The stars this morning are like a theater in the sky. I could just stand here and watch, as if something remarkable were happening, a plot unfolding, as if it might all resolve in the end. Of course they only shine and twinkle and turn so slowly I haven’t got enough time to wait for them. Finally one of them begins to move, and I watch it flash and fly along, and realize within seconds it’s the light from a distant airplane traveling across the black predawn sky.
One of the best verses Paul McCartney ever wrote is from the song And I Love Her:Bright are the stars that shine Black is the sky I know this love of mine Will never die
Why that makes sense is anybody’s guess, but in a poetic sense it couldn’t be better. Nobody with any sense or sentiment can look at a sky full of stars and not feel something, and the fact is, they are always better in the clear cold skies of winter. If the falling leaves of autumn bring to mind the changing nature of life, and the budding trees and sprouting greens of spring stand for renewal, the stars in the winter sky show us permanence, or at least the vastness of existence, both in space and time.
Winter is a time of contemplation, but also of impatience. Other seasons show us what we will be, winter shows us what we are. We are either gladdened or disheartened by the news, but inertia makes us wait until spring to make changes. Frozen winter with its festivals and merry-making and resultant let-down and gloom does not conduce to significant change. In his Fasti, Ovid asks the god Janus why the new year begins in winter, rather than in spring, when the world seems to begin anew. Janus tells him it is because winter contains both the oldest sun and the newest sun. Again, why that makes sense is anybody’s guess–but I think most of us understand.
What is oldest and what is newest, what is dead and what thrives, who we love and who we have lost, where we have failed and where we have achieved, all of these things stand still in the tipping point of winter and look us in the face. It is a tale you can read in the icy winds of January, in the snowy fields of February, or as I do, in the black starry skies of December. This news has, of course, been stated most succinctly by Joni Mitchell in her song Woodstock: ‘We are stardust . . . ‘
I often return to the poem When You Are Old by W. B. Yeats. Addressed (most likely, though he does not say) to Maud Gonne, his muse, the great unrequited love of his life, he sees her in late life reading by the fire, thinking about who has loved her ‘with love false or true,’–implying of course that his love was the most sincere and constant. And at last, he says:. . . Love fled And paced upon the mountains overhead And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
So tomorrow, with any luck, will find me again out in the early morning, running and gazing skyward, looking for a story, a plot, for something to happen, or maybe for that face, hidden amid a crowd of stars.