How are astronomy and poetry linked? (Intermediate)

Poets have found inspiration in astronomy like many aspects of nature. Throughout history, poetry has included countless references to the beauty, rhythm, harmony, and chaos of the cosmos.

Astronomical objects and phenomena can be the subjected to personification or detailed natural description.

The orbits of the planets and the Earths motion through space are often described by their clockwork cycles.

The stars are filled with stories and shapes as every early civilization in history has created a unique cultural connection to the night sky.

Like the countless movies, books, TV shows, paintings, video games, drawings, and sculptures that have contained references to astronomy poetry as an art form is no different.  

 

Below are some more specific questions related to this including some samples of poetry related to astronomy. 

 

There is a poem by William Jay Smith entitled "Dachshunds". My reading of the poem leads me to think that the subject Dachshunds are stars or perhaps constellations. Am I correct? If so, can you please identify the star or constellations. The poem reads as follows: 

The Dachshund leads a quiet life
Not far above the ground;

He takes an elongated wife,
They travel all around.

They leave the lighted metropole;
Nor turn to look behind
Upon the headlands of the soul,
The tundras of the mind.

They climb together through the dusk
To ask the Lost-and-Found
For information on the stars
Not far above the ground.

The Dachshunds seem to journey on:
And following them, I
Take up my monocle, the Moon,
And gaze into the sky.

Pursuing them with comic art
Beyond the cosmic goal,
I see the whole within the part,
The part within the whole;

See planets wheeling overhead,
Mysterious and slow,
While morning buckles on his red,
And on the Dachshunds go.

This is an interesting question and a refreshing break for more ordinary ones! There are several constellations with links to dogs in the northern sky. My first suggestion for what the 'Daschunds' might be are Orion's hunting dogs, Canis Major ('The Greater Dog') and Canis Minor ('The Lesser Dog'), these two constellations best seen in early Spring evenings in the Northern hemisphere. You might have heard of 'The Dog Star' (or Sirius) which is the brightest star in Canis Major.

Another pair of dogs in the sky are Bootes' hunting dogs, represented by the constellation Canes Venatici, which is also visible during Spring evenings in the northern hemisphere. Here are some pages of information on these constellations:

Archibald MacLeish "Mother Goose's Garland"

Around, around the sun we go:
The moon goes round the earth.
We do not die of death:
We die of vertigo.

Robert Louis Stevenson "Escape At Bedtime"

The lights from the parlour and kitchen shone out
Through the blinds and the windows and bars;
And high overhead and all moving about,
There were thousands of millions of stars.
There ne'er were such thousands of leaves on a tree
Nor of people in church or the Park,
As the crowds of the stars that looked down upon me,
And that glittered and winked in the dark.

The Dog, and the Plough, and the Hunter, and all,
And the star of the sailor, and Mars,
These shone in the sky, and the pail by the wall
Would be half full of water and stars.
They saw me at last, and they chased me with cries,
And they soon had me packed into bed;
But the glory kept shining and bright in my eyes,
And the stars going round in my head.

Ralph Hodgson

Reason has moons, but moons not hers,
Lie mirror'd on her sea,
Confounding her astronomers,
But O! delighting me.

Elizabeth Coatsworth "The Rabbits' Song Outside The Tavern"

We, who play under the pines,
We, who dance in the snow
That shines blue in the light of the moon,
Sometimes halt as we go-
Stand with our ears erect,
Our noses testing the air,
To gaze at the golden world
Behind the windows there.

Suns they have in a cave,
Stars, each on a tall white stem,
And the thought of a fox or an owl
Seems never to trouble them.
They laugh and eat and are warm,
Their food is ready at hand,
While hungry out in the cold
We little rabbits stand.

But they never dance as we dance!
They haven't the speed nor the grace.
We scorn the dog and the cat
Who lie by their fireplace.
We scorn them licking their paws
Their eyes on an upraised spoon-
We who dance hungry and wild
Under a winter's moon.

 

This page was last updated on February 10, 2016

 

About the Author

Karen Masters

Karen Masters

Karen was a graduate student at Cornell from 2000-2005. She went on to work as a researcher in galaxy redshift surveys at Harvard University, and is now on the Faculty at the University of Portsmouth back in her home country of the UK. Her research lately has focused on using the morphology of galaxies to give clues to their formation and evolution. She is the Project Scientist for the Galaxy Zoo project.

Twitter:  @KarenLMasters
Website:  http://icg.port.ac.uk/~mastersk/

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