upon a famous passage from the Old Testament book of Isaiah, 14:12-21, in which the “bright morning star” is depicted as having once nursed the highest ambitions, for he had hoped to set a throne...

(The entire section is 538 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Although sonnets are more typically meditative or lyric, “Lucifer in Starlight” is predominantly narrative in nature. It introduces a character, gives the character inward thoughts and outward actions, and details a series of events that reach a striking climax. Meredith relates his narrative without digression, making no obvious authorial observations or reflections. The details of the narrative itself carry the message of the poem, with those details enhanced by Meredith’s choice of terms.

The traditional sonnet is comprised of an octave, or eight-line stanza, followed by a sextet, or six-line stanza. The usual rhyme scheme for the octave in the sonnet is abba abba, the scheme Meredith used in this poem. For his two rhymes, he chooses two extremely distinctive sounds, represented by “uprose” and “fiend.” While several different terminal rhyme schemes are common for the subsequent sextet, Meredith chose an unusual one: cdc eed. These rhymes are closer in nature, which may help reinforce the finality of this stanza. The c and d rhymes are especially similar, represented by “scars” and “Awe.” The rhyming of the latter with the final line, “The army of unalterable law,” serves a more than musical purpose. “Awe,” which is a biblical-style metonymic name for “God,” becomes linked with the concept of natural or physical law, suggesting similarity or identity.

Meredith’s choice...

(The entire section is 500 words.)