‘Galloping horses of the departed century, I will consult ashes, stars, and flights of birds’ (Czeslaw Milosz, ‘The Unveiling’, from The Rising of the Sun)
'We are both storytellers. Lying on our backs, we look up at the night sky. This is where stories began, under the aegis of that multitude of stars which at night filch certitudes and sometimes return them as faith. Those who first invented and then named the constellations were storytellers. Tracing an imaginary line between a cluster of stars gave them an image and an identity. The stars threaded on that line were like events threaded on a narrative. Imagining the constellations did not of course change the stars, nor did it change the black emptiness that surrounds them. What it changed was the way people read the night sky' (John Berger, And our faces, my heart, brief as photos)
'... Look: the Tower of Babel and the Felicity of Tents; up there are highway robbers, and doves bringing ambrosia to the gods, and the twin horsemen of the dawn; up there the daughter of the wind, mourning for her husband lost at sea; the Strong River is there, and the Palace of the Five Emperors, the Kennel of the Barking Dogs, the Straw Road, the Birds' Way, the Snake River of Sparkling Dust; up there are the nymphs who mourn their brother Hyas, killed by a wild boar, and whose tears are shooting stars; there are the Seven Portuguese Towers, the Boiling Sea, the Place Where One Bows Down; look: the Ostriches Leaving and the Ostriches Returning and the Two Ostriches who are friends; Cassiopeia, Queen of Ethiopia, who thought she was more beautiful than the Nereids, is there, and her hapless daughter Andromeda, and Perseus who rescued her with the head of Medusa swinging from his belt, and the monster, Cetus, he slew, and the winged horse Pegasus he rode; there is the bull who plows the Furrow of Heaven; up there is the Hand Stained with Henna, the Lake of Fullness, the Empty Bridge, the Egyptian X; ... up there is the Butcher's Shop, the Easy Chair, the Broken Platter, the Rotten Melon, the Light of Heaven; Hans the Wagoner, who gave Jesus a ride, is there, and the lion who fell from the moon in the form of a meteor; up there, once a year, ten thousand magpies form a bridge so that the Weaving Girl can cross the River of Light to meet the Oxherding Boy; there are the braids of Queen Berenice, who sacrificed her hair to assure her husband's safety; up there is a ship that never reaches safe harbor, and the Whisperer, the Weeping One, the Illuminator of the Great City, and look: the General of the Wind; the Emperor Mu Wang and his charioteer Tsao Fu, who went in search of the peaches of the Western Paradise, are there; the beautiful Callisto, doomed by Juno's jealousy, and the goddess Marichi who drives her chariot led by wild boars through the sky; there are the Sea Goat, the Danish Elephant, the Long Blue Cloud-Eating Shark, and the White-Bone-Snake: up there is Theodosius turned into a star and the head of John the Baptist turned into a star and Li Po's breath, a star his poem make brighter: there are the Two Gates, one through which the souls descend when they are ready to enter human bodies, and the other through which they rise at death; there a puma springs on its prey, and a Yellow Dragon climbs the Steps of Heaven; up there is the Literary Woman, the Frigid Maiden, the Moist Daughters, and the Head of the Woman in Chains; there is the Thirsty Camel, the Camel Striving to Get to Pasture, and the Camel Pasturing Freely; there the Crown of Thorns or the crown that Bacchus gave Ariadne as a wedding gift; look: the Horse's Navel, the Lion's Liver, the Balls of the Bear; there is Rohni, the Red Deer, so beautiful that the moon, though he had twenty-seven wives, loved her alone; up there the Announcer of Invasion on the Border, the Child of the Waters, the Pile of Bricks, the Exaltation of Piled-Up Corpses, the Excessively Minute, the Dry Lake, the Sacks of Coals, the Three Guardians of the Heir Apparent, the Tower of Wonders, the Overturned Chair; up there is a cloud of dust kicked up by a buffalo, and the steamy breath of the elephant that lies in the waters that surround the earth, and the muddy water churned by a turtle swimming across the sky; up there is the broken circle that is a chipped dish, or a boomerang, or the opening of the cave where the Great Bear sleeps; up there the two donkeys whose braying made such a racket they frightened away the giants and were rewarded with a place in the sky; there is the Star of a Thousand Colors, the Hand of Justice, the Plain and Even Way; there is the Double Double; there the Roadside Inn; there the State Umbrella; there the Shepherd's Hut there the Vulture; look: the Winnowing Fan; there the Growing Small; there the Court of God; there the Quail's Fire; there St Peter's Ship and the Star of the Sea; there: look: up there: the stars'.
From Eliot Weinberger, 'The Stars', in An Elemental Thing, New York: New Directions Books, 2007, 174-6
Images: (top) - 17th century celestial map, 'Planisphaeri coeleste', by the Dutch cartographer Frederik de Wit
(bottom) - the Milky Way in the night sky, photographed by Steve Jurvetson, Black Rock Desert, Nevada, 22 July 2007