“Do you look at the stars a lot? Do you know them? Plato said that sight is not truly precious unless it helps us to know the stars, the planets, the moon, and the sun. For my part, I am ashamed to say that I don’t know all the constellations and their names.”
–Simone Weil, quoted in Simone Petrement, Simone Weil: A Life, translated by Raymond Rosenthal
Su Tung P’o, Traveling at Night and Looking at the Stars
Heaven high above, the night air chill,
ranged stars crowd the sky, all in proper places,
big stars darting rays back and forth
little stars busy as boiling water.
Heaven and humans don’t meddle with one another —
what does Heaven do anyway? —
but it’s our habit to insist on pointing at things
and one by one assigning them names.
Southern Sieve, Northern Dipper —
what are these but household utensils?
What would Heaven do with their like?
We’re the ones who decided to call them that.
Peer at things up close and you may learn their true form,
but guessed at from afar, they seem like something else.
Vastness such as this is beyond comprehension —
all I can do is sigh in endless wonder.
Translated by Burton Watson, Selected Poems of Su Tung P’o