Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 780
Lines 1-4: Stargazing is an ancient activity. Greeks practiced it widely, often assigning names to groups of stars and telling stories about those stars. These stories, myths, were an attempt to explain natural phenomena. By the 5th century BC, Eratosthenes compiled the Catasterismi which contained a number of these myths,...
(The entire section contains 780 words.)
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Stargazing is an ancient activity. Greeks practiced it widely, often assigning names to groups of stars and telling stories about those stars. These stories, myths, were an attempt to explain natural phenomena. By the 5th century BC, Eratosthenes compiled the Catasterismi which contained a number of these myths, most of which were connected to one another in some way. There are a few myths about the Constellation Orion. One of them names the sea-god Neptune as Orion's father and the great huntress Queen Euryale of the Amazons as his mother. Taking after his mother, Orion became the world's greatest hunter. But in his arrogance he bragged that he could catch any animal in the world. A scorpion eventually stung and killed him in response to his boasting. A second story holds that Orion was motherless, and was given as a gift to a peasant by Jupiter, Neptune, and Mercury, and grew up to be a great hunter. After failing to win the permission of King Oenopion to marry his daughter, Merion, Orion tried to take her by force. Oenopion tricked Orion and blinded him, casting him out on the seashore, where his sight was eventually restored by the sun-god. After many adventures, Orion dwelt with Diana, whom he wanted to marry. However, her brother, Apollo, did not want her to marry Orion and one day tricked her into shooting him with her bow and arrow. When Diana discovered what she had done she wept, then placed Orion among the stars, where he remains today.
The poem begins with the speaker addressing the constellation Orion, sometimes called Orion the Hunter. Orion is located on the celestial equator and can be seen from every part of the Earth. The Belt of Orion, consisting of a short straight row of three bright stars, is the most noticeable part of the constellation. When you look at them, you're looking in the direction opposite the center of our Milky Way galaxy. These stars are what the speaker refers to when he says "hammock." The speaker obviously takes joy in stargazing as he says that he is "delighted" to see Orion. The neighborliness of the speaker's greeting also underscores that the speaker sees the constellations as a dependable and everyday part of his universe. Many people are so consumed with the daily activities of their lives, particularly indoor activities, that they are not always aware of the world outside, especially the heavenly bodies. This is often true of city dwellers, who have to fight not only the distractions of incessant human activity but light and smog pollution as well to view the stars.
The speaker continues to address Orion, now calling him a "person." His tone is intimate, as if he is addressing a close friend, a godparent, maybe. He tells the constellation that it is the first constellation that his son "was to meet." This makes sense when we understand that Orion is one of the most visible constellations in the sky. This is especially true during January and February for those of us who live in the northern hemisphere. One needs only to look toward the southeast for the three bright stars that make up Orion's belt. Foreshadowing his son's own (unintentional) pun, the speaker refers to his son's head as a "small sun." This simile underscores the boy's importance to his father, and draws attention to the idea that his son himself is a constellation of sorts, a heavenly body on earth. Life on earth depends on the sun for sustenance, just as the father depends on his son for emotional sustenance.
The speaker locates himself and his son in a car, "whizz[ing] along in the night." Such a scene is typical for the Midwest, as long drives are common because towns are often few and far between. Continuing his address to the constellation, the speaker uses the conditional "if" to guess at what his son would say were he awake. By having his son mispronounce Orion's name, the speaker clues us into his son's probable age (3-4). Such a humorous and endearing response from the son only deepens the reader's sense of intimacy between father and son.
The father's refusal to wake his son, stemming from an imaginary conversation with the constellation, also implies that he has competed in the past for his son's affection or attention. That he has his son "for the weekend" also suggests that the speaker is estranged or divorced from the son's mother, and that he has visitation rights for the weekend. This possibility makes the poem all the more endearing, while also bringing it closer to sentimentality.