milky way

People mention with reverence the beauty and blissfulness of sun, moon, stars, etc as heavenly bodies since time immemorial. In literature, art, painting, and social traditions celestial references are often seen. The mention of celestial bodies has been associated with social and religious causes for long. The earliest Chinese farmer's calendar can be traced back to around 5000 B.C when the farmers used to determine their farming practices in accordance with the cycle of the moon. In the book, “Yu Tu Bei Kao Quan Shu” the motions of the sun and moon, the stars and constellations have been depicted. Jehoshaphat Aspin designed the astronomy cards of Zodiacal constellations which are dated back to the early Babylonian period to the Sumerian time. There has been a practice by Tibetans of portraying astrological Thangka in the home for protection from evil. The ‘Thangka’, a Tibetan Buddhist painting, is characterized by nine magic squares and symbols of the eight planets. The references of Astronomy are found in the Rigveda, the ancient Indian literature (1500-1200 BCE) of Sanskrit hymns.

In the Rig Veda, verses (suktas) in Sanskrit are written in praise of nature and divinity. Nature is beautifully and metaphorically described with celestial citations in the hymn of Rig Veda:

“By the first touch of His hand rivers throb and ripple.
When He smiles the sun shines, the moon glimmers,
The stars twinkle, the - owner’s bloom.
By the first rays of the rising sun, the universe is stirred;
The shining gold is sprinkled on the smiling buds of rose;
The fragrant air is filled with sweet melodies of singing birds,
The dawn is the dream of God’s creative fancy.”

(Rig Veda 1.6.3)

The sun, the eyes of the universe, is divinely placed
It rises with bright sunshine,
May we live to see it for a hundred autumns

Rig Veda:7.66.16 (Tr. Pandit Satyakarm Vidyalankar)

Many Indian poets with metaphysical and mystic tenor composed poems with cosmic citations. Conceptualising time and space, Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950), a saint-poet and a philosopher, in his epic poem Savitri  writes:

All Time is one body, Space a single look:
There is the Godhead’s universal gaze
And there the boundaries of immortal Mind:

(Savitri 660)

Tirtha Rama, the nineteenth-century saint-poet of India writes:

Pale stars yet twinkled on the valleys deep,
The sun just rolled hill tops in crimson blaze,
The yellow grass waved as golden hair of a sage.

(Rama Poems)

Rumi, a thirteenth-century Persian poet imagines:

From your chimney smoke
shape new constellations 

(Tr. Coleman Barks).

There has been a multitude flavour of examples of celestial mentions in the poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, John Donne, John Milton, William Wordsworth, P B Shelley, John Keats, W B Yeats, T S Eliot, W H Auden, and others:

Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400), regarded as the Father of English Poetry, had portrayed the celestial citations in his poetry. Florence M. Grimm University of Nebraska has described (in 1919) the ‘Astronomical Lore in Chaucer’. He comments, “…It is not astonishing, then, that the great monuments of literature in the medieval period and even much later are filled with astronomical and astrological allusions; for these are but reflections of vital human interests of the times. The greatest poetical work of the Middle Ages, Dante's Divina Commedia, is rich in astronomical lore, and its dramatic action is projected against a cosmographical background reflecting the view of Dante's contemporaries as to the structure of the world. Milton, writing in the seventeenth century, bases the cosmology of his Paradise Lost in the main on the Ptolemaic system,…. The view of the universe which we find reflected in Chaucer's poetry is chiefly based on the Ptolemaic system of astronomy, though it shows traces of very much more primitive cosmological ideas….”

Describing the stars are elsewhere said to be like small candles in comparison with the moon, and Chaucer thus writes:

"And cleer as (is) the mone-light,
Ageyn whom alle the sterres semen
But smale candels, as we demen."

(Romaunt of the Rose, 1010-12)

Flurence further adds, “The relative positions of the different planets in the heavens are suggested by allusions to the different sizes of their spheres and to their different velocities. Mars is to hurry until he reaches Venus' palace and then advances as slowly as possible, to wait for her. Evidently, Chaucer was aware of the varying apparent velocities of planetary motions”.

"That Mars shal entre, as faste as he may glyde,
Into hir nexte paleys, to abyde,
Walking his cours til she had him a-take,
And he preyde hirto haste hir for his sake."

(Compleynt of Mars, 53-56).

Indeed the poems written by the great poets of English literature are studded with celestial mentions:

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Appareled in celestial light,

(William WordsworthIntimations of Immortality)

Bright star! would I were steadfast as thou art—
   Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night,
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
   Like Nature’s patient sleepless Eremite,

(John Keats, Bright Star)

‘I’ll love you till the ocean
   Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
   Like geese about the sky.

(W H Auden, As I Walked Out One Evening)

    The Eagle soars in the summit of Heaven,
    The Hunter with his dogs pursues his circuit.
    O perpetual revolution of configured stars,
    O perpetual reference of determined seasons,
    O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!

    (T. S. Eliot, The Rock)

Japanese Astronaut, Naoko Yamazaki, placidly cites the beautiful reference of celestial objectives in his poetry:

We children of the stars    children of space
born in the oceans and matured on land
have the history of the universe     its hundreds of billions of years
etched on our bodies
Look! Today too somewhere a tiny light

Citation of heavenly bodies is often seen in the haiku by the Japanese Masters.

According to Basho, there are two planes in haiku: fueki ryuko ie. Eternal and Current. The cosmic plane relates to haiku that is associated with nature and landscape. Shiki in his classification refers to ‘Nature and Celestial and Earthly’ aspects of haiku. The celestial bodies related to astronomy or heavenly phenomena (tensoo) have been included in the seven Japanese categories of haiku and related seasonal reference (kigo). In the World Kigo Database (WKD), Gabi Greve elaborated in detail about Astronomical aspects in haiku literature. The haiku Masters, Basho, Buson, Issa, and Shiki have cited stars, moon, Milky Way in their haiku.

The following classical hokku by Basho has a celestial reference.

nine times awakened
yet it’s still the moon
before dawn

Basho (Tr. David Landis Barnhill)

The following haiku portrays how precisely and through simple observation, Issa imaged the space and beyond!

a sight to see!
from a hole in the wall
autumn moon

--Issa (Tr. David Lanoue)

Shiki in his classification has mentioned ‘Nature and Celestial and Earthly’ aspects of haiku. The great Japanese haiku poet, Kaneko Tohta (1919-2018) attributed the haiku as elicitation in cosmic sense (Uchu-teki).

Buson in his following haiku enumerates the beauty of the celestial play.

The canola flowers.
The moon is in the eastern sky.
The sun is in the western sky.

The book “The Stray Birds” (1916) by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore contains more of monoku-like proverbial expressions with poetic lucidity having occasional references of celestial bodies:

If you shed tears when you miss the sun, you also miss the stars.

‘Fireflies’, the title of the poem, comes from the first verse of the bilingual Bengali version,‘Lekhan’ (1926) by Tagore. It consists of 256 epigrams and short verses and some with poetic reference to the astronomical bodies.  

The stars of night are to me
the memorials of my day's faded flowers.

Emmanuel Lochac published one-liners in French, with a reference of ‘sun’, under the title Monostiches in a literary magazine in 1929.

Voilier emportant le soleil dans les vergues

Schooner bearing away the sun in its arms (Tr.Breuning)

Poet Federico Garcia Lorca could come to know about haiku in early 1920 and when he was a student in Madrid, he aptly visualises about the space science and writes:

Some day…
You will leap from one star
to another.

Interestingly in the introduction to ‘Haiku in English, ‘The First Hundred Years’ Billy Collins (2013) concludes:

“…I want to end by stretching an analogy between haiku and physics. Just as matter is composed of atoms, which give off a great energy when accelerated to the point of collision, so time is made up of moments, and when a single moment is perfectly isolated, another kind of cosmic energy is released. I like to think of the haiku as a moment-smashing device out of which arises powerful moments of dazzling awareness”. 

Yasuomi Koganei in his article, “Haiku Poems” published in Chrysanthemum No. 21. April 2016 says:

“Thus using haiku, an author can express his thoughts as well about a landscape not existing on the Earth to easily appeal to readers' neuron circuits. In April 2014, NASA found underground water on Saturn II Enceladus. It implies the possibility of life outside Earth. The universe is filled with scenery not existing on the Earth and haiku may well be able to describe it in advance of being actually recognized by scientific probe. In the future, sceneries in the universe may be normally described in haiku, and I would like to read them by my own eyes, if possible”.

towards distant flashes
sailing along the Milky Way
reflected in the lake

Jane Reichhold in her book, “Bare Bones: School of Haiku” (2011) mentions  the ‘Celestial’ aspect in haiku writing:

“You can organize your poems by the five seasons, divided by mention of the season or its attributes; celestial – all the haiku about skies, weather, stars, planets; terrestrial –references to parts of the landscape; livelihood – human activities common to a certain season including holiday activities; animals – ones associated with a certain season; and plants - that reflect the season. Within these categories one can arrange the subjects alphabetically”.

She further adds, “Many of the kigo for the season/climate category (such as “bright skies” or “south wind”) could more accurately fit into celestial phenomenon leaving a category free for emotional states, which to me, are as much a part of any season as a bird or flower”. 

The heavenly bodies are associated with social festivals, beliefs, auspicious occasions, protections from evils, etc. Man has savoured the beauty and fascination of heavenly bodies ever since his evolution. Astronomical references are also characterized by seasonal connotation. The followings are some of the examples in haiku literature where celestial mentions are elucidated with reference to various aspects. Here an attempt has been enunciated to classify them into the spectrum of the poetic inquisitiveness, scientific infusion, human psychology, historical events, spiritual credence, socio-cultural aspects, and linguistic humour.

Poetic Imagination:

The creative imagination in haiku has been widely experienced by many poets. Master Basho once said:

“Imagination is a journey of the spirit, a movement through space.
On this spirit journey, the poet can instantly encompass all time and all space.” 

The splendor of space science has been often manifested through haiku. Poets often assimilate the mentions of celestial bodies out of creative inquisitiveness. The following haiku are some of the interesting examples showcasing the poetic spell: 

in cold water
sipping the stars...
Milky Way
--Issa (Tr. David Lanoue)

The moon in the water;
Broken and broken again,
Still it is there

--Chōshū  (Tr. R. H. Blyth)

meteor shower . . .
a gentle wave
wets our sandals

--Michael Dylan Welch

receding wave…
crab holes breathe
the milky way

--Kala Ramesh

the blue soldier crab emerges
from a moonlit sand

--Marta Majorka Chociłowska

solar flares
a spill of buttercups
in the meadow

--Debbie Strange

her curves in the hands of the moon

--Don Baird

close to someone in the stars white seeps inward

--Marlene Mountain

romantic dinners
at the edge of the universe
outside of time

--Carol Raisfeld

peeps from moist earth
to see a full moon ~
-- Narayanan Raghunathan

all the paths I didn’t choose the Milky Way

--Beverly Acuff Momoi

blackberry moon . . .
midnight rain lingers
in a snail's shell

--Sandi Pray

night sky
one of those stars might be
the reset button

--Susan Antolin

last night's snow --
on the cedar tree branches
milky way

--Bali Igor

Twilight Venus
over the mowed garden —
the first snow

--Kiyoko Ogawa

deep space at the end of my sentence a blue dot.

--Bouwe Brouwer

summer stars
twinkle on the pond ~
Basho's frog croaks

--Narayanan Raghunathan 

flying milky way--
a bevy of cranes between
the sea and the sky

--Pravat Kumar Padhy

Scientific Infusion:

Quite often it is observed that haiku writings unveil the unlimited scientific curiosity with celestial reference. Poet expresses his anxiety, fantasy, aspiration, and fulfillment about the mystery of outer space through scientific blending and curious ingenuity. This divulges greater inclusiveness in literary interpretation with the scientific perspective in the form of Astro-Haiku at large:

photographs from Mars
the sound of my grandmother
watering her plants

--John McManus

north star
she says we’ll find
a way

--Joe McKeon

summer sun
a boy bounces a ball
against the house

--Brad Bennett

broken bones
of dinosaur's fossil --
milky way

--Teiichi Suzuki

space rocks the strange visitors near the entrance

--Pravat Kumar Padhy

reflecting pool --
our shadows floating
with unseen stars

--Mark E. Brager

fetching the bones
of the first colonists-
Mars rover

--Susan Burch

black hole--
mystery of the universe
gathers light

--Pravat Kumar Padhy

Human Psychology:

The observation of cosmic happenings arises a lot of psychological impulses and emotions. Many times, the poet captures those instant moments to unknot his feelings of love, anguish, grief, despair, anger, etc. David Steindl-Rast writes: “the one basic condition of the human psyche that accounts for genuine happiness is living in the now.”

A lot of research has been carried out to know the haiku experience and its therapeutic effect. Haiku reading and writing have cognitive influence. Dr. Robert Epstein, a psychologist at the University of Harvard says, “a good haiku can work wonders on a tired soul.” The close association of nature in the context of haiku experience has a deep zen-feeling and psychological influence. B R Cahn and J Polich in psychological analysis conclude that composing haiku poetry about nature increases sensitivity. Poets use the images of planets, stars, Milky Way to unravel their inner feelings:

I have even seen the moon -
now I can say good bye
to this world
--Kaga no Chiyoni          

The sun sets
beyond the cosmos field:
I waited in vain

--Yoshihiko Suzuki

moon in the cold -
only my own footsteps
on the bridge

--Tan Taigi (Tr. Gabi Greve)

nagareboshi -
your life on earth
just so short

--Gabi Greve

(Nagareboshi means shooting star in the sky)

the moons of Jupiter this is a life I didn’t know existed

--Melissa Allen

between wound and weapon the milky way

--Lee Gurga

snow on the sun navigating childhoods

--Alan Summers

s p a c e d o u t o v e r t h e e s c a r p m e n t t h e s t a r s
--Lorin Ford

a moment alone
with my ancestors

--Tiffany Shaw-Diaz

The crow has flown away:
Swaying in the evening sun,
A leafless tree

--Natsume Soseki

Peace –
An extinct species
On planet Earth

--Dan Campbell

October full moon
moonshine is too white
for sadness
--Etsuko Yanagibori

sleepless night–
a homeless man studies
the Milky Way

--Vincenzo Adamo

the half moon
on her neck reminds of love
before departure

--Ram Krishna Singh

late summer moon . . .
the remnants of a gull’s wake
floats on the river
--Bruce Ross 

crescent moon--
the old man returns
from nowhere

--Pravat Kumar Padhy

Historical Association:

Haiku writings can also be correlated with the archival of the historical sequence, scientific events, etc. This signifies the memorable references of the scientific discoveries and milestones. This has signified another dimension of reference of celestial bodies in haiku writing:

Neil Armstrong--
baby’s maiden walk
on bright moon day

--Pravat Kumar Padhy

stop press methane on mars has legs

--Helen Buckingham

Cadillac Mountain
Voices carried on the wind
Past our stargazing

--Calvin Olsen

Spiritualisation and Zen Feeling:

The philosophical endeavor kindles the delicate beauty between cosmic mystery and poetic ecstasy. The ethical self-realization (zen feeling) symbolizes the contemplation of spiritualism. The consciousness of self-being as a part of nature and imbibing spiritual feelings is another dimension of haiku literature. Rightly Blyth says, “haiku is a form of Zen”. The central theme of haiku poetry reveals around nature and Zen Buddhism.  Poets try to assimilate nobleness and sense of spiritual feeling in poetry with special reference to the heavenly bodies.

 summer moon--
there's no such thing
as a flawless night
--Issa (Tr. David Lanoue)

this cold moon -
I meet a monk
on the bridge
--Yosa Buson 

I read your Haiku
before sleep
--Etsuko Yanagibori

(Yukitsukiyo  means night with snow and a full moon) 

the forest disappears into itself new moon

--Michael Rehling

Watching the twilight 
a burning wish: 
to fly by thinking of the comet 

--Gabriel Ivanescu

first venus then star by star the night deepens

--Janice M. Bostok

full moon
keeping an eye
on the stars
--Ella Wagemakers

moonlit bridge -
my shadow checks the path
before my steps

--Origa (Olga Hooper)

time and space
life - a season of its
own garden 

--Pravat Kumar Padhy

Socio-cultural Aspect:

Socio-cultural issues invariably occupy a major part in the literature. It reflects the quests for a better side of living.  We can create an image of the cultural association through scientific propensity. Images of social gatherings, religious references, festivals, tribal culture, and others have been artfully imbibed in haiku.

There are brilliant haiku associated with the Tanabata festival in Japan. Tanabata, also known as the Star Festival, is a Japanese festival originating from the Chinese Qixi Festival. It is celebrated on the seventh day of Seventh Month. According to the legendary origin, two celestial lovers--the stars Altair and Vega--are separated by Heaven's River (the Milky Way). It is believed that the Altair-Vega couple can meet only once a year at the time of the Star Festival.

star festival night -
now autumn has really come
as the night begins
--Basho (Tr. Gabi Greve)

star festival --
such coolness and
a long hot bath
--Issa (Tr. Chris Drake)

Good Friday
fallen cherry blossoms
risen moon
--Johnny Baranski

tanabata stars
a lock of her hair
in Love, Poetry
--Chen-ou Liu

sending-off the souls -
the whole family watches
shooting stars
--Gabi Greve (composed during Bon festival, 17.8.2007)

Pushkar Fair-
after praying to Brahma
we watch camels race
--Angelee Deodhar

between heaven and earth
takstang monastery
--Sanjay Rajan

Moon Festival
over Taiwan and Toronto
the same moon?
--Chen-ou Liu

tribal dance--
the moon steps with
--Pravat Kumar Padhy

Aspect of Humour:

The sense of humour (hai) is an important part of literature. Basho, Buson, and  Issa had written haiku with great humour. R H Blyth, Susumu Takiguchi, David Cobb, and others dealt humour and its importance in haiku parody. The use of linguistic humour with respect to the reference of celestial bodies is often seen.

Mushroom hunting
Assembled by my head
Moon on the peak


Under the evening moon
The snail is stripped
to the waist. 


If it rains,
Come with your umbrella,
Midnight moon

--Yamazaki Sokan

the gods
are playing billiard -
shooting stars

--Hayashi Akira 

the sparkle
in her laugh

--Deborah Kolodji

the council bans gifting
other people's moons

--Dee Wallace

I shift my pillow
closer to the
full moon.
--Saiba (Tr. Hoffmann)

the small black clouds
drawing moustaches
on the moon's face
--Tomislav Maretic

early dawn hour
a gap in the milky way
first tooth fall                

--Pravat Kumar Padhy

I feel emotional to read the verse, ‘I Am’ written by Benjamin Giroux, a 10-year-old kid from Plattsburgh, New York who is suffering from Asperger’s disorder. Indeed his poetic vision dwells beyond the space when he pens:

I am odd, I am new
I pretend that you are too
I feel like a boy in outer space
I touch the stars and feel out of place

The poetic integration of celestial examples portrays haiku of subtle cadences. It also extends the horizon of haiku writings by enfolding Astro-science and unveiling added dimension of creative expressions. Albert Einstein intellectualises, “We are slowed down sound and light waves, a walking bundle of frequencies tuned into the cosmos. We are souls dressed up in sacred biochemical garments and our bodies are the instruments through which our souls play their music.”

In the concluding remark, I wish to share my thoughts in the spirit of divine haikuism: “The essence of poetry nestles in the diligent fragrance of the flower, simplicity flow of the river, the spread of leaves with gentleness, the calmness of deep ocean and embellishment of soothing shadow. I aspire to present unison of poetic-scientific effervescence to usher in a pristine social renaissance and wish celebration of a beautiful tomorrow of the universal truism. I am merely a tiny part of the consciousness of the stretch of time and space. I am a tiny bird dwelling in my nest, and singing songs for others and to the surroundings!”



Pravat Kumar Padhy has obtained his Masters of Science and Technology and a Ph.D from Indian Institute of Technology, ISM Dhanbad. His poetry has been featured in many journals and anthologies. His poems received many awards, honours, and commendations including the Editors’ Choice Award at Writers Guild of India, Sketchbook, Asian American Poetry, Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival International Haiku Honourable Mention, UNESCO International Year Award of Water Co-operation, The Kloštar Ivanić International Haiku Award, IAFOR Vladimir Devide Haiku Award, and others. His work is showcased in the exhibition “Haiku Wall”, Historic Liberty Theatre Gallery in Bend, Oregon, USA. His tanka, ‘I mingle’ is published in the “Kudo Resource Guide”, University of California, Berkeley. His poem, “How Beautiful” is included in the Undergraduate English Curriculum at the university level. He guest-edited November 2019 Per Diem Column, The Haiku Foundation, on the theme, “Celestial Bodies”. His haiku collection, “Cosmic Symphony” is widely reviewed and is archived in the digital library of ‘The Haiku Foundation’.

He has invented a genre of poetry, “Hainka’, which is a poetic fusion of haiku and tanka, and is characterized by the image linking of the ‘fragment of the haiku as the ‘pivot line’ of the following tanka.

He is nominated to the prestigious panel of ‘The Touchstone Awards for Individual Poems’, ‘The Haiku Foundation’.