Every New Year begins with the Earth making its closest approach to the Sun, and with a meteor shower of a now-defunct constellation. For me, this is the perfect set up for wandering into the new with the poets among the stars. And here’s why.
The Quadrantid Meteor Shower is active for several weeks, but has a narrow peak that happened early Sunday morning. It’s named for a constellation that was created in 1795 but was then omitted by the Astronomers Union in 1922. A wall quadrant is an astronomical instrument that was popular before the telescope, and was used to measure the angular height of the Sun and stars.
It’s the measuring that makes it fit with the beginning of the year, because of our cultural practice of reviewing, or weighing and measuring where we’ve been, as motivation for setting our sights on something greater.
In the same era that Quadrans Muralis was being omitted from the catalog of constellations, TS Eliot published his poem The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, in which his protagonist proclaims he has measured out his life with coffee spoons. Prufrock is like a 20th century Odysseus, but rather than being seduced by sirens as he makes his way home from the Trojan War, Prufrock is drowned by the sound of human voices.
Eliot begins his poem with a quote from Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” which as published just one year before the master poet died in 1321, 700 years ago. That makes 2021 the year of Dante in Italy. And that’s how I got from measuring the stars with the wall quadrant to measuring one’s life with Prufrock, to Dante, who is a fitting companion on our way into the new.
May we start this year knowing the love that moves the Sun and all the stars.