“In A Dark Time...”
by Chet Raymo
“I've quoted a few of these lines before, from a poem by Charles Simic:
"It's like fishing in the dark.
Our thoughts are the hooks,
Our heart the raw bait.
We cast the line past all believing
Into the night sky
Until it's lost to sight."
In a sense, that's the story of my life: a long love affair with the night sky. My first book of popular science was “365 Starry Nights”. My first book of personal prose was “The Soul of the Night: An Astronomical Pilgrimage”. “An Intimate Look at the Night Sky” followed much later, but every book in between, fiction and non-fiction, cast a line into the night sky.
What is it about the starry night that gives rise so effectively to what might be called the "religious instinct"? The dark, precisely. The unplumbable depth. The hiddenness. The silence. The infinity. The abyss of time. I can calculate the number of thimblefuls of water in the sea, but I have no way of knowing how many galaxies there are in the universe, or whether the universe is finite or infinite, or even how many universes might exist. Or where the universe came from. Or where it's going.
I stand barefoot on the terrace in the dark of night, and looking is a kind of prayer. A prayer without words. Without supplication. A silent acknowledgement of ignorance. Heartfelt ignorance. An ignorance that is a receptacle aching to be filled.
"My heart the bait."
The dark night of the soul. The starlit valley of shadow. The knowing that unknows. There, just there, hanging between Cassiopeia and Perseus, the barely visible blur of the double cluster, the rent veil of the temple.
“The line's long unraveling
Rising in our throats like a sigh.”