Interesting Poetry on the North Star

While I was reading about the myth of Dhruv Taara (north star) who's reference is found in several bhakti poems from India including Bhagat Namdev's Moko Taar Le, I started doing some research on English poems related to the north star.  

The North Star, also known as Polaris, is not the brightest star in the sky.  But it has still been included in stories and poems for centuries because it is the one star that does not change position as the earth rotates. That’s because it’s located nearly at the north celestial pole, the point around which the entire northern sky turns. So one can say that the entire northern sky wheels around the North Star as it remains stagnant.  Its constancy has inspired many a poet and philosopher.  

One of the most interesting finds was that African American activist Frederick Douglass (whose house we visited last time we were in DC) named his famous anti-slavery newspaper, The North Star.  The following poem by James Whitfield was published in this newspaper.  At the end of this article I have included an interesting purpose statement for this newspaper which is worth a read.  

The North Star by James Whitfield

"The North Star"**
- James Monroe Whitfield 

STAR of the north! whose steadfast ray
   Pierces the sable pall of night,
Forever pointing out the way
   That leads to freedom’s hallowed light:
The fugitive lifts up his eye
To where thy rays illume the sky.
That steady, calm, unchanging light,
   Through dreary wilds and trackless dells,
Directs his weary steps aright
   To the bright land where freedom dwells;
And spreads, with sympathizing breast,
Her aegis over the oppressed.

Though other stars may round thee burn,
   With larger disk and brighter ray,
The North Star p2 And fiery comets round thee turn,
   While millions mark their blazing way;
And the pale moon and planets bright
Reflect on us their silvery light.
Not like that moon, now dark, now bright,
   In phase and place forever changing;
Or planets with reflected light,
   Or comets through the heavens ranging;
They all seem varying to our view,
While thou art ever fixed and true.

So may that other bright North Star,
   Beaming with truth and freedom’s light,
Pierce with its cheering ray afar,
   The shades of slavery’s gloomy night;
And may it never cease to be
The guard of truth and liberty.

**Written for the North Star; a newspaper edited by Frederick Douglass. More information below. 

On James Monroe Whitfield (1822-1871)

As is true of a number of nineteenth-century African American writers and activists, not all that much is known about James Monroe Whitfield. He was born in New Hampshire in 1822 to free blacks, probably attended a local school in New Hampshire, and eventually married and had two sons and a daughter. By the late 1840s Whitfield was working in Buffalo as a barber. In 1850 Frederick Douglass urged Whitfield to relinquish what he regarded as his lowly, menial job, but the facts would indicate that Whitfield, like a number of free blacks of the period, had few other opportunities for employment and needed the money to support his writing; he remained a barber for the rest of his life, working in Buffalo during the 1850s and in several Oregon and northern Californian cities and towns during the 1860s.

On North Star

The North Star, later Frederick Douglass’ Paper, antislavery newspaper published by African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass. First published on December 3, 1847, using funds Douglass earned during a speaking tour in Great Britain and Ireland, The North Star soon developed into one of the most influential African American antislavery publications of the pre-Civil War era. The name of the newspaper paid homage to the fact that escaping slaves used the North Star in the night sky to guide them to freedom. It was published in Rochester, New York, a city known for its opposition to slavery. The motto of the newspaper was, “Right is of no sex—Truth is of no color—God is the Father of us all, and we are brethren.”

The first issue of The North Star, December 3, 1847, emphasized its purpose: 
The object of the North Star will be to attack slavery in all its forms and aspects; advocate universal emancipation; exalt the standard of public morality; promote the moral and intellectual improvement of the colored people; and hasten the day of freedom to the three millions of our enslaved fellow countrymen.
After 15 years at the midnight of January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation came into effect and declared enslaved people in the Confederacy free—on the condition that the Union won the war.

A complete text of "Our Paper and Its Prospects" is below.

Hymn to the North Star

THE sad and solemn night
Has yet her multitude of cheerful fires;
The glorious host of light
Walk the dark hemisphere till she retires;
All through her silent watches, gliding slow,
Her constellations come, and climb the heavens, and go.
Day, too, hath many a star
To grace his gorgeous reign, as bright as they:
Through the blue fields afar,
Unseen, they follow in his flaming way:
Many a bright lingerer, as the eve grows dim,
Tells what a radiant troop arose and set with him.

And thou dost see them rise,
Star of the Pole! and thou dost see them set.
Alone, in thy cold skies,
Thou keep'st thy old unmoving station yet,
Nor join'st the dances of that glittering train,
Nor dipp'st thy virgin orb in the blue western main.

There, at morn's rosy birth,
Thou lookest meekly through the kindling air,
And eve, that round the earth
Chases the day, beholds thee watching there;
There noontide finds thee, and the hour that calls
The shapes of polar flame to scale heaven's azure walls.

Alike, beneath thine eye,
The deeds of darkness and of light are done;
High towards the star-lit sky
Towns blaze--the smoke of battle blots the sun--
The night-storm on a thousand hills is loud--
And the strong wind of day doth mingle sea and cloud.

On thy unaltering blaze
The half-wrecked mariner, his compass lost,
Fixes his steady gaze,
And steers, undoubting, to the friendly coast;
And they who stray in perilous wastes, by night,
Are glad when thou dost shine to guide their footsteps right.

And, therefore, bards of old,
Sages, and hermits of the solemn wood,
Did in thy beams behold
A beauteous type of that unchanging good,
That bright eternal beacon, by whose ray
The voyager of time should shape his heedful way.

--From Poems / William Cullen Bryant [electronic text]
Bryant, William Cullen, 1794-1878
Courtesy of the University of Michigan Humanities Text Initiative American Verse Project.

The North Star

I was contented with the warm silence,
Sitting by the fire, book on knee;
And fancy uncentred, afloat and astray,
Idled from thought to thought
Like a child picking flowers and dropping them
In a meadow at play.
I was contented with the kind silence,
When there invaded me--
Not a sound, no, there was no sound,
But awareness of a menace
Creeping up round
The little island of my mind;
A creeping up of gradual waves out of a sea,
With storm coming behind;
Wave on pale wave, smile on inhuman smile,
Driven on by the black force of alien will
To drown my world, to be the burial
Of joy, beauty, and all
That seemed impossible to kill;
Even the secret home that hope inherited.
I sat in an unreal room alone.
Befriending and familiar shapes were gone:
And I was seized with dread.

Then I became restless,
As if in bonds that must at any cost be burst.
The very peace seemed to oppress:
I was imprisoned and athirst,
And rose, and crossed the floor,
Craving to front the naked outer night.
At the opened door
Stood a thin mist, ghostly and motionless.

Smell of the leaves rotting
Breathed through a cold vapour
Bitter to the nostril.
My feet stumbled;
In my heart was a cry:
O for some single point of certitude!
I lifted up my face, and saw the sky.

There where I stood
Low mist clung to the earth.
But above, pale and diminished,
Only the larger lights pierced the dim air.
I faced the North.
And far and faint over a shadowy pine
That rose out of the mist
I saw the North Star shine.

I remembered sailors of old
For whom unclouded night
Was stretched above the dark Mediterranean,
A blue tapestry pricked with powdery gold,
Where legendary presences shone bright,
Each with a memory and a name;
And under the luminous maze
Steering by the North Star
Ships to their harbour came.

And now through thick silence
On the stifled fog--possessed Atlantic
I was hearing, distant or near,
Muffled answer of horn to horn,
The rocking clang of the buoy--bell,--
Sound crossing sound, to warn
Steamers, that on their blinded motion still
Unfaltering over seas invisible
Held to a silent clue
Because with the assurance of that star
The needle points them true.

There was a voice whispered:
Ascend, ascend!
Out of the earthy vapour, out
Of the invading doubt,
Into deliverance, into bare
Heights of unmeasured air.
Utterly stilled I stood,
Climbing in dizzying thought without an end
To that magnetic light,
That affirmation of old certitude.
And pinnacled alone in the vast night
My thought was there.

Oh, earth is gone.
My earth is lost.
North Star, North Star,
Dost thou fail me?
Thou art not what thou wast,
And all I was is taken from my mind:
For there is neither path nor direction
For any thought to find,
No North, nor South, nor East, nor West,
But homelessness suspended out of time,
Where I had sought to climb.
North Star, it was no shroud
Of mist, nor glory of overflowing sun;
It was no blotting curtain of blank cloud,
But a thought in the mind that deposed thee.

Down, down I sink:
Earth again holds me.
Again, North Star, I see thee shine.
But from the naked night I will not shrink;
And privately I take
A courage for thy sake,
Because thou hast thy place and I have mine;
Because I still need thee;
Because thou need'st not me.

Links to Poetry related to the "North Star"

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Complete Text of "Our Paper And Its Prospects"

From the Inaugural issue of North Star, Frederick Douglass' weekly newspaper

We are now about to assume the management of the editorial department of a newspaper, devoted to the cause of Liberty, Humanity and Progress. The position is one which, with the purest motives, we have long desired to occupy. It has long been our anxious wish to see, in this slave-holding, slave-trading, and Negro-hating land, a printing-press and paper, permanently established, under the complete control and direction of the immediate victims of slavery and oppression.

Animated by this intense desire, we have pursued our object, till on the threshold of obtaining it. Our press and printing materials are bought, and paid for. Our office secured, and is well situated, in the centre of business, in this enterprising city. Our office Agent, an industrious and amiable young man, thoroughly devoted to the interests of humanity, has already entered upon his duties. Printers well recommended have offered their services, and are ready to work as soon as we are prepared for the regular publication of our paper. Kind friends are rallying round us, with words and deeds of encouragement. Subscribers are steadily, if not rapidly coming in, and some of the best minds in the country are generously offering to lend us the powerful aid of their pens. The sincere wish of our heart, so long and so devoutly cherished seems now upon the eve of complete realization.

It is scarcely necessary for us to say that our desire to occupy our present position at the head of an Antislavery Journal, has resulted from no unworthy distrust or ungrateful want of appreciation of the zeal, integrity, or ability of the noble band of white laborers, in this department of our cause; but, from a sincere and settled conviction that such a Journal, if conducted with only moderate skill and ability, would do a most important and indispensable work, which it would be wholly impossible for our white friends to do for us.

It is neither a reflection on the fidelity, nor a disparagement of the ability of our friends and fellow-laborers, to assert what "common sense affirms and only folly denies," that the man who has suffered the wrong is the man to demand redress,—that the man STRUCK is the man to CRY OUT—and that he who has endured the cruel pangs of Slavery is the man to advocate Liberty. It is evident we must be our own representatives and advocates, not exclusively, but peculiarly—not distinct from, but in connection with our white friends. In the grand struggle for liberty and equality now waging, it is meet, right and essential that there should arise in our ranks authors and editors, as well as orators, for it is in these capacities that the most permanent good can be rendered to our cause.

Hitherto the immediate victims of slavery and prejudice, owing to various causes, have had little share in this department of effort: they have frequently undertaken, and almost as frequently failed. This latter fact has often been urged by our friends against our engaging in the present enterprise; but, so far from convincing us of the impolicy of our course, it serves to confirm us in the necessity, if not the wisdom of our undertaking. That others have failed, is a reason for OUR earnestly endeavoring to succeed. Our race must be vindicated from the embarrassing imputations resulting from former non-success. We believe that what ought to be done, can be done. We say this, in no self-confident or boastful spirit, but with a full sense of our weakness and unworthiness, relying upon the Most High for wisdom and strength to support us in our righteous undertaking. We are not wholly unaware of the duties, hardships and responsibilities of our position. We have easily imagined some, and friends have not hesitated to inform us of others. Many doubtless are yet to be revealed by that infallible teacher, experience. A view of them solemnize, but do not appal us. We have counted the cost. Our mind is made up, and we are resolved to go forward.

In aspiring to our present position, the aid of circumstances has been so strikingly apparent as to almost stamp our humble aspirations with the solemn sanctions of a Divine Providence. Nine years ago, as most of our readers are aware, we were held as a slave, shrouded in the midnight ignorance of that infernal system—sunken in the depths of senility and degradation—registered with four footed beasts and creeping things— regarded as property—compelled to toil without wages—with a heart swollen with bitter anguish—and a spirit crushed and broken. By a singular combination of circumstances we finally succeeded in escaping from the grasp of the man who claimed us as his property, and succeeded in safely reaching New Bedford, Mass. In this town we worked three years as a daily laborer on the wharves. Six years ago we became a Lecturer on Slavery. Under the apprehension of being re-taken into bondage, two years ago we embarked for England. During our stay in that country, kind friends, anxious for our safety, ransomed us from slavery, by the payment of a large sum. The same friends, as unexpectedly as generously, placed in our hands the necessary means of purchasing a printing press and printing materials. Finding ourself now in a favorable position for aiming an important blow at slavery and prejudice, we feel urged on in our enterprise by a sense of duty to God and man, firmly believing that our effort will be crowned with entire success.