I find the words "silver dew" occuring in the poem "To the Evening Star" by William Blake, over which I'm confused a little:

Thou fair-haired angel of the evening,
Now, whilst the sun rests on the mountains, light
Thy bright torch of love; thy radiant crown
Put on, and smile upon our evening bed!
Smile on our loves, and while thou drawest the
Blue curtains of the sky, scatter thy silver dew
On every flower that shuts its sweet eyes
In timely sleep. Let thy west wing sleep on
The lake; speak silence with thy glimmering eyes,
And wash the dusk with silver. Soon, full soon,
Dost thou withdraw; then the wolf rages wide,
And the lion glares through the dun forest.
The fleeces of our flocks are covered with
Thy sacred dew; protect with them with thine influence.

Do the highlighted words in the poem denote the same thing? Where did this word " silver dew" come from? is it an allusion to holy waters found in bible/ myths ...? Or, was William Blake the first to coin and use this word in poetry?

Also, at one place he requests the star to scatter the star's "silver dew", but at another place requests to "wash the dusk with silver". Do the words "silver dew" and "silver" mean the same thing? However, their purpose of use as appearing in the poem seems contradictory- "wash" and "scatter"...[also "silver" is used without possessive pronoun- "thy"]

Similarly, how come without his request "the fleeces of our flocks are covered with [the star's] sacred dew"?


1 Answer 1


In “silver dew” the word “silver” is used in this sense:

silver, adj. 5.a. Having the whiteness or lustre of silver; silvery. Chiefly poetic.

Oxford English Dictionary.

So this describes the silvery appearance of the dewballs on the flowers, due to the way they reflect and refract light. “Silver dew” is in fact a long-standing cliché in English verse; I’ll give three examples, but more could be adduced.

Whilst pleasant Thyme shall labouring Bees invite
And Silver Dew† be Grashoppers repast,

John Ogilby (1654). The Works of Publius Virgilius Maro, p. 26. London: Thomas Warren.

† “Silver” here is original to Ogilby. It does not appear in Eclogues V.77 “dumque thymo pascentur apes, dum rore cicadae” (and while bees are fed by thyme, while cicadas by dew).

Whilst sick’ning Flow’rs drink up the Silver Dew,
And Beaus, for some Assembly, dress anew;

Samuel Garth (1714). The Dispensary, p. 13. London: Jacob Tonson.

            and Cynthia† still doth steep
In silver dew his ever-drouping head,

Charles Gildon (1718). The Complete Art of Poetry, volume 2, p. 284. London: Charles Rivington.

† The moon. “Cynthia” was an epithet of the goddess Artemis, who was born on Mount Cynthus, and associated with the moon.

In “wash the dusk with silver”, the word “silver” could refer to the dew. This would be a figure of metonymy, referring to one thing by a closely associated thing. In this case, because the dew has a silvery appearance, the poet can use “silver” as a metonym. But an alternative reading of this line is that “silver” refers to the silvery light of the star, which we have just been told is “glimmering”. Both readings seem appropriate to the scene that Blake is depicting, so there is no need to pick one or the other.

There is no contradiction between “scatter” and “wash”, because we can (if we like) take “wash” in the following sense:

wash, v. II.10.a. Water-colour Painting. To cover with a broad layer of colour by a continuous movement of the brush.

Oxford English Dictionary.

If we take the word “wash” in this sense, we personify the evening star as a painter, metaphorically covering the canvas of the dusk with the evening dew, or with its rays of light, depending on how we take the word “silver”. William Blake was a painter in water-colours, so this image likely resonated with him.

To understand “sacred dew”, we need to recognize that the poem is in the form of a prayer or hymn to the evening star, which is being personified as a divine being, like the ancient Greek god Hesperus. If the evening dew were scattered by a god, it would be considered sacred.

Finally, why is “scatter thy silver dew” is in the form of a request, but “the fleeces of our flocks are covered with thy sacred dew” is in the form of a statement? I think this is because the poet intends us to imagine time passing and evening advancing through the course of the poem. Line 2 says, “Now, whilst the sun rests on the mountains”, so at this point it is just before sunset, and it is appropriate to request the evening star to scatter its dew, but lines 10–11 say, “Soon, full soon, does thou withdraw” so at this point the evening star itself is setting. By the time the evening star sets, the evening dew has already settled on the flowers and the sheep, so that the speaker’s request has already been answered.

  • Convincing...still I wonder whether a star already "deified" as an angel can serve as a "painter"??? Commented May 5 at 1:24
  • Silver dew is like holy water carried by an angel for her magical purposes, in that case it is not enough to cover vast sky dusk. Besides, the word silver appears without possessive pronoun that makes me think it is the silver glow of the star with which the deified star is requested to paint the dusky sky... Commented May 5 at 1:31
  • The combination of scattering dew and washing reminds me of asperges, ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asperges ) where the priest in a church scatters holy water on the congregation whilst reciting psalm 51 'Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.' Commented May 5 at 11:00
  • It's nicely polysemous, isn't it? I am reminded of Sappho's hymn to Hesperus where she praises the evening star for returning sheep safely to the fold. Commented May 5 at 11:07
  • If silvery dew is also a cliché, perhaps you should mention that...
    – Lambie
    Commented May 7 at 23:22

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