The best starry poems
Stars, like flowers and the moon and sunsets, are part of the ‘paint-by-numbers’ poetry toolkit: if you want to write a passable poem that sounds consciously ‘poetic’, you can, as S Club 7 put it, reach for the stars. But poets throughout the centuries have put the stars to more thoughtful and interesting use than mere poetic decoration, offering songs in celebration of the starry firmament and more pessimistic takes on the stars in the sky and what they tell us about ourselves. Here are ten of the best poems about the stars.
William Shakespeare, Sonnet 14. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 14 is one of his ‘Procreation Sonnets’, which urges the Fair Youth, the addressee of the early Sonnets, to marry and sire an heir. The poem takes astrology as its (rejected) trope, and begins with the line ‘Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck’. Shakespeare rejects the idea of ‘Astronomy’ (which in Shakespeare’s time was still used more or less interchangeably with ‘astrology’, or divining the future by the stars) as a way of making predictions about the future. But although he may not be able to predict any man’s fortune by observing the real stars in the sky, he can prophesy the future by looking into the ‘stars’ that are the Fair Youth’s eyes…
William Wordsworth, ‘The Stars are Mansions Built by Nature’s Hand’. In this example of the Italian sonnet, Wordsworth celebrates the beauty of the stars in the night sky, seeing them as the abode of ‘the spirits of the blest’. The stars are reflected in the surface of the waters of the ocean, allowing us to glimpse the night sky from a different angle, the better to apprehend how ‘marvellously planned’ it all is. Read the rest of this entry