The "Middle Ages," sometimes referred to as the "Dark Ages," was a period of time that stretched from the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 A.D. until the rise of the Italian Renaissance and the Age of Exploration which began around 1500 A.D. It was a time, particularly in Europe, where luxuries like education and wealth and even health were controlled by despotic monarchs and the all-pervasive Catholic Church. The impoverished masses struggled daily to survive their desperate circumstances.
One of my history professors described the Middle Ages as being "a thousand years of camping out." That is an image that has stuck with me - a millennium of people laying on the ground and staring off into the night sky as they waited for sleep. It is no wonder that the vista of deep darkness strewn with sparkling stars became the canvas upon which much of the world's mythology was created.
This poem, "The Star Planters," looks at the night sky from a cowboy's perspective and imbues it with imagery of the American West. There are multiple versions of this poem in existence, with this particular one being by an anonymous poet.
The Star Planters
Them Stars! How often I've laid on the prairie
An' watched 'em go sweepin' around
My bronco a-dozin' beside me an' nary
A breeze nor a whisper of sound!
I've learned the main bunch of the heavenly ranches
There's Jupiter, Venus and Mars
Religion? He don't know its primary branches
What ain't been alone with the stars
Some clusters is branded-- the Dipper, the Lion,
The Eagle, the Sarpint, the Bear
The Horns o' the Bull and the Belt of Orion,
And Cassia O' Whats her-name's Chair
But lots of 'ems mavricks, roamin' the ranges,
Unclaimed by the herds in the sky,
No part of the big panorama that changes,
From Winter to Summer-- and why?
Well, mebbe it's gospel and maybe he sold me
But here's the whole story at least
That Big Chief Citola, the Navajo, told me
The night of the Corn-plantin' feast
When all of the mountains was set in their stations
An' threaded with canyons and rills
The Star worlds, the last of the mighty creations
Was layin' in heaps on the hills
In masses of silver, of gold and of copper,
All polished and shinin' and new,
Poured out on the granite like corn from the hopper
Awaitin' their place in the blue
Now, first come the Bear o' the Mountains, who faces
The North, from his cave in the scours;
He lifted his paws to the Heavenly spaces
An' laid out his picture in stars.
Then over the peaks of the western dominions,
The Eagle who battles the storm,
Flew up to the heavens with star-dusted pinions
An' printed the lines of his form.
An' next, that the tribes an' the nations should wonder
The buffalo leaped into the sky
That shag-headed Bison whose beller is thunder,
Emblazoned his image on high.
But now came the Coyote so crafty and clever,
A scalawag all the way through;
The yap-throated, critical varmint who never
Is pleased with what other folks do.
Says he, "These stars was intended to brighten
The uttermost reaches of Night,
But YOU go and use 'em in pictures to heighten
Your glory; and that isn't right.
Jest WATCH ME! I'll show you how stars should be planted"
An' he jumped in the glitterin' piles,
He kicked and he gamboled, he danced and he rambled
An' he scattered 'em millions of miles!
So that's why they glimmer at sixes and sevens,
Stampeded all over the Vault
A lasting disgrace to the orderly Heavens,
An' it's all that coyote chap's fault.
An' still you can hear him, the yelpin' Coyote,
A-mockin' the stars in the dim
Of night on the Barrens, with yammerings throaty
While they look reproachful at him.
Well, mebbe it's gospel and mebbe he sold me,
But that's the whole story, at least,
That Big Chief Citola, the Navajo, told me,
The night of the corn-plantin' feast.