Mind you, I am not flaunting my ignorance. I would love to find myself in the company of someone who could look up into that vastness and begin to name names. In the same way, I admire those who can rattle off the Latin binomials for flora and fauna. But my resources are limited. As I have noted before, I am the sort of person who reads a poem or two a day, and then needs to turn them over and over, daydreaming all the while. Becoming a namer of stars is simply not in the cards, I'm afraid.
I do, however, have a favorite piece of star-lore. What we, in English, call "the Milky Way," the Japanese call ama-no-gawa: "river of the heavens" or "river of the sky" or "river of Heaven." I believe that I can locate the river of Heaven, if pressed.
Graham Sutherland, "Lammas" (1926)
This apostrophe on my ignorance was prompted by coming across the following poem.
To have watched from one of your patios
the ancient stars,
from the bench of shadow to have watched
those scattered lights
that my ignorance has learned no names for,
nor their places in constellations,
to have heard the note of water
in the cistern,
known the scent of jasmine and honeysuckle,
the silence of the sleeping bird,
the arch of the entrance, the damp
-- these things perhaps are the poem.
Jorge Luis Borges (translated by W. S. Merwin), Selected Poems (edited by Alexander Coleman) (Viking 1999).
"The silence of the sleeping bird" is particularly nice, I think.
Paul Drury, "September" (1928)
Still, the naming of stars is a lovely thing, reminiscent of the naming of flowers: heart's ease, lad's love, forget-me-nots . . . Thomas Hardy's phrase "constellated daisies" comes suddenly to mind, as well as Andrew Young's lines about a field of daisies at night: "For where the folded daisies are/In every one I see a star."
Mirach, Antares . . .
Mirach, Antares, Vega, Caph, Alcor --
From inch-wide eyes I scan their aeon-old flames,
Enthralled: then wonder which enchants me more --
They, or the incantation of their names.
Walter de la Mare, Inward Companion: Poems (1950).
Beset with insomnia, Ivor Gurney often went on night-long walks in the country and the city. Not surprisingly, stars and their constellations often appear in his poetry as his companions on these walks.
The stars are sliding wanton through trees,
The sky is sliding steady over all.
Great Bear to Gemini will lose his place
And Cygnus over world's brink slip and fall.
Follow-my-Leader's not so bad a game.
But were it leap frog: O to see the shoots
And tracks of glory; Scorpions and Swans tame
And Argo swarmed with Bulls and other brutes.
Ivor Gurney, Selected Poems (edited by George Walter) (J. M. Dent 1996).
Graham Sutherland, "Michaelmas" (1928)
Finally, on constellations, there is this. We cannot say for certain that it was composed by Edward Thomas. But we do know that it was found on a page in his daughter Bronwen's autograph album. It is untitled.
This is the constellation of the Lyre:
Its music cannot ever tire,
For it is silent. No man need fear it:
Unless he wants to, he will not hear it.
Cardiff University Library Archive
The First World War Poetry Digital Archive (Oxford)