There is a great deal of personification and figurative language in this poem. These elements help to create the atmosphere the poet was interested in. It’s hard to walk away from this poem without being amazed and entranced by the world he’s described in ‘Night on the Mountain.’
Night on the Mountain George Sterling The fog has risen from the sea and crowned The dark, untrodden summits of the coast, Where roams a voice, in canyons uttermost, From midnight waters vibrant and profound. High on each granite altar dies the sound, Deep as the trampling of an armored host, Lone as the lamentation of a ghost, Sad as the diapason of the drowned. The mountain seems no more a soulless thing, But rather as a shape of ancient fear, In darkness and the winds of Chaos born Amid the lordless heavens' thundering- A Presence crouched, enormous and austere, Before whose feet the mighty waters mourn.
Explore Night on the Mountain
‘Night on the Mountain’ by George Sterling is an unforgettable piece about a particularly intimidating landscape.
In the first lines of the poem, the speaker begins by describing how the fog rises off the ocean and crowns the coastal peaks. This is only one part of the scene. There are also waters, canyons, and the rock itself. Each element is intimidating but also beautiful. The poem goes on, adding more details about the landscape and insisting that the mountain isn’t soulless. Instead, it’s an ancient force, one that waters mourn in front of and that emerged from chaos.
Structure and Form
‘Night on the Mountain’ by George Sterling is a two-stanza poem that is divided into one set of eight lines and another set of six. With a total of fourteen lines and a rhyme scheme of ABBAABBACDECDE, this piece is in the form of a Petrarchan sonnet. The first eight lines are known as the octave and the next six are the sestet. Usually, between these two sets of lines is a turn, or volta. This is a shift in the poem. It could mean the speaker, content, perspective, or something other crucial to the piece, changes.
The poem is also written in iambic pentameter. This means that each line contains five sets of two beats. The first of which is unstressed and the second of which is stressed. This is also a traditional feature of a Petrarchan, or Shakespearean, sonnet.
Sterling makes use of several literary devices in ‘Night on the Mountain.’ These include but are not limited to:
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “diapason” and “drowned in the last line of the first stanza and “seems” and “soulless” in the first line of the second stanza.
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of the first stanza and lines three and four of the second stanza.
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses especially poignant descriptions. For example, “From midnight waters vibrant and profound” and “Lone as the lamentation of a ghost. The latter example is also a simile.
- Caesura: occurs when the writer inserts a pause into the middle of a line. For example, “Where roams a voice, in canyons uttermost” and “A Presence crouched, enormous and austere.” This can be done through the use of punctuation or a natural pause in the middle of a line of verse.
The fog has risen from the sea and crowned
The dark, untrodden summits of the coast,
Where roams a voice, in canyons uttermost,
From midnight waters vibrant and profound.
High on each granite altar dies the sound,
Deep as the trampling of an armored host,
Lone as the lamentation of a ghost,
Sad as the diapason of the drowned.
In the first lines of stanza one, the speaker begins by using imagery to depict a beautiful scene. They’re describing a landscape, one that’s crowned in a fog that’s risen off of the sea to the summits of the coast. These few words help the reader visualize a very specific scene. It’s expanded on as the lines progress, making it feel more and more real. Words like “risen,” “crowned,” and “untrodden” are helpful here. The latter helps readers understand how wild these places are. No one has even been there, they’re entirely pristine.
The speaker has special knowledge about this place. They know that in that place, “roams a voice.” This is more metaphorical than it is realistic. The writer is trying to create a specific atmosphere.
The landscape expands, describing the “granite altars,” or the mountain peaks, where the sound dies out. But, before that, it sounds like the trampling of an army, as lonely as a lamenting ghost, and as sad as the song of drowned men and women. This is a haunting image, one that evokes the main subject of the poem, a night on a mountain. The world feels incredibly alive and full of mystery.
The mountain seems no more a soulless thing,
But rather as a shape of ancient fear,
In darkness and the winds of Chaos born
Amid the lordless heavens’ thundering-
A Presence crouched, enormous and austere,
Before whose feet the mighty waters mourn.
In the first lines of the second stanza, the speaker goes on to say that the “mountain” is not a “soulless thing.” This is something that should be clear from their descriptions in the first stanza. There is far more going on in the landscape than inanimate objects resting together.
The mountain is, the speaker says, “a shape of ancient fear.” This is a great example of a metaphor. It helps define the reader’s understanding of what it’s like to be there at night, completely exposed to the elements. It evokes a feeling of chaos, as if God has no presence there.
The final image is one of darkness. A “Presence” is described, one that is “enormous and austere.” It soon becomes clear that the speaker is talking about the mountain itself. It is beyond heaven or God. Furthermore, it’s a being all it’s own and around its feet are mourning waters, experiencing the same “ancient fear” that any human being would.
The themes at work in this poem are those of nature, mortality, and fear. The latter is at the heart of a human being’s reaction to the natural world. This specific world, one filled with chaos, is meant to remind readers of their own mortality and how quickly the natural world can change one’s world.
The tone is reverent and amazed. The speaker is well aware of what this landscape represents, but they’re still amazed by it. They speak about its elements with a kind of reverence that makes the place seem even more intimidating and beautiful.
Sterling likely wrote this poem in order to express his own experiences in the natural world and his understanding of God and heaven. The latter two topics come into play in the second half of the poem and the speaker suggests that there are places and forces beyond either.
The meaning is that despite the rapidly developing world, there are still places one can go and feel an ancient, deep-seated fear of traditional threats. The mountain represents a sublime unspeakable force that humanity is constantly drawn to.
The mood is contemplative, intimidating, and awe-inspiring. The speaker spends the lines painting an unforgettable portrait of a landscape. It’s one that’s mean to amaze and inspire the reader all at once. It evokes an ancient fear of the unknown and the threats an untamed environment can present.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Night on the Mountain,’ should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘Patience Taught By Nature’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning – was written as a reminder to readers that there is a whole world beyond one’s own that is uninfluenced by the dreary, everyday problems of human life.
- ‘Eagle Poem’ by Joy Harjo – urges us to feel our inner self by emphasizing the idea of spirituality and self-knowledge.
- ‘The Nightingale’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge – seeks to establish a new vision towards nature, which is dissimilar to the embodiment of human sensations and feelings.