When I removed into the country, it was to occupy an old-fashioned farm-house, which had no piazza—a deficiency the more regretted, because not only did I like piazzas, as somehow combining the coziness of in-doors with the freedom of out-doors, and it is so pleasant to inspect your thermometer there, but the country round about was such a picture, that in berry time no boy climbs hill or crosses vale without coming upon easels planted in every nook, and sun-burnt painters painting there. A very paradise of painters. The circle of the stars cut by the circle of the mountains. At least, so looks it from the house; though, once upon the mountains, no circle of them can you see. Had the site been chosen five rods off, this charmed ring would not have been.

The Quote above is from Herman Melville's The Piazza, and I thought the expression was a bit perplexing. When I read circle of the stars I think of an empty circle formed by stars, but that's not what the author meant, so I would like to know if there's any figure of speech involved and what it's supposed to mean exactly.

  • 1
    How confusion a language can be! 'removed....'
    – Maulik V
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 6:38

1 Answer 1


There are various archaic references to the sky as the "circle of the heavens", or "circle of the sky", though those are literal translations of non-English (really, very much pre-English") phrases. I think this is the author taking a figure of speech that people are likely to recognise, and shaping it for his own sense of poetry.

It does turn up in other contexts, other writers, though the others I've found so far seem to be more recent.

Essentially, the "circle" is actually the hemisphere that the sky, and the field of stars, appears to be.

  • A filled circle essentially? And what about the forest?
    – aLex
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 21:28
  • 1
    You appear to have introduced a new word into the conversation.
    – SamBC
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 21:37

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