The HyperTexts

"Will There Be Starlight"
by Michael R. Burch

Form, Theme, Analysis and Meaning, Tone, Diction and Literary Devices

"Will There Be Starlight" is a poem I wrote in my teens and later dedicated to my wife Beth because she reminded me of the poem's mysterious enchantress. 

Will There Be Starlight
by Michael R. Burch

for Beth

Will there be starlight
while she gathers
and lilac
and sweet-scented heathers?

And will she find flowers,
or will she find thorns
guarding the petals
of roses unborn?

Will there be starlight
while she gathers
and mussels
and albatross feathers?

And will she find treasure
or will she find pain
at the end of this rainbow
of moonlight on rain?

If I remember correctly, I wrote the first version of this poem toward the end of my senior year in high school, around age 18, then forgot about it until I met my future wife Beth and she reminded me of the poem’s protagonist. I dedicated the poem to Beth on September 21, 1991, the same day I wrote "Seasons, for Beth." Since then "Will There Be Starlight" has been published by The Chained Muse, Famous Poets and Poems, Grassroots Poetry, Inspirational Stories, Jenion, Poetry Webring, Starlight Archives, TALESetc, The Word (UK) and Writ in Water. The poem has also been set to music by the award-winning Australian composer David Hamilton and there is a spoken-word version performed by David B. Gosselin in a podcast during which he recited and discussed nine of my poems for his literary journal, New Lyre.

Form, Theme, Analysis and Meaning: "Will There Be Starlight" is a lyric poem about the search for beauty and happiness in an often-dark world that can be very difficult to navigate at times. The poem's main themes are the faint illumination we sometimes have during periods of our search and our uncertainty about what we will discover in the end. The first line came to me as a question: "Will there be starlight?" The rest of the poem is my attempt to answer that question: When? Tonight. What is being sought by starlight? Things that are lovely and/or mysterious. Things that can delight us and make us happy. What will be the end result of the search? Treasure, pain or perhaps a nebulous rainbow. A rainbow formed by moonlight on rain would be diaphanous indeed and might represent no firm conclusion. Perhaps at the end of our search we will know no more than when we started. I think of the poem as a poetic fairytale. And I would describe the poetic form employed as being like "stepping stones" — the poem's format encourages the reader to examine each item/symbol individually, rather than reading them in a rush. The poem's nonce form is discussed in more detail under "Literary Devices."

Tone: The poem's tone might be described as hopeful but wistful, leaning toward melancholy.

Diction: The poem's language is soft, gentle and a bit dreamy.

Literary Devices: The poem’s primary literary devices are its nonce form, meter, rhyme, alliteration, repetition, imagery and metaphor/symbolism.

The poem employs an unusual form — a nonce form I created specifically for this poem because I didn’t want it to be read too fast. Placing the images on separate lines slows down the reading a bit and emphasizes the images and rhymes. If I had written …

Will there be starlight tonight while she gathers
damask and lilac and sweet-scented heathers?

… the tendency would be to read the lines more swiftly, with less emphasis on words like “tonight” and “damask” and “lilac.” Also, putting “tonight” on a separate line emphasizes the rhyme with “starlight.” I think the form suits the poem, so I’m glad it occurred to me. I used a "similar but different" form in my poem "Regret."

The poem is metrical. The meter is driven by a pattern of weaker and stronger stresses, for instance in words like “starLIGHT” and “toNIGHT” and “daMASK” and “liLAC.” I think the form employed adds a bit of extra emphasis to the line-ending words:

Will there be starLIGHT
while she gaTHERS
and liLAC ...

The poem employs both perfect rhymes and slant rhymes: -light, -night, gathers, heathers, thorns, unborn, etc.

The poem uses repetition of the three opening lines, and also of the questions: “And will she find …” and “Or will she find …”

The poem employs alliteration, primarily of soft “s” sounds with words like: starlight, she, gathers, damask, sweet-scented heathers, etc.

The poem employs imagery, with images like: starlight, damask, lilac, etc. And the poem concludes with the image of a rainbow created by moonlight shining on rain.

The poem employs symbols and metaphors in a somewhat hazy way, which hopefully works well with the theme. Each of images is meant to be suggestive of something lovely, esoteric and/or mysterious. The items being gathered are collectively metaphors for something that is never directly stated: happiness. Beautiful things should make us happy, but we don’t always end up happy despite all the treasures we accumulate. The poem may be considered an extended metaphor about trying to find happiness in a world full of beauty, where happiness remains elusive at worst and transient at best.

Some of the symbols have individual significance. For instance, a rainbow symbolizes hope and good fortune (i.e., the pot of gold at the end), but rainbows can quickly disappear so they can also symbolize transience. Damask can have a shimmering, rainbow-like effect under changing light and was a highly coveted fabric for centuries. Seashells and mussel shells retain their beauty after death and can shimmer like rainbows. The rose symbolizes love and the damask rose symbolizes secrecy and unity. The lilac is a symbol of fresh starts, renewal, love, and romance. The albatross symbolizes innocence, but in the "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" a mistreated albatross became a very dark omen. Damask is, similarly, a reversible fabric, with one side being the inverse of the other. However, it is not necessary for the reader to "get" all the individual symbols. It is enough to recognize the search for beauty and happiness, the hopefulness this quest creates, and the possibility of ultimate failure.

One of the interesting things about a poem is that it can communicate multiple things on multiple levels. The reader may never be aware of all the things that are going on, but they can add up nonetheless. This poem attempts — readers will have to decide if it works — to communicate the uncertain-ness and sadness of being surrounded by so much beauty, as we go about collecting the things we desire, only to have it all potentially amount to no more than a "rainbow of moonlight on rain."

And so, for a fairly short poem there is quite a bit going on. I hope you liked the poem and thanks for taking the time to get this far, if you got here!

Bio: Michael R. Burch is an American poet who lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife Beth, their son Jeremy, and three outrageously spoiled puppies. His poems, epigrams, translations, essays, articles, reviews, short stories and letters have appeared more than 6,000 times in publications which include TIME, USA Today, The Hindu, BBC Radio 3,, Daily Kos, The Washington Post, Light Quarterly, The Lyric, Measure, Writer's Digest—The Year's Best Writing, The Best of the Eclectic Muse, Unlikely Stories and hundreds of other literary journals, websites and blogs. Mike Burch is also the founder and editor-in-chief of The HyperTexts, a former columnist for the Nashville City Paper and, according to Google's rankings, a relevant online publisher of poems about the Holocaust, Hiroshima, the Trail of Tears, Darfur, Haiti, Gaza and the Palestinian Nakba. He has two published books, Violets for Beth (White Violet Press, 2012) and O, Terrible Angel (Ancient Cypress Press, 2013). A third book, Auschwitz Rose, is still in the chute but long delayed. Burch's poetry has been translated into fourteen languages and set to music by nine composers. His poem "First They Came for the Muslims" has been adopted by Amnesty International for its Words That Burn anthology, a free online resource for students and educators. Burch has also served as editor of International Poetry and Translations for the literary journal Better Than Starbucks.

For an expanded bio, circum vitae and career timeline of the poet, please click here: Michael R. Burch Expanded Bio.

Related Pages: "Davenport Tomorrow" Analysis, "Epitaph" Analysis, "Neglect" Analysis, "Passionate One" Analysis, "Something" Analysis, "Self Reflection" Analysis, "Will There Be Starlight" Analysis, "Pale Though Her Eyes" Analysis, "Thin Kin" Analysis, Literary Criticism

The HyperTexts