Star poems

I used to print “fillers” in some of the white spaces on pages of my Astronomical Calendar.  They were extracts from poems, songs, prose, or they were cartoons or remarks or other curiosities, which I remembered or happened to encounter during the year.  A problem is that the spaces to be filled are limited in size; there is many a poem one would like to quote as a whole, but can’t.  But this leavening of humanity amid science was something that people liked, so they sent me suggestions.  And with the need for fillers in mind I obtained a few anthology-type publications.

I’ve found two of these, in my continuing campaign to give books away: Tips Booklets 12 and 13: Astronomical Poems, published by the Great Lakes Planetarium Association in 1984 and 1987.  The first was edited by Gary Tomlinson and Diane Trainque, the second by April Whitt.  They are bound in folders of a kind whose name I’m not sure of: metal fasteners are pushed through holes and then spread flat.  The first volume, looking as if made by typewriter, has considerably faded.  The “booklets” are substantial, containing respectively 554 and 277 passages of varying length, with indexes by author, title, first line, and, for the first volume, subject.

Unfortunately the citations for the poems are no more than author – “Joyce Kilmer,” “Anonymous,” or, in one case, “Mr. Turner” – and sometimes, title – “Spenser, ‘Shepherdes Calendar’,” “Jonathan Swift, ‘Ode’.”  So I didn’t use any of them, because I liked to be able to give bibliographical information.  “First two of thirteen stanzas of a poem in Wordsworth’s Memorials of a Tour on the Continent, 1820.”  One reason is to be able to go to the sources and check accuracy: often, I suspected that words, punctuation, even an author’s name, were not right.  And if the piece was a translation from another language, I liked to get the text in that language and give it along with my own translation.

I found that I had left, inserted in the second Tips Booklet, a letter from Jerry Cimisi, of Southampton, New York, December 26, 1987.  He was ordering the next year’s Astronomical Calendar and also offering me a poem of his own.  I can’t quite read what I scribbled on the letter: it may mean that I suggested he send the poem to the Great Lakes Planetarium Association, and never used it myself.  Here is Jerry’s poem  That I do not fully understand it is a probable indication of its depth.



Now sets the sun. Now other lights gather.
What ancient cast of suns wrought into beings,
What stories still given, should we remember,
Should we cast off the measure of our age
That weaned us from the instinct of this dark.

Jewels; fire; gleaming worlds: these our names given the above;
This, of course, the secrets of the soul: in the deep,
Rich and thorough – light. So to each man the hope
Of vision in his interior, destination in his abyss.

Stars – let us tell you of the Paradise we place in you;
We who walk below you and die on this earth
Secure our future in your lights. How far, how demanding
Your fire – no matter. We need freedom from this burial
That ends us. Rise each night, travel each night – remind us:
The myths say the beings above were of our form.


12 thoughts on “Star poems”

  1. Not directly about stars, but Thomas Hardy’s anti-war poem, Drummer Hodge, is full of pathos, is exquisitely written and harks attention to the young dead soldier under “foreign constellations”.

    They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest
    Uncoffined — just as found:
    His landmark is a kopje-crest
    That breaks the veldt around:
    And foreign constellations west
    Each night above his mound.

    Young Hodge the drummer never knew —
    Fresh from his Wessex home —
    The meaning of the broad Karoo,
    The Bush, the dusty loam,
    And why uprose to nightly view
    Strange stars amid the gloam.

    Yet portion of that unknown plain
    Will Hodge for ever be;
    His homely Northern breast and brain
    Grow to some Southern tree,
    And strange-eyed constellations reign
    His stars eternally.
    Thomas Hardy

    1. To repeat my reply, with a bit more that I thought of adding but didn’t:

      Each one of the three three-couplet stanzas ends with the stars, the South African stars. Did Hardy remember that all three books of Dante’s Divine Comedy end with the word stelle, “stars”?

      E quindi uscimmon a riveder le stelle.
      Thence we came forth to rebehehold the stars.
      (Last line of Inferno.)

      Puro e disposto a salire alle stelle.
      Pure and made fit to mount unto the stars.
      (Last line of Purgatorio.)

      L’Amor che muove il sole e l’altre stelle.
      The Love that moves the sun and the other stars.
      (Last line of Paradiso.)

      1. Your thought intrigued me and I have–haphazardly–tried to find information on that. So far: Dante originated or further developed the three-couplet stanza form, which Hardy, five centuries later, beautifully used in several poems. What I found most interesting is that both Dante and Hardy sought to depict and reach the common people. Different eras but a similar compulsion. Does that indicate an affinity by Hardy for Dante’s work? How does that relate to their use of celestial imagery in their work? If it does. Hopefully, if time allows, I will follow up on this.

  2. Wonderful poem! And wonderful offerings by other readers. The “extra” fillers were always one of my favorite extras of the print almanac. Again, thank you so much for not only this blog, but for offering an online version of “what’s happening in the sky” for 2017. Btw, exquisite peacock watercolor!

  3. At the end of the night dawn draws suddenly near
    and the lights you’ve been watching soon all disappear.
    Take the time now to open your eyes and your ears
    and you’ll see the bright sounds of this great celestial sphere….

    And I’m sure space prohibits me from adding the rest of this song turned poem.
    But isn’t it funny that the tune to “Twinkle twinkle little star” and the “ABCDEFG” is the same?

  4. Wow, Mr. Cimisi’s poem is deep and beautiful. I love how it synthesizes scientific and mythic conceptions of the stars, finding solace in each.

  5. I don’t know if these are in there:

    Robert Frost, _West-Running Brook_, 1928


    The great Overdog,
    That heavenly beast
    With a star in one eye,
    Gives a leap in the east.

    He dances upright
    All the way to the west
    And never once drops
    On his forefeet to rest.

    I’m a poor underdog,
    But tonight I will bark
    With the great Overdog
    That romps through the dark.

    ​How will the Universe end? In a big crunch or a big freeze, maybe? Again, Robert Frost, _New Hampshire_, 1923


    Some say the world will end in fire,
    ​Some say in ice.
    From what I’ve tasted of desire
    I hold with those who favor fire.
    But if it had to perish twice,
    I think I know enough of hate
    To say that for destruction ice
    Is also great
    And would suffice.​

    1. The first of those, and another Frost poem, were fillers in Astronomical Calendar 1984, page 27. (I kept a list.)

      1. Is this the other one?


        O Star (the fairest one in sight),
        We grant your loftiness the right
        To some obscurity of cloud—
        It will not do to say of night,
        Since dark is what brings out your light.
        Some mystery becomes the proud.
        But to be wholly taciturn
        In your reserve is not allowed.
        Say something to us we can learn
        By heart and when alone repeat.
        Say something! And it says, “I burn.”
        But say with what degree of heat.
        Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
        Use language we can comprehend.
        Tell us what elements you blend.
        It gives us strangely little aid,
        But does tell something in the end.
        And steadfast as Keats’ Eremite,
        Not even stooping from its sphere,
        It asks a little of us here.
        It asks of us a certain height,
        So when at times the mob is swayed
        To carry praise or blame too far,
        We may take something like a star
        To stay our minds on and be staid.

        1. No, it was this.
          The Peacful Shepherd
          If heaven were to do again,
          And on the pasture bars
          I leaned to line the figures in
          Between the dotted stars,
          I should be tempted to forget,
          I think, the Crown of Rule,
          The Scales of Trade, the Cross of Faith,
          As hardly worth renewal.
          For these have governed in our lives,
          And see how men have warred!
          The Cross, the Crown, the Scales, may all
          As well have been the Sword.

  6. A beautiful, mysterious poem.
    Thank you so much for the years of the Astronomical Calendar and now for these wonderful
    There is a book that you will love called Il grande racconto delle stelle by Piero Boitani, published in Italy by Il Mulino. Boitani just won the Balzan Prize. Since you seem to be spending time in Italy you should be able to get the book easily. It is a feast for star lovers.
    Thank you for sharing so much lovely information.

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