The distances from one star to another
are great, the empty spaces cold and deep.
The light the primal stars arrange, is old
belated news, unreadable though bright.
One thinks of furthest distance, and no further;
resigns the ancient secret those lights keep.
There is no knowing them. They slip our hold
to leave us deeper stranded in a night
whose overwhelming darkness is our cover.
Numberless about the pole they creep,
enough to sprinkle the darkness, not to change
its intractable dark to light.
The covering darkness is for us a brother
to light itself, and is the friend of sleep,
for pure light would estrange
itself from the tender limit of our sight.
Mystics, heard to murmur lux est umbra
Dei (‘light is the shadow of God’),
loved the simple beauty of their thought,
were comforted by it, and died in peace.
A move from deepest shadow to penumbra
too much to contemplate for awed
eyes unfit to see the truth they sought,
the symmetry of figure brought release.
And some believe the stars may spell
our destiny because of when we’re born,
that in the houses of the zodiac
is where our secret story really lives;
as if that cool indifference could foretell
the path of wandering souls, adorn
our domicile, and bring us back
the kind of peace homecoming gives.
Hesiod sang of the fourth, heroic age
between the bronze and this iron age of ours.
Its men lived on a bigger scale
than us in all respects. They fought at Troy
or Thebes, destroying armies in their rage,
no task beyond their godly powers.
They died as all men do but did not fail
to storm the dark blue city of the sky
and there they live and glitter, with their bow
or hound at heel, deathlessly bright
in triumph over all vicissitudes,
moving in dignity across the vault.
Looking out now, we know it wasn’t so.
The stories that gave life to them took flight
millennia since. Their stellar attitudes
overawe no more. It’s not our fault
we outgrew stardom of that kind and found
ourselves uncelebrated and alone,
unseen by those watchers in the dark.
No longer made a sacrifice of beasts,
they lost the fascination to astound
childish hearts. Pared now to the bone,
knowing the space we mark
in parsecs for inconceivable wastes
vacant and inhuman, we send craft
to dig about on planets and their moons
looking for the ice that might suggest
something beside ourselves had grown
in sand to which some passing shaft
of light has reached, latent among the dunes
of the frozen night, in the dust.
We sort the data from whatever drone
we sent to bring us news; and think
of going there. It seems the thing to do.
For most of us there’ll be no voyage out
to populate or even to explore
whatever eddies in that black-as-ink
pool of ignorance we thought we knew
and sounded ages past. This dream about
some other life, our current lore,
may go the way of heroes, of horoscopes
cast as though to comfort in the form
of dwellings that have known us where we live.
All that aside, used now to the loss
of archaic fantasy and hopes,
we gaze out at what cannot aid or harm,
and wonder what it has to give,
since we no longer fear the stars that cross
And still those points dissemble
effortlessly, as him and her,
their creatures of a night’s tableaux,
with chairs and tables, bodies and bright faces.
Things in no relation still resemble
objects known, their gift of metaphor
plentiful, as figures come and go
in glyphs across the poetic spaces.