A Night-Piece is a 26 line poem without a regulated rhyme scheme. There are a number of half-rhymes and unstructured end rhymes scattered throughout the lines, but no consistent pattern. The poem is lyrical in its word use and creates a mood of mysterious interconnectivity as the reader is able to ruminate upon the scene and cast themselves into the poem.
“A Night-Piece” by William Wordsworth details a brief moment in which the speaker, as well as a traveler on the ground below, marvel over the majesty of the sky, moon, and clouds above them. The sky is initially cast as a mysterious, dark place, but this image is soon broken as the clouds separate and the moon burst through, surprising the ”pensive” traveler on the ground. The power of the moon is described, as “she” moves through the sky and is followed by the stars that always keep pace with her. These images are used as a metaphor for the power and consistent presence of God. Even when God, or the light of the moon in this case, cannot be seen, it does not mean it is not there.
The poem concludes with the breaking of this religiously inspired moment with nature, and the speaker and traveler are calmer, and better, for it. Their minds muse on the experience as all continues as it did before.
Analysis of A Night-Piece
——The sky is overcast
With a continuous cloud of texture close,
Heavy and wan, all whitened by the Moon,
Which through that veil is indistinctly seen,
A dull, contracted circle, yielding light
So feebly spread, that not a shadow falls,
Chequering the ground–from rock, plant, tree, or tower.
This first section of the poem begins with a simple description of the speaker’s surroundings, “The sky is overcast.” This phrase could describe any place at any time of the year, creating an initial feeling of mystery, that even though more description will be given, does not abate.
The sky above the speaker is overcast, but things are not quite so simple. The clouds are described as being “continuous” and of “texture close.” They are placed so close together it is hard to discern where one ends and one begins. Further description is given and the clouds are said to be “heavy,” “wane” and “whitened” by the light of the moon.
Though his view is obscured through the clouds he can still see, “A dull, contracted circle.” This circle is the moon, though there is some light it is very minimal. The circle seems to actually be decreasing in size, or waning. The light is “feebly spread,” so much so that it does not cause objects on the ground such as rocks and trees, to cast a shadow. There are no shadows, “Chequering the ground.”
At length a pleasant instantaneous gleam
Startles the pensive traveller while he treads
His lonesome path, with unobserving eye
Bent earthwards; he looks up–the clouds are split
Asunder,–and above his head he sees
The clear Moon, and the glory of the heavens.
This second section of the poem introduces a traveler into the narrative. All of a sudden, a “pleasant…gleam”surprises a traveler on the road. He is described as “pensive;” he was absorbed in his thoughts and was easily caught off guard by this change in the light. His eyes were cast towards the ground as the “clouds are split / Asunder.” This strategically placed line break lends additional drama to the moment. It is as if providence split the clouds just then and showed the traveler, “The clear Moon, and the glory of the heavens.”
It is at this point in the poem it becomes clear that Wordsworth is using the light of the moon as a metaphor for the light of God that shines out of the sky. This light, even when not visible is never gone.
There, in a black-blue vault she sails along,
Followed by multitudes of stars, that, small
And sharp, and bright, along the dark abyss
Drive as she drives: how fast they wheel away,
Yet vanish not!–the wind is in the tree,
But they are silent;–still they roll along
Immeasurably distant; and the vault,
Built round by those white clouds, enormous clouds,
Still deepens its unfathomable depth.
The third section of the poem begins as the speaker begins to describe the moon in greater detail. She (referring to the moon by its typical assigned gender), is “sailing” through the “black-blue” sky. The sky is said to be a “vault,” adding to the deep, mysterious feeling of the whole poem.
The moon is personified, it is lent by the author and his speaker, the qualities of a sentient being. She is said to “sail” through the sky and is followed by “multitudes of stars.” Wordsworth describes these stars as being “sharp, “bright,” and “small.” They keep to her pace and “Drive as she drives.” If the moon is moving quickly, so do they. The speaker inserts an opinion here, marveling at how fast they move and how they never vanish.
This section continues and the speaker, who at this point is seeing as the traveler sees, describes how the wind is moving in the trees, rustling the branches, a loud sound against the silent night, but the stars and moon remain quiet. Continuously they “roll along.” The poet and his speaker have a clear reverence toward the sky and is breadth. The stars are described as being so far away they are beyond measure and the vault of the sky is said to be of “unfathomable depth.” There is no end to the power, beauty, and light of the sky that is “built round,” or framed, by the enormous white clouds.
The traveler, as well as the speaker, are having a religious moment made poignant by the world above them.
At length the Vision closes; and the mind,
Not undisturbed by the delight it feels,
Which slowly settles into peaceful calm,
Is left to muse upon the solemn scene.
The final, shorter section of this piece concludes the narrative. This “Vision” that the speaker and the traveler were experiencing has come to end and their minds were made the better for it. The speaker describes the two as being “undisturbed” by the “delight” of the moment. Their minds are able now after viewing and absorbing the “glory of heaven” to settle into a calm. This feeling will persist as they “muse upon the solemn scene.”
About William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth was born in Cumberland, England in 1770. He met with early tragedy in his young life as his mother died when he was only seven years old and he was orphaned at 13. Though he did not excel, he would eventually study at and graduate from Cambridge University in 1791. Wordsworth fell in love with a young French woman, Annette Vallon while visiting France and she became pregnant. The two were separated after England and France declared war in 1793 and Wordsworth began to develop his radical ideology. Soon after, Wordsworth became friends with Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the two co-wrote, Lyrical Ballads, which contains some of the most well known poetry from both writers.
Wordsworth’s radical ideas did not last as he aged and by 1813, reunited with Vallon and their child, he moved to the Lake District. Wordsworth continued to create poetry, although his most productive period had passed, until his death at 80 in April of 1850. He had held the position of England’s poet laureate for the last seven years of his life.