How are astronomy and poetry linked?
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.
I appreciate that this may not be the kind of technical question the you are used to but your input would, nonetheless, be appreciated. If nothing else, perhaps, given your interest in astronomy, you will enjoy the poem.
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:
Dear Ms. Masters: Thank you so much for your kind response to my question. I think you're correct to suppose that the "Dachshunds" of the title may be Canis Major and Canis Minor. That had occured to me, too, as they, being hunting dogs, are generally thought to be hounds (though not typically those of the short-legged, long-bodied variety). I, too, had considered that the author might be referring to Sirius and,taking it a step further, to its companion star (i.e. "He takes an elongated wife"). I guess we'll never know for sure (poetic license being what it is) and I don't suppose it matters in the greater scheme of things but it makes the poem more fun for me. Anyway, I'm glad that you found my question refreshing and although you didn't indicate whether or not you liked the poem, I hope that you did. On that assumption, I'm sending you this one by Archibald MacLeish as my way of saying, 'thanks': It's entitled "Mother Goose's Garland" and it, too, has an astronomical theme:
Around, around the sun we go:
The moon goes round the earth.
We do not die of death:
We die of vertigo.
Dear Ms. Masters: You may recall the poem "The Dachshunds" which I sent to you last fall. That poem (and your help in identifying the possible heavenly bodies that it could be interpreted to describe) has led me to look for more poems with an astronomical subject matter and I've found some that are really wonderful. I came upon one today that I think is terrific. Unlike "The Dachshunds" I have no question to pose about this one. I send it to you simply because I think you'll appreciate it.The poem, by Robert Louis Stevenson, is entitled "Escape At Bedtime"---
The lights from the parlour and kitchen
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.
Dear Ms. Masters, I just had to share this one by Ralph Hodgson:
Reason has moons, but moons not hers,
Lie mirror'd on her sea,
Confounding her astronomers,
But O! delighting me.
What a pleasant surprise to find that my inquiry about "Dachshunds" led to the addition of an Astronomy/Poetry section on your site. I think it says much about the power of poetry. At first glance, one might think that the two subjects are unrelated but poets surely recognize the relationship and I see that astronomers do too. Apparently the connection between astronomy and poetry goes back a long way. Poe makes reference in his poem "The Conqueror Worm" to "The music of the spheres." a phrase which, according to one source, "stem[s] from the sixth century Pythagorean Theory of the music or harmony of the spheres." Sir Thomas Browne uses the phrase in "Religio Medici" (1642) wherein he states: "For there is a music wherever there is a harmony, order, or proportion; and thus far we may maintain the music of the spheres." And Shakespeare refers to "Music from the spheres." in Twelfth-Night. In any case, when I find another poem that I think would suit I will be sure to send it along and hopefully others will do the same. Who knows where it will all lead?
In the meantime, I can't resist sharing this one by Elizabeth Coatsworth which, despite the mention of the moon, stars, and "suns", has little to do with astronomy and a great deal to do with life here on earth: "The Rabbits' Song Outside The Tavern"
We, who play under the
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.
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