What Is the Theme of Emily Bronte's Poem "Stars"?
Emily Bronte, a novelist and poet, first published "Stars" in 1846. Given the strict moral codes of the times, it can be argued that she employed the metaphor of stars and nature to represent other objects and themes. In the twelve stanzas of the poem, the speaker addresses the stars directly, professing her love for them while criticizing the "fierce" and "blood-red" sun. Four prominent themes can be derived from Bronte's poem: love and intimacy, the comfort of night, abandonment and absence, and escape and refuge.
Love and Intimacy
Although the title implies that the speaker is addressing the stars in the sky, it can be argued the stars are a metaphor for the speaker's love interest. At the start of the second stanza, the speaker addresses this love interest directly: "All through the night, your glorious eyes/Were gazing down in mine." The connection of two people gazing into each other's eyes all night implies a mutual trust and intimacy, as well as a romantic sentiment. Bronte addresses the resilience and binding quality of love when she writes: "Thought followed thought, star followed star,/Through boundless regions, on;/While one sweet influence, near and far,/Thrilled through, and proved us one!" While the speaker's mind may roam, and geographies and time may be traversed -- through all of life's many changes -- the "one sweet influence" of love sustains the union of the speaker and her lover.
The Comfort of Night
The presence of the stars and the peacefulness of nighttime provide a sense of comfort to the speaker. Speaking of the alleviating aspect of nightfall, Bronte writes: "I was at peace, and drank your beams/As they were life to me." Most literally, it can be argued that the speaker is nocturnal and finds solace in the nightly dark skyscape. However, the comfort that night provides can also represent the tranquility and space for reflection that solitude offers. For the speaker, the comfort of night casts "so great, so pure, a spell", which is broken with each new sunrise.
Abandonment and Absence
If the speaker's audience is interpreted to be a lover symbolized by the stars, it can be argued that this lover abandons the speaker and is absent. Bronte writes: "Ah! why,...Have you departed, every one,/And left a desert sky?" The loss of the speaker's love interest is felt, in part, through her direct requests for him or her to return: "Oh, stars, and dreams, and gentle night;/Oh, night and stars, return!" The word "desert" implies a barrenness -- an absence of happiness, comfort and companionship.
Escape and Refuge
When the sun is first introduced, the speaker's mood shifts dramatically. Of the speaker's spirit Bronte writes: "But mine sank sad and low!" The sun casts a "hostile light" on the things the speaker wishes to escape. Thus, she seeks refuge in the concealing night and starry sky. Ultimately, however, the speaker cannot escape the day-to-day realities that await her, and notes to herself that trying to to hide from them simply "would not do." Bronte writes: "The curtains waved, the wakened flies/Were murmuring round my room,/Imprisoned there, till I should rise,/And give them leave to roam." In life, one can flee from responsibilities, difficulties, suffering and conflict; however, ultimately, those "flies" will continue to wait and roam until they are confronted.
Soheila Battaglia is a published and award-winning author and filmmaker. She holds an MA in literary cultures from New York University and a BA in ethnic studies from UC Berkeley. She is a college professor of literature and composition.