You’ll have to forgive this entry if it is uninteresting, but I keep coming across the topic of stars in my reading (as I roll through the Young Adult section of Borders) and in the music I listen to and I wonder if I’m reading too much into things, or if this is legitimate.

One can generally assume in Western Literature that if it’s a reference it probably comes from one of three places: Shakespeare, the Bible, or Greek/Roman myth. Right? Right. These are the three pillars of Western literature pretty much. There are others, of course, but these are the Big Three, if there were any at all. And, at a cursory glance, the stars in the night sky seem to pop up a lot as symbols for practically everything. They are a big part of the current world’s modern mythology, for more than a few reasons.

So just chew on this for a moment:

  • Probably one of the earliest references would be in the Bible’s first book Genesis (15:5, KJV) when God commands to Abraham–currently childless–to “Look toward heaven and number the stars if you are able to number them… So shall your descendants be.” So initially stars symbolize a promise, and they symbolize the future, and they symbolize fertility. All at once in those two little sentences. But there’s more–much, much more.
  • And according to Ovid in the Metamorphoses when a god created man he created him upright with his head towards the stars in the heavens, and not like other animals whose gaze is constantly directed at the ground. And then, in another creation story they become the sign of man’s intelligence, of his higher being, or his status as master over the animals, of his privileged place in the world, and of that which man can accomplish, even–that being anything. Limitless potential.
  • The stars are also the symbols of astrology and take on the role as guides of fate and fortune.
  • And then there’s Shakespeare. I could write a thesis about all of his references to stars, just in his tragedies, and all that they mean; but I’ll take one of the more popular references: When Romeo begins his little “But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?” as Juliet appears on her balcony he continues on saying “Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven/Having some business, do entreat her eyes/To twinkle in their spheres till they return.” Getting us to the more basic symbol of beauty, not getting into to the lengthy discussion of eyes as the portals into the soul and what starlight in those eyes could mean…
  • And, just to get more modern more quickly, there is the classic Walt Disney animated motion picture Pinocchio where “When you wish upon a star” … and I’m assuming you know the rest, where the stars here are promises for the future, wish granters, almost representative of gods you could pray to and grant your deepest desires.
  • And just to give these bullet points a nice symmetry, I’ll just end with the reference from Lois Lowry’s book Nubmer the Stars, the title she borrowed from the passage in Genesis, about the Jews of Denmark in the escalating years right before and in the beginning of World War II. There the stars are the Jews, the descendants of Abraham, the people who were represented the Star of David, the fulfilled promise from ages before.

And then I hear a song like “After Tonight” by Justin Nozuka. Here are some select lyrics

There’s something in your eyes
Is everything alright
You look up to the sky
You long for something more

Darling, give me your right hand
I think I understand
Follow me and you will never have to wish again

(Chorus)
I know that after tonight
You don’t have to look up at the stars
No, No, No, No…

And I can’t help but wonder if he’s consciously or unconsciously taken in all of those cultural references about stars, even if just from watching Pinocchio as a kid, and the power that they seem to hold in and out of literary, cultural, and collective imagination.

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