As we observed from last week’s Featured Poem there are millions; nay billions; nay trillions (or any other numeral signifying a considerable amount that you prefer to use) of stars out there, dazzling amongst the universe. Yet such a bombardment is daunting – just counting them, never mind pondering their beauty in-depth, would take several lifetimes allowing for distractions – so to get the most out of the stars, horizons have to be narrowed somewhat. To the section of sky outside your window, to the star that attracts your eye by shining that little bit brighter than the rest…a sense of ownership can come into play during a spot of stargazing, claiming that bright star or the one you come across first as your very own. Of course, a simple act of ‘bagsy-ing’ can be taken a step further, thanks to the various outlets that allow you to name and buy your very own star (if perhaps you’re willing to suspend a great deal of scepticism…).
Someone who does have a star to call his own is Robert Browning. And it’s certainly distinctive from anything else adorning the night sky. It’s not described in typical terms, particularly when it comes to its colour; it is not silver, or white, or even yellow (as in a child’s technicolour illustration) – no, this star ‘dartles’ red and blue. That is a striking star; I’ve certainly never come across a star which flashes such dramatic and indeed dramatically opposing colours. The contrasts do not stop there, with Browning first employing harder-edged, active imagery (of darts, spars, throwing) to portray the star’s inimitable energy and power – how could anyone fail to notice something so bursting with life?; then switching, making everything softer, drawing a comparison between the suspended star and a bird, a flower hanging ‘furled’; delicate, dainty, at risk of being damaged irreparably by some unknown force – or perhaps too much attention being drawn towards it. Maybe this is not too much of a risk; though it is said that his friends ‘would fain see, too’, Browning appears to be the only one significantly touched by this certain star, the only one that notices all of its multiple and changing facets.
It is the matter of personal perception and insight, rather than outright possession, which enables Browning to assign himself to this unique stellar object – or indeed being, seeing as it is equipped with its own soul; and now we commonly refer to people dear to us as being ‘stars’ – is this the poetic basis for doing so ? (It has been suggested that this poem was written in reference to Browning’s wife, fellow poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning.) What makes it so special and what makes it ‘his’ has as much to do with the eye that sees the star than itself, that seeks out the qualities that others fail to find, and the opening of the space within his soul which allows the star to reciprocate and outshine every other. The two-way process between star and stargazer is interesting to consider – is it the star that has altered his perception away from that of his friends, or is it his perception that makes the star remarkable? Whatever way it works, it is clear that Browning would not want to exchange it for another; not even when others have the equivalent of a whole world to call theirs. While this pretty poem may not pack quite the dramatic punch of his most famous works, it has a lot to offer and lessons to teach; most importantly, to not follow the crowd but to pick, stick with and follow ‘your’ star.
All, that I know
Of a certain star
Is, it can throw
(Like the angled spar)
Now a dart of red,
Now a dart of blue;
Till my friends have said
They would fain see, too,
My star that dartles the red and the blue!
Then it stops like a bird; like a flower, hangs furled:
They must solace themselves with the Saturn above it.
What matter to me if their star is a world?
Mine has opened its soul to me; therefore I love it.
Robert Browning (1812-1889)