Edward Bulwer-Lytton

When Stars Are in the Quiet Skies by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

‘When Stars Are in the Quiet Skies’ is a classic love poem that celebrates an idealized relationship that’s only accessible at night under the quiet stars. 

‘When Stars Are in the Quiet Skies’ is Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s best-known poem and one that has successfully been set to music. Edward Bulwer-Lytton was an English writer and politician of the 19th century, serving as a Whig and Conservative member of Parliament. He went on to work as the Secretary of State for the Colonies and made Baron of Lytton of Knebworth in 1866. This piece is filled with tender and beautiful images that seem at odds with the life of a politician and administrator. They speak to the purest love between two people and should likely be relatable to a wide variety of readers from different backgrounds. 


Summary of When Stars Are in the Quiet Skies

‘When Stars Are in the Quiet Skies’ by Edward Bulwer-Lytton is a love poem in which the speaker addresses his lover and celebrates their relationship.

The poem spends the majority of its lines focusing on the nature of the relationship between the speaker and his lover. These two people are clearly deeply in love with one another. The speaker describes how their love is so pure it can only be celebrated at night under the stars. He doesn’t want to bring his thoughts into the light for fear that the mundanity and relative impurity of the day will harm them. He makes several comparisons between his thoughts, his love, and natural images, such as waves and stars. The poem ends with a great example of a refrain as the poet repeats the first four lines. 



‘When Stars Are in the Quiet Skies’ engages primarily with the theme of love. The speaker’s love for his partner, whoever they may be, is filling his mind and heart throughout these lines. This person’s lover is unfortunately not with them all the time. This is something that he expresses sorrow over, but he also acknowledges that the best time for them to be together is at night when the quiet stars are in the sky. He relates his love to these moments, when “coarser souls” are sleeping. There’s a tenderness in these lines that makes the speaker’s emotional state quite clear. 


Structure and Form

‘When Stars Are in the Quiet Skies’ by Edward Bulwer-Lytton is a three-stanza poem that is divided into sets of eight lines, known as octaves. These octaves follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABABCDCD, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. Bulwer-Lytton also chose to structure the metrical pattern of the poem. The odd-numbered lines contain eight syllables or four sets of two beats, and the even-numbered lines contain six syllables or three sets of two beats. Although it is not completely consistent throughout, the majority of these lines are written in either iambic terameter or iambic trimeter. 


Literary Devices

Bulwer-Lytton makes use of several literary devices in ‘When Stars Are in the Quiet Skies.’ These include but are not limited to alliteration, imagery, and caesura. The latter is a formal device, one that refers to pauses in the middle of lines. These are created either through the natural pause in the meter or through punctuation. For example, line five of the first stanza reads: “For thoughts, like waves that glide by night.” 

Readers should also note the use of alliteration in this poem. It is a type of repetition that occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sounds at the beginning of words. For example, “stars” and “sea” in line four of the first stanza as well as “Sweet spirit” in line four of the second stanza. 

Imagery is one of the most important literary devices at work in any poem. It refers to the moments in which the poet creates particularly effective descriptions. For example, these lines from the first stanza: “For thoughts, like waves that glide by night, / Are stillest when they shine.” 


Analysis of When Stars Are in the Quiet Skies

Stanza One 

When stars are in the quiet skies,

Then most I pine for thee;

Bend on me then thy tender eyes

As stars look on the sea!

For thoughts, like waves that glide by night,

Are stillest when they shine;

Mine earthly love lies hush’d in light

Beneath the heaven of thine.

In the first lines of ‘When Stars Are in the Quiet Skies,’ the speaker begins by using the line that later came to be used as the title. He spends the first lines speaking about the times that make him think about “thee,” presumably his lover. It’s these moments when the stars are out, and everything is quiet that he misses this person most of all. He wishes that the two could always be together as he’d like them to be. 

In the following lines, the poet uses a simile to compare thoughts to waves. They both “glide by night.” One in the ocean and the other in his mind. At night, beneath the stars, his thoughts calm, and he’s consumed by the love he feels for the listener. His “earthly love lies hush’d” in that light. 


Stanza Two

There is an hour when angels keep

Familiar watch o’er men,

When coarser souls are wrapp’d in sleep —

Sweet spirit, meet me then!

There is an hour when holy dreams

Through slumber fairest glide;

And in that mystic hour it seems

Thou shouldst be by my side.

In the following lines, the speaker goes on to say that this hour of the night is the perfect time for the two to meet. It’s the time when “coarser souls” who don’t know love as they do, are sleeping. It’s a time when the angels watch over men, and the speaker’s lover, who he refers to as “Sweet spirit,” should come and meet him. The perfect rhymes in these lines make the phrases sound quite romantic and ideal. They also demonstrate the poem’s song-like qualities. 

The poet uses anaphora in the next lines when he repeats the phrase, “There is an hour when.” He describes the hour with different words next, speaking about it as “mystic” and a time at which the listener should “be by [his] side.” 


Stanza Three 

My thoughts of thee too sacred are

For daylight’s common beam:

I can but know thee as my star,

My angel and my dream;

When stars are in the quiet skies,

Then most I pine for thee;

Bend on me then thy tender eyes,

As stars look on the sea!

In the third stanza, the speaker reveals why he thinks the night is the proper place for the two to meet. It’s due to the fact that his thoughts of his love are “too sacred” to be experienced in “daylight’s common beam.” The day is too full of people and the mundane comings and goings of the world for his love to be expressed. He doesn’t want to degrade it in the light. 

It’s only as his “star” that he might know his love. They’re an “angel,” “a dream,” he goes on. It’s clear that the poet is using these romantic images to idealize his lover. This perfect vision of his person is only accessible when the rest of the world is sleeping. 

The poet then reuses the first four lines of the poem in the fifth through eighth lines of this stanza. This is an example of a refrain. 


Similar Poetry

Readers who enjoyed ‘When Stars Are in the Quiet Skies’ by Edward Bulwer-Lytton should also consider reading some related poems. For example: 

  • The Definition of Love’ by Andrew Marvell – is a depiction of a tragic speaker who feels dejected and lost without love in his life. 
  • I Said to Loveby Thomas Hardy – depicts Hardy’s regret in regard to the loss of his wife, Emma. 
  • ‘The Sorrow of True Love’ by Edward Thomas – speaks about the pain of love while at the same time suggesting that a life without love is lacking something fundamental. 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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