Stardust and Wonder

Monday Morning Musings:

 

“The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.”

–Carl Sagan, Cosmos

“The eyes of her who passed to glory, while below turned to the starry heavens; her own discoveries of the comets and her share in the immortal labours of her Brother William Herschel, bear witness of this to later ages.”

–from the epitaph of Caroline Herschel

Stars

they’re born

they die

they wander

we wonder

at their wandering

they glow

they grow

then burst

and go

dark

stars

 

Young stars

burn a brilliant blue

we see their light

turned red

millions of years later

redshift

colors changing

shifting

drifting

through time and space

 

Stargazer

William Herschel

discovered Uranus

and the fairy moons

Titania and Oberon,

moons of Saturn,

Enceladus and Mimas,

glowing lanterns

beacons in the sky

he catalogued nebulae

and star clusters,

4,000 or more—

in case you’re keeping score

of his accomplishments,

he built telescopes,

including one 40-feet-long

at the time, the largest

an unwieldy,

but undeniably powerful tool.

William studied light, too,

colors and prisms

not just red or blue

hues invisible

the light we cannot see

infrared

beyond human sight

but not imagination.

 

Caroline,

his sister,

helped him

by his side

writing

cataloging

organizing his work,

a devoted assistant

only slightly over four feet tall

her growth stunted

from childhood diseases

in stature small

but mighty in intellect, will,

and all,

she also star-gazed

appraised

the objects above

discovering comets

and nebulae, too.

through persistence

covering distance

with her eye.

Denied an education

because of her gender

transcender,

she nevertheless excelled

at seeing the night sky

and finding what was up there high

above if we but stop

and look at the light

acolyte

of truth

streaking a path

through the darkness

 

Dependent on her brother

no husband, no children

of her own

perhaps she chose

that life alone

when a husband could take

everything

body, belongings, soul

what if he had not understood

the attraction of the stars

their power

over her

over us all?

So–not totally dependent–

in fact, independent,

a feme sole,

earning a small stipend for her work,

a perk

from the English monarchy

but nevertheless significant,

she was a star

though a woman

she traveled far

receiving a gold medal

from astronomical societies

with quiet ease

she’s made an honorary member, too,

there were other honors–

more than a few–

for her stellar work

(So to speak)

she hit her stride

by the time she died

at age 97.

 

Caroline and William

in a time

when science was bringing the light

of knowledge

chasing away the darkness

of ignorance

new ideas orbiting

creating revolutions

in science

in governments

A thirst for knowledge

testing and reasoning

not full-proof

much unknown

but a start

cooperation between scientists

all over the world.

transnational

transatlantic

science

twinkling orbs

the brightness of enlightened minds

building bridges

of friendship and knowledge

If only nations followed

 

William was a musician

a composer, too.

Caroline sang professionally

she sang his works in public

drifting notes and motes

patterns of waves

heard and seen

brightening the senses

stirring the soul

in different ways,

sight and sound

stirring us all.

 

(A memory–

my boyfriend and I

gazing at the night sky

brilliant stars

Kutztown, PA

on a summer night

the Big Dipper

the North Star

the night winds fly

clouds sail

in a celestial gale

an amazing sight

this starlit night

I still feel the wonder.

We were young

our blood coursing

light-speed

with the heavens

star-gazing

star-struck

but not star-crossed.

Reader,

I married him.

After all.)

 

Past and future

collide

we see the light

of the past

colored anew

redshifted

by memory.

 

And now we hear the stars

Their music,

songs unheard

by William

or Caroline.

Could they imagine

we’d listen

for the echoes of

the distant stars

beyond our sight

color-shifted

shape-drifted

wandering stars?

Artificial light

obscures the night

making the twinkling

and glimmers

hard to see

but me?

I know they’re there.

After all,

we are made

of the stars,

star-stuff

stardust

and wonder.

 

It seems fitting to write about Caroline Herschel (16 March 1750 – 9 January 1848) since tomorrow, March 8, is International Women’s Day, and March is Women’s History Month in the United States. She was so more than an assistant to her brother William Herschel (15 November 1738- 25 August 1822). They both lived through political and scientific revolutions, and they both made important discoveries.

I was inspired by Carrie Brown’s novel, The Stargazer’s Sister, about Caroline and William Herschel.  Though it omits, changes, and invents several key events and people, it is beautifully written, and seems true to Caroline’s spirit. I was also influenced by several articles, among them these about redshift and radio astronomy.

 

 

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16 thoughts on “Stardust and Wonder

  1. Love this! My husband is an amateur astronomer (hard to use the word amateur when he’s dedicated so much time and patience to studying the stars ….) and through him I’ve enjoyed the wonder of stars. (Okay, I could enjoy them on my own, but as William probably felt with Caroline, it’s so much more fun to share.) The novel sounds very interesting. I’m always hesitate with fictionalized accounts of real people, but if done well and respectfully, there may be more “truth” in the fiction than in a straightforward biography.

    • Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed the post! I think the novel is well-written. The author explains in the acknowledgments some of the changes she made to the story. There are definitely some key things she changed, so it is truly a novel based on their lives, rather a true account.

  2. I admire your current poetic form and the research behind it that makes it stand so tall. Once I dated an astronomy professor. Though we gazed at stars together, I did not marry him.

    • Thank you, Marian!
      I really know nothing about astronomy, and I can’t even find common constellations.
      I’m going to have to remember to ask you about the astronomy professor. 😉

  3. “Acolyte of truth” was one of my favorite phrases. One of the things I admire about women, past and present, is the creative ways that we break boundaries even when we accept the limitations placed on us by others. Caroline Herschel was one such woman. Thank you for introducing me to her.

    The other thing that strikes me is that her brother could have shut her out of his work but didn’t. Was he a true supporter, or was he just happy for her low-cost contributions to his fame?

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Shirley.
      About Caroline and William, I don’t know enough about them. I suspect it’s a bit of both. She left Hanover to live with him in England, and I imagine she learned more from him than she would have learned almost anywhere else–clearly she had the aptitude. At the same time, I’m sure he also took her labor for granted. It appears they had a bit of a falling out for a time after he finally married, and Caroline was sent to live elsewhere, but they continued to work together, and reconciled.

  4. You had me at “stars.” 🙂 I am going to look for the book…I think the first time I ran across the Herschels was in one of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin books! (Jack Aubrey is an amateur astronomer and Caroline spends some time helping him with his home telescope.)

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