Introduction

"The Constellation Orion" was originally published in 1975 in Three Rivers Poetry Journal, and then reprinted in Kooser's 1980 collection, Sure Signs: 1975 New and Selected Poems. The poem typifies Kooser's style: short, descriptive, and literal. Its brevity (only 14 lines) and "artless" manner make it easy to read and accessible to those who are not regular readers of poetry. It also addresses a favorite Kooser subject: the relationship between the natural and the human worlds.

Written in 1970, the poem literally describes an experience Kooser had while driving his son, then about three years old, back to Lincoln, Nebraska from just outside Ames, Iowa. Kooser would make the trek on weekends to pick up his son from his ex-wife, who lived in Marshalltown, Iowa. He would then sometimes visit his parents in Cedar Rapids before returning to Lincoln. The highway, the car, and the night sky made up their world at this time.

The poem relates a brief address by the speaker to the constellation Orion. In the address the speaker imagines his son waking up (he's napping on his father's lap) and mispronouncing the constellation's name, calling him "Old Ryan." We have all been guilty of mispronouncing words; it is frequently part of the process of learning new vocabulary. Therefore, we can smile at the mistake the father imagines his son would make and, indeed, probably has made before. The fact that a child makes the mistake is endearing. Kooser writes only occasionally about other people. Most of his poems are descriptions of things or animals, or of the rituals of daily life in the Midwest.

The Constellation Orion Summary

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, 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...

(The entire section is 780 words.)