Asronomy-related Poetry.

I've run across several poems with astronomy, the stars, the moon, and so forth, as themes or as major parts. I will post them as I find the time to key them in. I have some longer ones I will quote in their entirety and some others I will just quote parts of. If you were patient on the home page, the first one below should be familiar. ;-) I'm beginning to get enough that I'm now listing them at the beginning with a link and a short annotation.

If you've been here before, you can go right to the newest one listed.

When I Heard the Learned Astronomer

Some advice to all lecturers about astronomy at its most basic level.

Canis Major

A little whimsey.

Arcturus in Autumn

A little melancholy.

Peace On Earth

A whimsical tour or the sky.

Aldebaran at Dusk

Something a bit formal.

Tent Song

More melancholy.

Evening Star

A cure for melancholy?

The Cremation of Sam McGee

What does this poem about keeping a promise have to do with Astronomy? Well, it does reference the Midnight Sun, the Northern Lights, and the stars. And it's one of the Webmaster's favorites.

Jupiter and Ten

A Patronness of the Arts and a little bit of knowledge...

NEW! El Hombre

A little stellar Chutzpah ...


When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired, and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

Walt Whitman, 1865 (TOAOAL-II, PP 821-822)


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 to-night I will bark
With the great Overdog
That romps through the dark.

Robert Frost, 1928 (TOAOAL-II, pg. 1144)


When, in the gold October dusk, I saw you near to setting,
Arcturus, bringer of spring,
Lord of the summer nights, leaving us now in autumn,
Having no pity on our withering;

Oh, then I knew at last that my own autumn was upon me,
I felt it in my blood,
Restless as dwindling streams that still remember
The music of their flood. There in the thickening dark a wind-bent tree above me
Loosed its last leaves in flight--
I saw you sink and vanish, pitiless Arcturus,
You will not stay to share our lengthening night.

Sara Teasdale, 1926 (TOAOAL-II, pg. 1245)


The Archer is wake!
The Swan is flying!
Gold against blue
An Arrow is lying.
There is hunting in heaven--
Sleep safe till to-morrow.

The Bears are abroad!
The Eagle is screaming!
Gold against blue
Their eyes are gleaming!
Sleep safe till to-morrow.

The Sisters lie
With their arms intertwining;
Gold against blue
Their hair is shining!
The Serpent writhes!
Orion is listening!
Gold against blue
His sword is glistening!
There is hunting in heaven--
Sleep safe till to-morrow.

William Carlos Williams, 1913 (TOAOAL--II, pg. 1314)


Thou art the star for which all evening waits--
O star of peace,come tenderly and soon,
Nor heed the drowsy and enchanted moon,
Who dreams in silver at the eastern gates
Ere yet she brim with light the blue estates
Abandoned by the eagles of the noon.
But shine thou swiftly on the darkling dune
And woodlands where the twilight hesitates.

Above that wide and ruby lake to-West,
Wherein the sunset waits reluctantly,
Stir silently the purple wings of Night.
She stands afar, upholding to her breast,
As mighty murmurs reach her from the sea,
Thy lone and everlasting rose of light.

George Sterling, 1911 (TOAOAL-II, pp. 984-985)


Till we watch the last low star,
Let us love and let us take
Of each other all we are.

On some morning with that star
One of us shall lie awake,
Lonely for the other's sake.

Witter Bynner, 1917 (TOAOAL-II, p. 1246)


              'Twas noontide of summer,
                And mid-time of night;
              And stars, in their orbits,
                Shone pale, thro' the light
              Of the brighter, cold moon,
                'Mid planets her slaves,
              Herself in the Heavens,
                Her beam on the waves.
                  I gazed awhile
                  On her cold smile;
              Too cold- too cold for me-
                There pass'd, as a shroud,
                A fleecy cloud,
              And I turned away to thee,
                Proud Evening Star,
                In thy glory afar,
              And dearer thy beam shall be;
                For joy to my heart
                Is the proud part
              Thou bearest in Heaven at night,
                And more I admire
                Thy distant fire,
              Than that colder, lowly light.

                      -THE END-
Edgar Allan Poe, 1827

(Originally found on the Incomplete Online Works of Edgar Allan Poe page maintained by Roderick Usher and his sister Madeline on their Edgar Allan Poe's House of Usher page. However, their links are no longer active. The works themselves were supposedly located at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, but I have been unable to find them.)

The Cremation of Sam McGee

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
  By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
  That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
  But the queerest they ever did seee
Was the night on the marge at Lake Lebarge
  I cremated Sam McGee.

Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee,
  where the cotton blooms and blows.
Why he left his home in the South to roam
  'round the Pole, God only knows.
He was always cold, but the land of gold
  seemed to hold him like a spell;
Though he'd often say in his homely way that
  "he'd sooner live in hell."

On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way
  over the Dawson trail.
Talk of your cold! through the parka's fold
  it stabbed like a driven nail.
If our eyes we'd close, then the lashes froze
  till sometimes we couldn't see;
It wasn't much fun, but the only one
  to whimper was Sam McGee.

And that very night, as we lay packed tight
  in our robes beneath the snow,
And the dogs were fed, and the stars o'erhead
  were dancing heel and toe,
He turned to me, and "Cap," says he,
  "I'll cash in this trip, I guess;
And if I do, I'm asking that you
  won't refuse my last request."

Well, he seemed so low that I couldn't say no;
  then he says with a sort of moan;
"It's the cursed cold, and it's got right hold
  till I'm chilled clean through to the bone.
Yet 'tain't being dead-- its my awful dread
  of the icy grave that pains;
So I want you to swear that, foul or fair,
  you'll cremate my last remains."

A pal's last need is a thing to heed,
  so I swore I would not fail;
And we started on at the streak of dawn;
  but God! he looked ghastly pale.
He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day
  of his home in Tennessee;
And before nightfall a corpse was all
  that was left of Sam McGee.

There wasn't a breath in that land of death,
  and I hurried, horror driven,
With a corpse half hid that I couldn't get rid,
  because of a primise given;
It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seem to say:
  "You may tax your brawn and brains,
But you promised true, and it's up to you
  to cremate those last remains."

Now a promise made is a debt unpaid,
  and the trail has its own stern code.
In the days to come, though my lips were dumb,
  in my heart how I cursed that load.
In the long, long night, by the lone firelight, 
  while the huskies, round in a ring,
Howled out their woes to the homeless snows--O God!
  how I loathed the thing.

And every day that quiet clay
  seemed to heavy and heavier grow;
And on I went, though the dogs were spent
  and the grub was getting low;
The trail was bad, and I felt half mad,
  but I swore I would not give in;
And I'd often sing to the hateful thing,
  and it hearkened with a grin.

Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge,
  and a derelict there lay;
It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice
  it was called the "Alice May."
And I looked at it,  and I thought a bit, 
  and I looked at my frozen chum;
Then "Here," said I, with a sudden cry,
  "is my cre-ma-tor-eum."

Some planks I tore from the cabin floor,
  and I lit the boiler fire;
Some coal I found that was lying around,
  and I heaped the fuel higher;
The flames just soared, and the furnace roared --
  such a blaze you seldom see;
And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal,
  and I stuffed in Sam McGee.

Then I made a hike, for I didn't like
  to hear him sizzle so;
And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled,
  and the wind began to blow.
It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled
  down my cheeks, and I don't know why;
And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak
  went streaking down the sky.

I do not know how long in the snow
  I wrestled with grisly fear;
But the stars came out and they danced about
  ere again I ventured near;
I was sick with dread, but I bravely said:
  "I'll just take a peep inside.
I guess he's cooked, and it's time I looked,"
  ...then the door I opened wide.

And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm,
  in the heart of the furnace roar;
And he wore a smile you could see a mile,
  and he said:  "Please close that door.
It's fine in here, but I greatly fear
  you'll let in the cold and storm --
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee,
  it's the first time I've been warm."

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
  By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
  That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
  But the queerest they ever did seee
Was the night on the marge at Lake Lebarge
  I cremated Sam McGee.

by Robert W. Service

Reference: "The Cremation of Sam McGee" Copyright (C) 1907 by The Estate of Robert Service. Take from the book "The Cremation of Sam McGee" with illustrations and illustrator's notes Copyright (C) 1986 by Ted Harrison and Introduction Copyright (C) 1986 by Pierre Berton. First published in Canada in 1986 by Kis Can Press, Ltd. Published by Greewillow Books, a division of William Morrow & Company, Inc., 105 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016.

Jupiter and Ten

Mrs. Chub was rich and portly,
  Mrs. Chub was very grand,
Mrs. Chub was always reckoned
  A lady in the land.

You shall see her marble mansion
  In a very stately square, --
Mr. C. knows what it cost him, 
  But that's neither here nor there.

Mrs. Chub was so sagacious,
  Such a patron of the arts,
And she gave such foreign orders,
  That she won all foreign hearts.

Mrs. Chub was always talking,
  When she went away from home,
Of a prodigious painting
  Which had just arrived from Rome.

"Such a treasure," she insisted,
  "One might never see again!"
"What's the subject?" we inquired.
  "It is Jupiter and Ten!"

"Ten what?" we blandly asked her,
  For the knowledge we did lack.
"Ah! that I cannot tell you,
  But the name is on the back.

"There it stands in printed letters.
  Come tomorrow, gentlemen,
Come and see our spending painting,
  Our fine Jupiter and Ten."

When Mrs. Chub departed,
  Our brains we all did rack,--
She could not be mistaken,
  For the name was on the back.

So we begged a great Professor
  To lay aside his pen,
And give some information
  Touching "Jupiter and Ten."

And we pondered well the subject,
  And our Lemprière we turned, 
To discover what the Ten were;
  But we could not, though we burned!

But when we saw the picture,--
  Oh, Mrs. Chub! Oh, fie!  Oh!
We perused the printed label,
  And 'twas Jupiter and Io!

by James T. Fields (1817-1881), found in Anthology of American
Poetry, pp. 234-235, edited by George Gesner, Published by Avenel
Books / Crown Publishers, New York, 1983.

El Hombre

It's a strange courage
you give me ancient star:

Shine alone in the sunrise
toward which you lend no part!
William Carlos Williams, 1917. Found in The WIlliam Carlos Williams Reader, Edited with an Introduction by M. L. Rosenthal. Copyright 1966 by New Directions Publishing Corporation, New York.


The Oxford Anthology of American Literature, Volume II, (C) 1938 by
Oxford University Press, New York, Inc.

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