“You know Orion always comes up sideways.Throwing a leg up over our fence of mountains,And rising on his hands, he looks in on meBusy outdoors by lantern-light with somethingI should have done by daylight, and indeed,After the ground is frozen, I should have doneBefore it froze, and a gust flings a handfulOf waste leaves at my smoky lantern chimneyTo make fun of my way of doing things,Or else fun of Orion’s having caught me.Has a man, I should like to ask, no rightsThese forces are obliged to pay respect to?”So Brad McLaughlin mingled reckless talkOf heavenly stars with hugger-mugger farming,Till having failed at hugger-mugger farming,He burned his house down for the fire insuranceAnd spent the proceeds on a telescopeTo satisfy a lifelong curiosityAbout our place among the infinities.“What do you want with one of those blame things?”I asked him well beforehand. “Don’t you get one!”“Don’t call it blamed; there isn’t anythingMore blameless in the sense of being lessA weapon in our human fight,” he said.“I’ll have one if I sell my farm to buy it.”There where he moved the rocks to plow the groundAnd plowed between the rocks he couldn’t move,Few farms changed hands; so rather than spend yearsTrying to sell his farm and then not selling,He burned his house down for the fire insuranceAnd bought the telescope with what it came to.He had been heard to say by several:“The best thing that we’re put here for’s to see;The strongest thing that’s given us to see with’sA telescope. Someone in every townSeems to me owes it to the town to keep one.In Littleton it may as well be me.”After such loose talk it was no surpriseWhen he did what he did and burned his house down.Mean laughter went about the town that dayTo let him know we weren’t the least imposed on,And he could wait—we’d see to him tomorrow.But the first thing next morning we reflectedIf one by one we counted people outFor the least sin, it wouldn’t take us longTo get so we had no one left to live with.For to be social is to be forgiving.Our thief, the one who does our stealing from us,We don’t cut off from coming to church suppers,But what we miss we go to him and ask for.He promptly gives it back, that is if stillUneaten, unworn out, or undisposed of.It wouldn’t do to be too hard on BradAbout his telescope. Beyond the ageOf being given one for Christmas gift,He had to take the best way he knew howTo find himself in one. Well, all we said wasHe took a strange thing to be roguish over.Some sympathy was wasted on the house,A good old-timer dating back along;But a house isn’t sentient; the houseDidn’t feel anything. And if it did,Why not regard it as a sacrifice,And an old-fashioned sacrifice by fire,Instead of a new-fashioned one at auction?Out of a house and so out of a farmAt one stroke (of a match), Brad had to turnTo earn a living on the Concord railroad,As under-ticket-agent at a stationWhere his job, when he wasn’t selling tickets,Was setting out up track and down, not plantsAs on a farm, but planets, evening starsThat varied in their hue from red to green.He got a good glass for six hundred dollars.His new job gave him leisure for stargazing.Often he bid me come and have a lookUp the brass barrel, velvet black inside,At a star quaking in the other end.I recollect a night of broken cloudsAnd underfoot snow melted down to ice,And melting further in the wind to mud.Bradford and I had out the telescope.We spread our two legs as it spread its three,Pointed our thoughts the way we pointed it,And standing at our leisure till the day broke,Said some of the best things we ever said.That telescope was christened the Star-Splitter,Because it didn’t do a thing but splitA star in two or three the way you splitA globule of quicksilver in your handWith one stroke of your finger in the middle.It’s a star-splitter if there ever was one,And ought to do some good if splitting stars‘Sa thing to be compared with splitting wood.We’ve looked and looked, but after all where are we?Do we know any better where we are,And how it stands between the night tonightAnd a man with a smoky lantern chimney?How different from the way it ever stood?
Robert Frost, the Star Splitter
I love this poem. I love the sentiment of Brad; that material things and the future are meaningless compared to looking out into the infinite sky.
But also in the most literal sense: star splitting is a heck of an amount of fun. You wouldn’t believe the pleasure in just popping a higher power lens in and suddenly, poof, there’s two stars there.