Archive for May 6th, 2012


Poetry Sunday: The Moon and Stars

May 6, 2012

Even poet has themes they return to often.  For me, it is nature, in generally and the ocean and skies specifically.  It is the latter I wish to discuss here, the heavens.  Since our ancestors first looked up in amazement as the little lights painted against the night’s black, out nightly view has captivated us.  Science has removed some of the mystical aspects from it but replaced it with questions even more profound, like whom we really are, and what is our role in our vast universe.

Of course, there are very famous poems regarding the night sky, one of the most famous by English poet Jane Taylor.  The Star first appeared the book Rhymes for the Nursery she co-authored with her sister Ann in 1806; I could only find the first US printing[i].  Now, at this point you might be saying to yourself I’ve never heard of a poem called “The Star,” and you would be wrong, you just know it by its informal name.   I will leave it for you to discover as you read.

The Star

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.

When the blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.

Then the traveler[sic] in the dark,
Thanks you for your tiny spark,
He could not see which way to go,
If you did not twinkle so.

In the dark blue sky you keep,
And often through my curtains peep,
For you never shut your eye,
Till the sun is in the sky.

As your bright and tiny spark,
Lights the traveler[sic] in the dark.
Though I know not what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star.
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star.
How I wonder what you are.
How I wonder what you are.

The opening stanza is so ubiquitous we hardly give a thought to its authorship, which is sad, as it is one of the few nursery rhyme poems where the origin is not in dispute.  When we move beyond that first stanza, we see the poem has more to offer the reader than the simplicity of its opening.  Each stanza consists of two rhymed couplets, except for the last stanza that is constructed to end the song. Of course, we know it with its tune too.  That was taken from the French folk song  “Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman.” 

The rhymed couplets and evenly metered lines give the poem its whimsically singing quality as you read it.  The choice of meter is not serendipitous; the poet bases it on how they wish the poem to feel and pick the appropriate meter to achieve that feeling.

As for me, I tend to use a staggered meter when I write, either a 4/3 or a 5/4.  That is not to say I use them exclusively, just they are a natural choice for me.  In my poem Shooting Star, I use a 5/3 meter.  I like using staggered metering as it provides a natural pause known as a caesura.  See if you can pick it up:

Shooting Star

On a cold clear night with a million stars
I watched one streak the sky
A flickering sprite shooting straight past Mars
grew bold to catch my eye

For a moment of time this life burned bright
and held my solemn gaze
It was soon devoured with no trail in sight
and left me in a haze

Then this impatient star that streaked the night –
gave thought along my way
Some orbs shine still while yet others take flight
each, with its role to play

We live out our lives much like a star
moving throughout the day

Pulled by hidden forces both near and far
we’re changed along the way

Some will stay put and give a guiding light
for everyone to see
Others will shoot out far and blaze from sight
being burned by breaking free

So, here are two examples of poems dealing with stars.  The meter of one lends itself to a nursery rhyme and the meter of the other lends itself to give us pause to think.  The variations are almost limitless, and it all depends on the emotion or feeling the poet wishes to instill.  In this next poem, I picked a middle ground, not quite whimsical and not quite serious.  See if you can pick out the device used that makes the difference:

Venus and the Crescent Moon

A cool waxen peel of light,
kissed gently upon the sky,
A greenish nymph calls from night,
and waits for the moon’s reply.

Earthshine gives her ghostly glow,
to the crescent moon’s remains;
night permits the sprite to show,
a bright dot of cottoned grain.

Play the night the bodies do,
each chasing the Milky Way,
joy and hope they do imbue,
armor for our coming day.

Venus goes fast through the night,
while asking the moon to stay;
She knows their place in our sight,
and winks as she fades away.

Things in the sky have a life,
and great guidance to bestow,
a flash reprieve from our strife,
’tis a better path they show.

Watch the night on special eves,
and see this for yourself,
beyond the boughs full of leaves,
moon slice awaits impish elf.

I’m thankful that we have stars that seem unchanging.  It gives me a since of being connected to know the Jane may have been looking at the same stars as me, some 200 years later, as we both crafted our poems.  That is one of the most intriguing points about using the night sky as your inspiration, it is one of the few unchanging things we have.


[i] Taylor, Ann, and Jane Taylor. Rhymes for the Nursery. Utica [N.Y.: Printed and Sold by Camp, Merrell & Camp, 1815. Print.

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