‘The stars are mansions built by Nature’s hand’ is not one of the most famous poems by William Wordsworth (1770-1850), nor even one of his more famous sonnets. But it’s a fine poem about the stars, which manages to touch upon the natural world (as we’d expect from a poem by a leading Romantic poet) as well as the divine.
The stars are mansions built by Nature’s hand,
And, haply, there the spirits of the blest
Dwell, clothed in radiance, their immortal vest;
Huge Ocean shows, within his yellow strand,
A habitation marvellously planned,
For life to occupy in love and rest;
All that we see – is dome, or vault, or nest,
Or fortress, reared at Nature’s sage command.
Glad thought for every season! but the Spring
Gave it while cares were weighing on my heart,
’Mid song of birds, and insects murmuring;
And while the youthful year’s prolific art –
Of bud, leaf, blade, and flower – was fashioning
Abodes where self-disturbance hath no part.
‘The stars are mansions built by Nature’s hand’: calling up the idea that each star is a structure built by God, but also conjuring the notion of heaven, too (people must live in those mansions, so presumably it’s the souls of the blessed dead up there). Wordsworth celebrates the beauty of the stars in the night sky, seeing them as the abode of ‘the spirits of the blest’.
The stars are reflected in the surface of the waters of the ocean, allowing us to glimpse the night sky from a different angle, the better to apprehend how ‘marvellously planned’ it all is. It’s as if God is one huge architect, and the stars are his castles and towers. But the stars are vast structures which promise a restful afterlife for those down on earth: ‘Abodes where self-disturbance hath no part.’
‘The stars are mansions built by Nature’s hand’ is an example of the Italian sonnet, rhymed abbaabba in the octave and cdcdcd in the sestet. There is a volta or ‘turn’ in the ninth line, marked by that word ‘but’ mid-line, although the sonnet expresses one consistent sentiment rather than staging an argument. And that sentiment is at once in praise of nature and of God.