Coleridge's Frost at Midnight and The International Dark Sky Association: Background information when reading Brilliant

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Brilliant

The Evolution of Artificial Light

by Jane Brox

Brilliant by Jane Brox X
Brilliant by Jane Brox
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2010, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2011, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jo Perry

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Coleridge's Frost at Midnight and The International Dark Sky Association

Print Review

Brilliant provokes much thought on a variety of topics: circadian rhythms; the health dangers of light exposure; the depiction of natural and man-made light in art (Brox discusses three of Van Gogh's night paintings and explains what light and darkness was like for him.); the Columbian Exhibition; the eccentric and visionary Nikola Tesla; the effect of light on the lives of women; etc. I leave it to each reader to explore those topics that interest him most.

Brilliant illuminated a favorite poem of mine, Coleridge's Frost at Midnight, in which the speaker describes a flame as "companionable," "unquiet," "a fluttering stranger" whose restless and mysterious movements exhibit a human sympathy. Post Brilliant, Coleridge's moonlight and the frost beneath is whiter and more lucid; the small flame is a living chemical blue, its movement more animated and mysterious, the darkness more opaque in its "silentness." Here is the first stanza:

The Frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind. The owlet's cry
Came loud - and hark, again! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings : save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
'Tis calm indeed! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness. Sea, hill, and wood,
This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings-on of life,
Inaudible as dreams! the thin blue flame
Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not;
Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,
Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, every where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And makes a toy of Thought.

Brox ends her book contemplating the effect of too much illumination. The International Dark Sky Association is trying to preserve the darkness for astronomers and the rest of us: Founded in 1988, IDA is the first organization to call attention to the hazards of light pollution and "promote[s] one simple idea: light what you need, when you need it."

Article by Jo Perry

This article was originally published in September 2010, and has been updated for the July 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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