“Star light, star bright,First star I see tonight,I wish I may, I wish I might,Have this wish I wish tonight.”Anonymous Nursery Rhyme
by Randall Jarrell
Star, that looked so long among the stones
And picked from them, half iron and half dirt,
One; and bent and put it to her lips
And breathed upon it till at last it burned
Uncertainly, among the stars its sisters-
Breathe on me still, star, sister.
An evening’s star light show should not be a privileged treat, the scourge of light pollution in our modern existence making something that our forebears took for granted for millenia into something that can still make me awestruck. The Utah sky opened up the heavens last week and shone brightly in silent splendor. We basked in the darkness, having been blessed with several moonless nights, the moon dipping below the horizon shortly after sunset allowing us full access to the dark canvas of the milky way and the night sky.
I know enough about the night sky and stars to find Orion, his belt and sword, swashbuckling brilliance in the Utah darkness and the big dipper and the north star clearly demarcating where we were in relation to an artificial axis should we feel the need to set out on foot. I should learn a little more about astronomy, if for no other reason than to learn a new language in light on those special evenings. The stars are a visible connection to our human history. There are few things in our natural landscape that we can view that are virtually unchanged from ancestors centuries ago, if we can break free of lights narrowing our pupils to blind us to their ancestral twinkle.
One of the joys of travel to remote places is the ability to connect to earth, to water, to animals, to plants and to the sky; the clouds and sun and stars taking on personalities all their own as you enjoy their presence throughout the day and evening. The sky in Utah has a sense of humor, it changes throughout the day, never staying for long in a single mood.
Two of my favorite poets, Randall Jarrell and Robert Bly, both were captivated by the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke and translated extensively his work from German to English. Jarrell’s well-rounded academic perspective bringing a generous specificity to Rilke, that makes the translations seem original and natural. I am grateful that more gifted intellects than mine, can open a door into the poetry of great minds in languages I could only superficially explore without their careful word craft. The poem below, The Evening Star, a metaphysical journey of whether the stars we see in the night sky shine from within or from without or both as we blaze energy across the emptiness of space in connection with each other.
The Evening Star
By Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Randall Jarrell
One star in the dark pass of the houses,
Shines as if it were a sign
Set there to point the way to –
But more beautiful, somehow, than what it points to,
So that no one has ever gone on beyond
Except those who could not see it, and went on
To what it pointed to, and could not see that either.
The star far off separates yet how could I see it
If there were not inside me the same star ?
We wish on the star because the star itself is a wish,
An unwilling halting place, so far and no farther.
Everything is its own sigh at being what it is
And no more, an unanswered yearning
Toward what will be, or was once perhaps,
Or might be, might have been, or – – –
And so soon after the sun goes, and night comes,
The star has set.