Friday, September 07, 2007



Yesterday on The Writer's Almanac, Garrison Keillor recited For My Daughter by David Ignatow (1914-1997):
When I die choose a star
and name it after me
that you may know
I have not abandoned
or forgotten you.
You were such a star to me,
following you through birth
and childhood, my hand
in your hand.

When I die
choose a star and name it
after me so that I may shine
down on you, until you join
me in darkness and silence
The image of the star in Ignatow's poem brought to my mind two short poems attributed to Plato. The first (Greek Anthology 7.670, tr. Ronald Knox) is an epitaph on Aster, whose name in Greek means star:
Once you used to shine, a morning star, among the living; now you shine, an evening star, among the dead.

ἀστὴρ πρὶν μὲν ἔλαμπες ἐνὶ ζωοῖσιν Ἑῷος·
  νῦν δὲ θανὼν λάμπεις Ἕσπερος ἐν φθιμένοις.
Shelley translated this as follows:
Thou wert the morning star among the living,
  Ere thy fair light had fled;—
Now, having died, thou art as Hesperus, giving
  New splendour to the dead.
One can be a star when alive (Aster, Ignatow's daughter) and when dead (Aster, Ignatow later to be joined by his daughter).

Plato's second poem is also addressed to Aster (Greek Anthology 7.669, tr. Edward Sanford Burgess):
Stars do you gaze on, star of mine? Would that I might become Heaven, and so with many eyes look down on you in turn.

ἀστέρας εἰσαθρεῖς Ἀστὴρ ἐμός· εἴθε γενοίμην
  οὐρανός, ὡς πολλοῖς ὄμμασιν εἰς σὲ βλέπω.
The lover (Plato, Ignatow) imagines himself as a star looking down from heaven upon the beloved (Aster, Ignatow's daughter).

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