I could not sleep for thinking of the sky

A comment from another blogger about an item of mine containing another bit of poetry led me to put up this astronomy-inspired poem, by the former Poet Laureate John Masefield. It’s from a cycle called Lollingdown Downs, and is actually the 12th poem in the sequence. I hope you like it.

I could not sleep for thinking of the sky,
The unending sky, with all its million suns
Which turn their planets everlastingly
In nothing, where the fire-haired comet runs.

If I could sail that nothing, I should cross
Silence and emptiness with dark stars passing,
Then, in the darkness, see a point of gloss
Burn to a glow, and glare, and keep amassing,

And rage into a sun with wandering planets
And drop behind, and then, as I proceed,
See his last light upon his last moon’s granites
Die to a dark that would be night indeed.

Night where my soul might sail a million years
In nothing, not even death, not even tears.


18 Responses to “I could not sleep for thinking of the sky”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    Our last great Poet Laureate.

    • telescoper Says:

      I think his poetry is very hit–and-miss, but his best work is brilliant. To say it is “uneven” is a compliment compared to those whose work is even, in the sense of being consistently tedious.

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    Yes quite. Even a one-hit wonder has made one good record more than most artistes.

    I don’t know if you’ve ever read the Faber book of Parodies, but it contains a good one of “Sea Fever” as well as predictable but still very funny AE Housman parodies.


  3. Shakespearean sonnet: abab, cdcd, efef, gg, all in iambic pentameter.

    Allegedly there are Shakespeare buffs who can carry on an arbitrary
    conversation in blank verse (meter, often iambic pentameter, but no
    rhyming scheme). In the spirit of Peter’s word game, I hereby challenge
    the astronomical community to get a paper in blank verse published.
    The first to do so, and the first to notice this, get special prizes. (I’m sure
    Peter will donate a night at the opera or something similar.)

    Select this link to see my son and me
    At his first lesson in astrometry

  4. In case anyone is wondering why the preview function doesn’t work for the link above: it works only if the web server in question is running on the standard port (and perhaps only if no port—even the standard one—is specified in the URL). This appears to be a WordPress bug. (Nonetheless, I plan to serve my pages up on the standard port as well, as soon as I have gotten more important things out of the way.)

  5. telescoper Says:

    I think a more realistic game would be an astronomical sonnet competition, along the lines of the Haiku and Clerihew ones. Would be a bit tougher though, even if I accepted Miltonic or Petrarchian forms as well as Shakespearian.

    Incidentally, I’ve seen that particular poem in different forms, either broken into stanzas as I did it or as one single verse as most sonnets are. I don’t have the original published version so don’t know which is right.

  6. OK, here goes. I make NO claims about this being the best, or even a good, astronomical sonnet, though until I see evidence to the contrary I claim it is the best which was written in less than 5 minutes.

    The sky, the stars, the galaxies and more
    Invite us all to probe into their depths
    So many worlds we can and should explore
    Though not much can be done without the maths

    Astronomers, computers and the rest
    All help us understand the world outside
    Though many will avoid them like the pest
    If they think they take too much time to bide

    But who, today, has seen the heavens clear
    Not blocked, polluted nor obscured by clouds
    For all those unfortunates far near
    The planetarium still draws the crowds

    And even with an astronom’cal bent
    One can become the Master of the Mint

  7. telescoper Says:

    In any case the structure is clearer if you separate the components. I think that’s probably the best way for beginners to write a Sonnet.

  8. Bryn Jones Says:

    Phillip’s link would not display for me (Google blocked it for copyright reasons). An open access collection of John Masefield’s poems can be found at http://www.archive.org/stream/collectedpoems00maseuoft, with the poem in question on page 407.

  9. […] is a meditation on it. It seems to me to be a natural companion to the poem by John Masefield I posted earlier in the week, but I don’t know whether they share a common inspiration in the Psalm or just in the […]

  10. Anton Garrett Says:

    Philip: I’m impressed. I hope that doesn’t sound patronising, because I don’t mean it to be – Anton

  11. Copyright? Interesting that Google blocked the link due to copyright
    restrictions, since I found the page in question through Google.

    I’m a bit surprised that mine remains the only contribution!

    “In any case the structure is clearer if you separate the components. I think that’s probably the best way for beginners to write a Sonnet.” It’s also good advice when learning image processing. I think I actually hear a radio astronomer utter that first sentence when CLEANing a map. 🙂

  12. […] on from Philip Helbig’s challenge a couple of posts ago, I decided to commemorate the occasion comments with an appropriate sonnet, inspired by […]

  13. Ok whilst not strictly adhering to the above, I quite like this:

    The integral sec y dy
    From zero to one-sixth of pi
    Is the log to base e
    Of the square root of three
    Times the sixty-fourth power of i

  14. […] sure are going to sacrificed in large numbers to balance the books. It reminded me a bit about a poem I posted a while ago: I could not sleep for thinking of the … […]

  15. I think it’s number 5 in the sequence… page 12 though. And I agree, John Masefield is really a great poet. 🙂

  16. Thanks for posting this: it’s one of my favourite sonnets. You’re missing a word in the twelfth line, though: it’s not “Die to dark” but “Die to a dark” (otherwise it would be a syllable short). Note the emphasis caused by this line’s reversed initial foot (“DIE to a DARK”…)

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