Gazing up into the darkness on a clear winter night, I quickly get lost in my own mind with thoughts about life, death, and the vastness of time. Sometimes, I feel like I might be the only one who is pulled into philosophical rumination while standing outside in the darkness. But then I read Sara Teasdale’s poem “Winter Stars”, and I feel like I am in good company.
“Winter Stars” by Sara Teasdale
I went out at night alone; The young blood flowing beyond the sea Seemed to have drenched my spirit’s wings— I bore my sorrow heavily. But when I lifted up my head From shadows shaken on the snow, I saw Orion in the east Burn steadily as long ago. From windows in my father’s house, Dreaming my dreams on winter nights, I watched Orion as a girl Above another city’s lights. Years go, dreams go, and youth goes too, The world’s heart breaks beneath its wars, All things are changed, save in the east The faithful beauty of the stars.
I am especially drawn to this poem because Orion is one of my favorite constellations. It is one that I can easily recognize, and it is one that often joins me on my early morning walks.
I am also moved by Teasdale’s last stanza “All things are changed, save in the east/ The faithful beauty of the stars.” It is a small reminder that the stars have been with us for all of recorded time. The stars are a constant feature in the transitory nature of human history.
However, not everyone dives into musing about our place in the universe when they gaze into the night sky. Poets like Langston Hughes take a slightly more observatory stance.
“Winter Moon” by Langston Hughes
How thin and sharp is the moon tonight! How thin and sharp and ghostly white Is the slim curved crook of the moon tonight!
Hughes’ poem brings me back to any dark evening when the waning crescent moon was barely illuminating the earth. This is another time where I begin to feel so small against the expanse of the night sky.
Hughes’ poem also makes me think about haiku poets like Kobayashi Issa, Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, and Horiuch Toshimi. How can their verses add to this exploration of the winter night?
winter moon-- more and more and more tall peaks -Kobayashi Issa
vain mankind-- idling away this night of winter moon -Kobayashi Issa
Winter garden, the moon thinned to a thread, insects singing. -Matsuo Basho
Miles of frost – On the lake The moon’s my own. -Yosa Buson
Glittering flakes: The wind is breaking Frozen moonlight. – Horiuchi Toshimi
in my wooden clogs raising a racket! winter moon -Kobayashi Issa
This last haiku is one of my favorites out of this collection. Specifically, because as I was out walking this morning, the sound of my shoes on the snow was echoing off the trees. What a racket indeed!
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge; “Frost at Midnight” retrieved from Poetry Foundation
- Sara Teasdale; “Winter Stars” retrieved from Poetry Foundation
- Langston Hughes; “Winter Moon” retrieved from Poetry Foundation
- Kobayashi Issa’s haiku was retrieved from David G. Lanoue’s Haiku of Kobayashi Issa at the Haikuguy.com
- Horiuchi Toshimi’s haiku retrieved from Robert Hass The Essential Haiku.
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