21 May 2015

Poetry Thursday - Lucifer in Starlight by George Meredith

George Meredith caricatured by Max Beerbohn, 1896 (via)

Lucifer in Starlight (by George Meredith)
On a starred night Prince Lucifer uprose.
Tired of his dark dominion swung the fiend
Above the rolling ball in cloud part screened,
Where sinners hugged their spectre of repose.
Poor prey to his hot fit of pride were those.
And now upon his western wing he leaned,
Now his huge bulk o’er Afric’s sands careened,
Now the black planet shadow’d Arctic snows.
Soaring through wider zones that pricked his scars
With memory of the old revolt from Awe,
He reach’d a middle height, and at the stars,
Which are the brain of heaven, he look’d, and sank.
Around the ancient track marched, rank on rank,
The army of unalterable law.

Written in 1883, when arguments were reaching a fever pitch between advocates of the church and advocates of rationalism, with a mechanistic view of the universe. Despite debates, the rationalists never divorced themselves entirely from the church or religious thought. The poem embodies the importance of the language, terms, and ideas of Christianity, in dramatic form, and has remained popular with readers. The fallen angel, who nursed hopes for ascension to the highest places, rises to "a middle height" and sees not heaven but natural law.

Hear it read here.

George Meredith (1828-1909) lost his mother at age 5, read law but abandoned it for poetry, and married an older woman at quite a young age. In 1856 he posed as the model for Death of Chatterton (an immensely popular Victorian painting), and his wife ran off with the painter; she died three years later. A collection of "sonnets" called Modern Love came of this experience.

Remarried in 1864, he took a job as a publisher's reader, which made him influential in the world of letters. Of his style, Oscar Wilde said "it is chaos illumined by flashes of lightning."

Meredith outlived both of his wives and one of his three children.

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