Monday, January 21, 2013

“The Wilderness of Stars”

On this day (January 21) in 1853, Henry David Thoreau wrote in his Journal:
I pine for a new world in the heavens as well as on earth, and though it is some consolation to hear of the wilderness of stars and systems invisible to the naked eye, yet the sky does not make that impression of variety and wildness that even the forest does, as it ought. It makes an impression, rather, of simplicity and unchangeableness, as of eternal laws; this being the same constellation which the shepherds saw, and obedient still to the same law. It does not affect me as that unhandselled [sic] wilderness which the forest is. I seem to see it pierced with visual rays from a thousand observatories. It is more the domain of science than of poetry. But it's the stars as not known to science that I would know, the stars which the lonely traveler knows.

The Chaldean shepherds saw not the same stars which I see, and if I am elevated in the least toward the heavens, I do not accept their classification of them. I am not to be distracted by their names which they have imposed. The sun which I know is not Apollo, nor is the evening star Venus. The heavens should be as new, at least, as the world is new. This classification of the stars is old and musty; it is as if a mildew had taken place in the heavens, as if the stars so closely packed had heated and moulded there. If they appear fixed, it is because that hitherto men have been thus necessitated to see them. I see not merely old but new testaments of the skies. Do not I stand as near the stars as the Chaldean shepherds? The heavens commonly look as dry and meager as our astronomers are,—mere troops, as the latter are catalogues, of stars. The Milky Way yields no milk.
How interesting to compare Thoreau’s observations about the sky with similar thoughts from Carl Sagan:


I had been hoping that I would be posting original essays each day, particularly on some musical topics of current interest.  I have dozens of recipes (with photos) to share, and many book reports! But life has come at me fast and furious (quickly and furiously) in the past ten days or so, and I have no choice but to deal with the challenges that have come my way. My main goal at the moment is to stave off chaos and maintain some sort of order. I keep expecting my life to calm down, and I keep hoping for time to think and write and create. Someday soon. In the mean time, I rely on words from earlier diarists and others whose writings I admire, and I'll draw on my own photos and some favorite images.

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