The Nighttime Sky


I stand and look at the stars, which I think now I never realized before.
I was thinking the day most splendid, till I saw what the not-day exhibited,
I was thinking this globe enough, till there sprang out so noiseless around me myriads of other globes,
And now touch’d with the lives on other globes, the existences on the innumerable stars, with their varied degrees of perfection, climate, swiftness,
(Some probably are but forming, not so advanced as the earth, some arrived as far along as those of the earth, some no doubt more advanced,)
I henceforth no more ignore them than I ignore my own life,
Or the lives of the earth arrived as far as mine, or waiting to arrive.

After the dazzle of day is gone,
Give me nights perfectly quiet, and I looking up at the stars.
Only the dark, dark night shows to my eyes the stars,
A few large stars overhead, silent and mournful shining—
Night of the large few stars,
The placid beckoning stars, far, far out of reach,
An undying chain and echelon of spiritual proofs and shows.

When depress’d by some specially sad event, or tearing problem, I wait till I go out under the stars for the last voiceless satisfaction,
In silence, of a fine night, questions are answer’d to the soul, the best answers that can be given.
The sky and stars speak no word, nothing to the intellect,
Yet, as if for the first time, creation noiselessly sinks into and through me its placid and untellable lesson,
The  stars so eloquent, so communicative to the soul, hint from their orbits of millions of leagues afar, that there is a region beyond—O, so infinitely beyond!—anything from art, books, sermons, or from science, old or new.

Rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night air, and from time to time,
Look’d up at the high-dilating stars—
Every star now clear-cut, showing for just what it is, eternal—
The far-sprinkled systems clustering, studded, out by myriads,
Hung up there, chandeliers of the universe,
Beholding and mutually lit by each other’s lights, away off sextillions of miles,
And all I see multiplied as high as I can cipher edge but the rim of the farther systems.

All comparative silence and clear-shadow below,
All the usual sense of motion, all animal life, seem’d discarded, seem’d a fiction;
A curious power, like the placid rest of Egyptian gods, took possession.

How the sun, moon, stars, dart on and on!
All the clustering suns and planets,
Splendid suns, the moons and rings,
Shine, and shine, and shine forever,
On and on they roll forever.
(Did you guess the celestial laws are yet to be work’d over and rectified?)

That the moon spins round the earth and on with the earth is wonderful,
And that they balance themselves with the sun and stars is wonderful.
Unspeakable high processions of sun and moon and countless stars above—
The stars, suns, systems, circling, move in order, safe, harmonious,
Conveying the sentiment of the mad, whirling, fullout speed of the stars, in their circular orbits.

From the whole dome shoot down points of light, rapport with me, through the clear blue-black,
A curious general luminousness throughout to sight, sense, and soul,
As if some superhuman symphony, some ode of universal vagueness, disdaining syllable and sound;
Silent, athwart my soul, moves the symphony true.

As I watch the stars shining, so quiet and bright, I think a thought of the clef of the universes and of the future,
I do not doubt that the orbs and the systems of orbs play their swift sports through the air on purpose, and that I shall one day be eligible to do as much as they, and more than they,
I suppose I am to be eligible to visit the stars, in my time,
And I believe I have this night a clue through the universes,
And I believe I have this night thought a thought of the clef of eternity.

Overhead, the splendor indescribable; yet something haughty, almost supercilious, in the night. Never did I realize more latent sentiment, almost passion, in those silent interminable stars up there. One can understand, such a night, why, from the days of the Pharaohs or Job, the dome of heaven, sprinkled with planets, has supplied the subtlest, deepest criticism on human pride, glory, ambition.

As onward silently stars aloft, eastward new ones upward stole:
Sirius very bright, the sun of the night, calmly arrogant, most wondrous single star, rising early,
Preceded by many-orb’d Orion, chief histrion of the stage-spread, glittering, vast, sworded, his shiny yellow rosette on his shoulder, chasing with his dog,
Arcturus right overhead, ambitiously large and sparkling, as if he meant to challenge with Sirius the stellar supremacy,
The long curling-slanted Scorpion stretching full view in the south, with red Antares glowing in its neck;
The great constellation of the Water-Serpent stretch’d its coils over more than half the heavens,
The Swan with outspread wings was flying down the Milky Way.

Mars walks the heavens lord-paramount now, never before so flaming bright, so flashing-large—
Nothing can exceed the calm, fierce, golden, glistening domination of Mars over all the stars in the sky.
Amid a transparent clear belt of ether yet left in the east,
Ascends large and calm the lord-star Jupiter, dominating, majestic,
And nigh at hand, swim the delicate sisters the Pleiades,
Brilliant lustrous cluster free, tremulous with delicate sparkle, in the soft heavens.

Venus, fascinating, swimming in tender glory, early droop’d in the western sky,
In the earlier hours of evening, the great star has never been so large, so clear,
Venus, large
to the last, with calm commanding seriousness and hauteur,
Shining even to the edge of the horizon, 
like blazing silver with a voluptuous dazzle,
Of a size and lustre as if trying to outshow herself, before departing,
Now languid and shorn of her beams, as if from some divine excess.
A moment I linger, for the lustrous star has detain’d me,
The star my departing comrade, with silver face in the night, holds and detains me,
It
seems as if it told something, as if it held rapport indulgent with humanity.

O great star disappear’d—O the black murk that hides the star!
O powerful western fallen star!
Teeming, maternal orb—I take you again to myself.
I saw you had something to tell as you bent to me night after night,
As you droop’d from the sky low down as if to my side, (while the other stars all look’d on,)
As we wander’d together the solemn night,
As the night advanced, and I saw on the rim of the west how full you were of woe.
My soul in its trouble dissatisfied sank, as where you sad orb,
Concluded, dropt in the night, and was gone.
I cease from my song for thee,
From my gaze on thee in the west, communing with thee,
O comrade lustrous with silver face in the night.

Three or four great black clouds, seemingly from different points, sweeping with broad swirls of wind, underspread the orbs from view,
Here and there throughout the heavens a random star appearing and disappearing,
At times a half-dimm’d sadden’d far-off star, appearing and disappearing—
The ravening clouds shall not long be victorious,
They devour the stars only in apparition.
Jupiter, setting in the west, looks like a huge haphazard splash,
Be patient, watch again another night, Jupiter shall emerge, the Pleiades shall emerge,
They are immortal,
The vast immortal suns and the long-enduring pensive moons shall again shine.

See you!  the comet that came unannounced out of the north flaring in heaven,
The strange huge meteor-procession, dazzling and clear, shooting over our heads,
Myriads in all directions, some with long shining trains,
Some rolling over each other like water poured out and falling—leaping, silent, white apparitions of the sky.
A moment, a moment long it sail’d its balls of unearthly light over our heads,
So spectral-fierce, like some great, pale, living monster of the air or sea,
Then departed, dropt in the night, and was gone.
What am I myself but one of your meteors,
Speeding through space, speeding through heaven and the stars,
Throwing fire-balls like the rest?

It isn’t only the palpable stars; astronomers say there are dark, or almost dark, unnotic’d orbs and suns rolling through space, real and potent as any—perhaps the most real and potent. Yet none recks of them. In the bright lexicon we give the spreading heavens, they have not even names. Amid ceaseless sophistications all times, the soul would seem to glance yearningly around for such contrasts—such cool, still offsets.

Last evening I saw the first of the new moon over my right shoulder—a sure sign of good luck,
It hung delicate just above the sulky shadow of the mountains, the thinnest cut crescent possible, the outlined old moon clear along with it.

Illustrious the pale reflection on the new moon in the western sky, the sky and air so clear, such transparent hues of color, it seem’d to me I had never really seen the new moon before.

The large pale thin crescent of the new moon, half an hour high, sinking languidly under a bar-sinister of cloud, and then emerging,
The exquisite, delicate, thin curve of the new moon.
Venus hung close by the moon, then a little past its first quarter,
The star was wonderful, the moon like a young mother,
Carrying the crescent child that carries its own full mother in its belly—
Ah, if it might prove an omen and good prophecy. 

The yellow half-moon enlarged, sagging down, drooping, late-risen and swollen as if with tears.
Low hangs the moon, it rose late,
It is lagging—O I think it is heavy with love, with love.

The moon, an hour high, is past her half, and looks somehow more like a human face up there than ever before. As it grows later, we have such gorgeous and broad cloud-effects.
The moon swam on,
The sky held two vast fan-shaped echelons of light clouds, through which the moon waded, now radiating, carrying with her an aureole of tawny transparent brown, and now flooding the whole vast with clear vapory light-green, through which, as through an illuminated veil, she moved with measur’d womanly motion.

Up from the east the silvery round moon, the just-risen moon, shone out from a cloud, and scattered a flood of light on the wooded banks, the water, and every thing else, pouring silvery soft its radiant patches over all.
The vitreous pour of the full moon just tinged with blue,
Throwing down a broad dazzle of highway on the waters,
Beautiful over the house-tops—ghastly, phantom moon.
I perceived that the ghastly glimmer was noonday sunbeams reflected,
It seemed like a good omen.

Lo, the sun,
Its glory floods the moon,
Which of a night shines in some turbid pool,
Shaken by soughing winds;
And there are sparkles mad and tossed and broken,
And their archetype is the sun.

Under the full of the moon, shimmering and shifting, delicate color-effects of pellucid green and tawny vapor, with tawny halos, silver edgings—
Never a more glorious moon, floundering through the drifts, great fleeces, depths of blue-black in patches, and occasionally long, low bars hanging silently a while, and then gray bulging masses rolling along stately, sometimes in long procession.

The rare nocturnal scene, how soon it sooth’d and pacified me!
Is there not something about the moon, some relation or reminder, which no poem or literature has yet caught?—the lustrous flooding moon, full of reality, full of illusion.
O moon immense and silent, with your silvery face you soothe me!
Pour down your unstinted nimbus sacred moon.

The transparent night, the planets, the moderate west wind, the elastic temperature, the miracle of that great star, and the young and swelling moon swimming in the west, suffused the soul.
Everything a miracle of splendor—moon splendor and star splendor,  the glory of the stars and the completely rounded moon—the passing clouds, silver and luminous-tawny—and silently by my side my dear friend. Something altogether to filter through one’s soul, and nourish and feed and soothe the memory long afterwards.  

Astronomers say there are dark, or almost dark, unnotic’d orbs and suns rolling through space, real and potent as any—perhaps the most real and potent. Yet none recks of them. In the bright lexicon we give the spreading heavens, they have not even names. Amid ceaseless sophistications all times, the soul would seem to glance yearningly around for such contrasts—such cool, still offsets.

NEXT: Creatures of the Air