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Poetry in the night sky

September 18, 2009 at 02:54 PM

The merry round of stars continue their never-ending romp. Ever clear night we can see a menagerie of characters imagined as constellations, the stars themselves blissfully ignorant of the tales we create. As the heavenly realm boldly unveils before our eyes with the deepening of dusk’s withering light, the poetry of the cosmos comes alive to our senses.

At least an open cluster’s worth of bards and rhymers have been so inspired to pen their thoughts of the universe on paper, in poetic verse. Space is unlimited except in this column, so only a few examples can be given. These are in the public domain.

WHEN I HEARD THE LEARN’D ASTRONOMER

“When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired, and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.”

– Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

LOCKSLEY HALL

“Many a night from yonder ivied casement, ere I went to rest,
Did I look on great Orion sloping slowly to the West.
Many a night I saw the Pleiads, rising thro’ the mellow shade…”

- Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

THE OLD ASTRONOMER TO HIS PUPIL

“Reach me down my Tycho Brahe, I would know him when we meet,
When I share my later science, sitting humbly at his feet;
He may know the law of all things, yet be ignorant of how
We are working to completion, working on from then to now.

“Pray remember that I leave you all my theory complete,
Lacking only certain data for your adding, as is meet,
And remember men will scorn it, ‘tis original and true,
And the obliquy of newness may fall bitterly on you.

“But, my pupil, as my pupil you have learned the worth of scorn,
You have laughed with me at pity, we have joyed to be forlorn,
What for us are all distractions of men’s fellowship and smiles;
What for us the Goddess Pleasure with her meretricious smiles.

“You may tell that German College that their honor comes too late,
But they must not waste repentance on the grizzly savant’s fate.
Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”

– By Sarah Williams (1837-1868), an English poet.

Robert Frost (1874-1963) had several poems with the night sky in mind. Here’s a few lines he wrote about meteors, in “A LOOSE MOUNTAIN (TELESCOPIC)”:

“Did you stay up last night (the Magi did)
To see the star shower known as Leonid
That once a year by hand or apparatus
Is so mysteriously pelted at us ?
It is but fiery puffs of dust and pebbles,
No doubt directed at our heads as rebels
In having taken artificial light
Against the ancient sovereignty of night.
A fusillade of blanks and empty flashes,
It never reaches earth except as ashes
Of which you feel no least touch on your face
Nor find in dew the slightest cloudy trace.”

Several Web sites list astronomical poems. Simply search under “astronomy poems.”

Enjoy tonight under the dark of the missing moon, the soft luminescent glow of the Milky Way Band, the splendor of Jupiter shining southeast, the bidding farewell of spring’s orange Arcturus glowing to the west. Hearken to the dim but noble autumn constellations parading high in the east, the dim fuzzy oval of the Andromeda Galaxy to the right of the Cassiopeia’s W-shape in the northeast.

The Big Dipper is about to skim the north-northwest horizon, ready to catch the North Star, which never manages to fall into its bowl. Looking up to the zenith, behold the Northern Cross, tipped by blue star Deneb. To the right gleams brilliant blue Vega; further down and due south is the blue-white luster of Altair, the Eagle’s Eye.

New Moon is Sept. 18.

Keep looking up!

Peter Becker writes for the Wayne Independent (Honesdale, Pa.).  Your comments, questions and odes may be sent to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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