Thursday, March 5, 2015

Stars and Poems



One night, walking my little dog Pip, I happened to look to the sky. Everything seemed more than I had ever seen before, more stars, more brilliance, immense, and stunning. I had stargazed before but had never seen this kind of expansive beauty. I kept whispering “spectacular” over and over as if my dog understood the word. Since looking skyward wasn’t an option for him and it was cold he kept fussing, clearly wanting to go home but I couldn’t leave those stars. I watched so long I got a crick in my neck. The splendor of that starry night stays with me.

A journal entry I made during my first summer residency at Goddard College in Vermont reads:  "Last night when I turned in bed to find a more comfortable position I accidentally saw a kind of dark perfection through the window. The round dusty trees and sky seemed connected to a single star somewhere to my right." When I was very young I wrote a poem about stars and shaped the poem like a star. I may have thought that was terribly clever of me (you know how the very young can be).

Perhaps being awestruck when we see a perfect night sky or an exquisite painting, sculpture, or poem has something to do with the interconnectedness of all things. Fanatics destroying books and works of art exhibit a temporary triumph of hatred but fanatics cannot sledge hammer thought, especially a sense of awe. Thinking people celebrate art and literature whether a sculpture from antiquity or a poem written this morning.

Here are two star sonnets by John Keats and William Blake. I'll leave analysis of these poems to scholars. I prefer to simply experience the poems as I imagine you do.


Bright Star 

by John Keats 

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
   Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
 And watching, with eternal lids apart,
   Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
   Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
   Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
   Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
   Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.


To the Evening Star

by William Blake

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 they silver dew
On every flower that shuts its sweet eyes
In timely sleep. Let that west wind sleep on
The lake; speak silence with thy glimmering eyes,
And was 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 cover'd with
Thy sacred dew: protect them with thine influence.




*Excerpt from Mirror Talk: A Memoir

Image: © Z_i_b_i | Dreamstime.com