“If a man would be alone, let him look at the stars,” philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his 1836 essay, Nature. “The rays that come from those heavenly worlds, will separate between him and what he touches.” Emerson considered the stars, through their “perpetual presence of the sublime,” as portals to complete absorption with something greater than ourselves.
“If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years,” he adds, “how would men believe and adore and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.”
Humans have gazed at the night’s sky in fascination for millenia. Its vastness, humbling. Its enigmatic expanse, awesome. Ancient civilisations, from the Mayans to the Babylonians, were starstruck and enchanted by the cosmos. The ancient Egyptians even used the stars to accurately align the Great Pyramids with the Earth’s four cardinal points.
I wonder what Emerson would think of modern culture. Common gaze is downcast, transfixed by admonishing smartphones. The stars’ sparkle is second-best. We don’t notice the great lengths they travel to illuminate the night’s sky. But the ancients prized something we fail to recognise. Stargazing is free therapy. And the cosmos reveals our true nature.
If we care to look.