I'm translating an excerpt from The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene and I don't know the exact meaning of "low" in this context: "The land went backward at a slow even roll, and the dark came quite suddenly, with a sky of low and brilliant stars."

Does it refer to the proximity of the stars? They are lower so they seem bigger (?) Or it has to do with the amount or the vivacity of them?

Thanks in advance!

  • Hm... ya know sometimes words are just there to fill in a gap and don't really mean anything. I can't think of a literal use for this word. Like in poetry, sometimes words are there just to fit the rhyme or meter and if they also make sense it's a bonus. Or maybe it has an obscure meaning that is not clear to me. Some literary analysis might make something up but I fear that analysis might be as much a work of art as the original passage.
    – Mitch
    Mar 28, 2019 at 20:37
  • 1
    I would take it to mean "close to the horizon".
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 28, 2019 at 22:05

2 Answers 2


This is figurative language. Excluding the Sun, stars are always the same distance away from us - at least, in any meaningful or perceptible sense.1 Likewise, the sky doesn't actually get any lower or higher, but sometimes it feels like it is. Around here, when the clouds are dark and thick, it feels like they're so low you could bump your head on them. In Montana, the mountains ringing the wide open prairies make you realize just how huge the sky is - which is why they call it "big sky country."

The phrase "low stars" has no exact meaning, except to say that the stars seemed especially close. Perhaps that's meant to make us feel cozy, or maybe claustrophobic. Hopefully the surrounding scene makes that clear.

1: You can try a little experiment at home. On a clear night, look at a star with your naked eye, then look at it with a pair of binoculars, or even the most powerful telescope you can find (for home use, not an observatory telescope). The star will look the same size, whether you're looking at it through the telescope, or with your naked eye. Now try looking at the moon, or a planet in our solar system, if any are visible.


There's no reason why Greene would refer only to low (near the horizon) and bright stars as two separate categories - there are bright and dim stars in every part of the night sky. Having spent most of my life in densely populated, light-polluted, areas I have been struck by the brilliance of the stars on clear nights in areas such as the far north of Scotland, and my wife has actually remarked that she feels she could "reach up and touch the stars" under those conditions.

There must have been then, and probably still are, vast areas of Mexico not yet plagued with light pollution, and I suspect that this is what Greene is trying to convey, though only he could have given us the definitive answer.

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