Why I Love: The Old Astronomer (To His Pupil) by Sarah Williams

It’s been a while since I’ve posted poetry on the blog. I ended poetry Wednesday, as replicating a poem without commenting on it seemed fairly redundant.

Instead, I am going to share a poem I love when the feeling takes me. Hopefully, I’ll be able to explain why I have, or have not, enjoyed it. I can’t guarantee an accurate deconstruction, but you’ll know why I find it beautiful.

I came across The Old Astronomer (To His Pupil) last week and it has immediately become my favourite poem. It is a thing of beauty.

The Old Astronomer (To His Pupil) by Sarah Williams

Reach me down my Tycho Brahé, – I would know him when we meet,
When I share my later science, sitting humbly at his feet;
He may know the law of all things, yet be ignorant of how
We are working to completion, working on from then to now.

Pray remember that I leave you all my theory complete,
Lacking only certain data for your adding, as is meet,
And remember men will scorn it, ‘tis original and true,
And the obloquy of newness may fall bitterly on you.

But, my pupil, as my pupil you have learned the worth of scorn,
You have laughed with me at pity, we have joyed to be forlorn,
What for us are all distractions of men’s fellowship and wiles;
What for us the Goddess Pleasure with her meretricious smiles.

You may tell that German College that their honor comes too late,
But they must not waste repentance on the grizzly savant’s fate.
Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

What, my boy, you are not weeping? You should save your eyes for sight;
You will need them, mine observer, yet for many another night.
I leave none but you, my pupil, unto whom my plans are known.
You “have none but me,” you murmur, and I “leave you quite alone”?

Well then, kiss me, – since my mother left her blessing on my brow,
There has been a something wanting in my nature until now;
I can dimly comprehend it, – that I might have been more kind,
Might have cherished you more wisely, as the one I leave behind.

I “have never failed in kindness”? No, we lived too high for strife,–
Calmest coldness was the error which has crept into our life;
But your spirit is untainted, I can dedicate you still
To the service of our science: you will further it? you will!

There are certain calculations I should like to make with you,
To be sure that your deductions will be logical and true;
And remember, “Patience, Patience,” is the watchword of a sage,
Not to-day nor yet to-morrow can complete a perfect age.

I have sown, like Tycho Brahé, that a greater man may reap;
But if none should do my reaping, ’twill disturb me in my sleep
So be careful and be faithful, though, like me, you leave no name;
See, my boy, that nothing turn you to the mere pursuit of fame.

I must say Good-bye, my pupil, for I cannot longer speak;
Draw the curtain back for Venus, ere my vision grows too weak:
It is strange the pearly planet should look red as fiery Mars,–
God will mercifully guide me on my way amongst the stars.
(Source)

My thoughts post reading:

  1. Tycho Brahé (pronounced Tee-ko Bra-Hey, I believe), 1546 – 1601, was ‘known for for his accurate and comprehensive astronomical and planetary observations’. He was an important and influential figure in the field of astronomy.
  2. “obloquy of newness” – the disgrace of newness, this is such a stunning combination of words. Revolutionary ideas are oft scorned before accepted.
  3. “meretricious” – appearing attractive with no actual value. Another wonderful word amongst a rather simplistic tale of an old master passing on his legacy to his young pupil. Ensuring he doesn’t become captivated by the seeming attractiveness of pleasure, when it holds no real value.
  4. I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” This is the exact point when I begin crying. It is a fantastic combination of beauty, intelligence and a wise mind. This is a man who has lived his field so ardently he is unafraid of his death.
  5. Recalling the pupils responses to the astronomers speech adds an extra emotional element. It’s also nice to know the astronomer was not alone in death.
  6. I imagine the pupil is rather young, too young to be left alone without guidance. And it breaks my heart to think of this youth being left to battle the world alone. This pupil is unlikely to have parents, and his master is the adult figure filling that paternal role.
  7. The old astronomer is clearly fond of his charge, he is hopeful that affection has shown with his teaching but thinks it may not have been.
  8. “And remember, “Patience, Patience,” is the watchword of a sage” – a lesson I myself should learn. I think we are often told we need to do things quickly, and not while away the hours, whereas to truly be a master of your subject you need to take your time and never stop learning.
  9. “See, my boy, that nothing turn you to the mere pursuit of fame.” In the age of reality TV and instant fame never has this felt more significant. Don’t get caught up in the trappings of fame, astronomy will only suffer.
  10. I wonder if Patrick Moore enjoyed this poem (he taught me to love astronomy).

Did you enjoy it?

Image from slworking2.

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3 Comments on "Why I Love: The Old Astronomer (To His Pupil) by Sarah Williams"

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Angie
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A really beautiful poem,thanks for introducing it. I shall re-read it a few more times.

Michelle
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