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- Watchers of the Sky - 5/24 -


Where blood might still be shed; or from those courts Where statesmen lie. But Tycho sought the truth. So, when they sent him in his tutor's charge To Leipzig, for such studies as they held More worthy of his princely blood, he searched The Almagest; and, while his tutor slept, Measured the delicate angles of the stars, Out of his window, with his compasses, His only instrument. Even with this rude aid He found so many an ancient record wrong That more and more he burned to find the truth.

One night at home, as Tycho searched the sky, Out of his window, compasses in hand, Fixing one point upon a planet, one Upon some loftier star, a ripple of laughter Startled him, from the garden walk below. He lowered his compass, peered into the dark And saw--Christine, the blue-eyed peasant girl, With bare brown feet, standing among the flowers. She held what seemed an apple in her hand; And, in a voice that Aprilled all his blood, The low soft voice of earth, drawing him down From those cold heights to that warm breast of Spring, A natural voice that had not learned to use The false tones of the world, simple and clear As a bird's voice, out of the fragrant darkness called, "I saw it falling from your window-ledge! I thought it was an apple, till it rolled Over my foot. It's heavy. Shall I try To throw it back to you?" Tycho saw a stain Of purple across one small arched glistening foot. "Your foot Is bruised," he cried. "O no," she laughed, And plucked the stain off. "Only a petal, see." She showed it to him. "But this--I wonder now If I can throw it." Twice she tried and failed; Or Tycho failed to catch that slippery sphere. He saw the supple body swaying below, The ripe red lips that parted as she laughed, And those deep eyes where all the stars were drowned.

At the third time he caught it; and she vanished, Waving her hand, a little floating moth, Between the pine-trees, into the warm dark night. He turned into his room, and quickly thrust Under his pillow that forbidden fruit; For the door opened, and the hot red face Of Otto Brahe, his father, glowered at him. "What's this? What's this?" The furious-eyed old man Limped to the bedside, pulled the mystery out, And stared upon the strangest apple of Eve That ever troubled Eden,--heavy as bronze, And delicately enchased with silver stars, The small celestial globe that Tycho bought In Leipzig. Then the storm burst on his head! This moon-struck 'pothecary's-prentice work, These cheap-jack calendar-maker's gypsy tricks Would damn the mother of any Knutsdorp squire, And crown his father like a stag of ten. Quarrel on quarrel followed from that night, Till Tycho sickened of his ancient name; And, wandering through the woods about his home, Found on a hill-top, ringed with fragrant pines, A little open glade of whispering ferns. Thither, at night, he stole to watch the stars; And there he told the oldest tale on earth To one that watched beside him, one whose eyes Shone with true love, more beautiful than the stars, A daughter of earth, the peasant-girl, Christine.

They met there, in the dusk, on his last night At home, before he went to Wittenberg. They stood knee-deep among the whispering ferns, And said good-bye. "I shall return," he said, "And shame them for their folly, who would set Their pride above the stars, Christine, and you. At Wittenberg or Rostoch I shall find More chances and more knowledge. All those worlds Are still to conquer. We know nothing yet; The books are crammed with fables. They foretell Here an eclipse, and there a dawning moon, But most of them were out a month or more On Jupiter and Saturn. There's one way, And only one, to knowledge of the law Whereby the stars are steered, and so to read The future, even perhaps the destinies Of men and nations,--only one sure way, And that's to watch them, watch them, and record The truth we know, and not the lies we dream. Dear, while I watch them, though the hills and sea Divide us, every night our eyes can meet Among those constant glories. Every night Your eyes and mine, upraised to that bright realm, Can, in one moment, speak across the world. I shall come back with knowledge and with power, And you--will wait for me?" She answered him In silence, with the starlight of her eyes.

II

He watched the skies at Wittenberg. The plague Drove him to Rostoch, and he watched them there; But, even there, the plague of little minds Beset him. At a wedding-feast he met His noble countryman, Manderup, who asked, With mocking courtesy, whether Tycho Brahe Was ready yet to practise his black art At country fairs. The guests, and Tycho, laughed; Whereat the swaggering Junker blandly sneered, "If fortune-telling fail, Christine will dance, Thus--tambourine on hip," he struck a pose. "Her pretty feet will pack that booth of yours." They fought, at midnight, in a wood, with swords. And not a spark of light but those that leapt Blue from the clashing blades. Tycho had lost His moon and stars awhile, almost his life; For, in one furious bout, his enemy's blade Dashed like a scribble of lightning into the face Of Tycho Brahe, and left him spluttering blood, Groping through that dark wood with outstretched hands, To fall in a death-black swoon. They carried him back To Rostoch; and when Tycho saw at last That mirrored patch of mutilated flesh, Seared as by fire, between the frank blue eyes And firm young mouth where, like a living flower Upon some stricken tree, youth lingered still, He'd but one thought, Christine would shrink from him In fear, or worse, in pity. An end had come Worse than old age, to all the glory of youth. Urania would not let her lover stray Into a mortal's arms. He must remain Her own, for ever; and for ever, alone.

Yet, as the days went by, to face the world, He made himself a delicate mask of gold And silver, shaped like those that minstrels wear At carnival in Venice, or when love, Disguising its disguise of mortal flesh, Wooes as a nameless prince from far away. And when this world's day, with its blaze and coil Was ended, and the first white star awoke In that pure realm where all our tumults die, His eyes and hers, meeting on Hesperus, Renewed their troth. He seemed to see Christine, Ringed by the pine-trees on that distant hill, A small white figure, lost in space and time, Yet gazing at the sky, and conquering all, Height, depth, and heaven itself, by the sheer power Of love at one with everlasting laws, A love that shared the constancy of heaven, And spoke to him across, above, the world.

III

Not till he crossed the Danube did he find Among the fountains and the storied eaves Of Augsburg, one to share his task with him. Paul Hainzel, of that city, greatly loved To talk with Tycho of the strange new dreams Copernicus had kindled. Did this earth Move? Was the sun the centre of our scheme? And Tycho told him, there is but one way To know the truth, and that's to sweep aside All the dark cobwebs of old sophistry, And watch and learn that moving alphabet, Each smallest silver character inscribed Upon the skies themselves, noting them down, Till on a day we find them taking shape In phrases, with a meaning; and, at last, The hard-won beauty of that celestial book With all its epic harmonies unfold Like some great poet's universal song.

He was a great magician, Tycho Brahe. "Hainzel," he said, "we have no magic wand, But what the truth can give us. If we find Even with a compass, through a bedroom window, That half the glittering Almagest is wrong, Think you, what noble conquests might be ours, Had we but nobler instruments."


Watchers of the Sky - 5/24

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