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CENTAURUS AND THE SOUTHERN

CROSS

These are the most interesting constellations of the far south, but to most of the northern hemispheres they are invisible.

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ALPHA CENTAURI AND THE SOUTHERN CROSS

Far in the south, and near the southern Pole, are two objects which we must not fail to mention; one is Alpha Centauri, our sun's nearest known neighbor sun, and the other is the Southern Cross. Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri are the two first-magnitude stars in the constellation Centaurus, and are sometimes called the “ southern pointers,” because they point to the Southern Cross. Alpha Centauri is the brighter, and is 4.3 light years away from us. When we consider that light travels 186,400 miles a second, and recall the number of seconds in a year, it makes us feel very much alone in space to know that the light we see to-night started from our nearest neighbor nearly four and a half years ago. The Southern Cross is a tiny constellation of four stars—one first magnitude, two second magnitudes, and one third magnitude—that form almost a perfect cross; and it is world-wide famous because of the beauty of these four bright stars so close together in a figure with so many romantic and religious associations.

CONSTELLATIONS

O CONSTELLATIONS of the early night,
That sparkled brighter as the twilight died,
And made the darkness glorious! I have seen
Your rays grow dim upon the horizon's edge,
And sink behind the mountains. I have seen
The great Orion, with his jewelled belt,
That large-limbed warrior of the skies, go down
Into the gloom. Beside him sank a crowd
Of shining ones. I look in vain to find
The group of sister-stars, which mothers love
To show their wondering babes, the gentle Seven.
Along the desert space mine eyes in vain
Seek the resplendent cressets which the Twins
Uplifted in their ever-youthful hands.
The streaming tresses of the Egyptian Queen
Spangle the heavens no more. The Virgin trails
No more her glittering garments through the blue.
Gone! all are gone! and the forsaken Night,
With all her winds, in all her dreary wastes,
Sighs that they shine upon her face no more.

Now only here and there a little star
Looks forth alone. Ah me! I know them not,
Those dim successors of the numberless host
That filled the heavenly fields, and flung to earth
Their quivering fires. And now the middle watch
Betwixt the eve and morn is past, and still
The darkness gains upon the sky, and still
It closes round my way. Shall, then, the Night

Grow starless in her later hours? Have these
No train of flaming watchers, that shall mark
Their coming and farewell? O Sons of Light !
Have ye then left me ere the dawn of day
To grope along my journey sad and faint ?

Thus I complained, and from the darkness round
A voice replied—was it indeed a voice,
Or seeming accents of a waking dream
Heard by the inner ear? But thus it said:
O Traveler of the Night! thine eyes are dim
With watching; and the mists, that chill the vale
Down which thy feet are passing, hide from view
The ever-burning stars. It is thy sight
That is so dark, and not the heavens. Thine eyes,
Were they but clear, would see a fiery host
Above thee; Hercules, with flashing mace,
The Lyre with silver chords, the Swan uppoised
On gleaming wings, the Dolphin gliding on
With glistening scales, and that poetic steed,
With beamy mane, whose hoof struck out from earth
The fount of Hippocrene, and many more,
Fair clustered splendors, with whose rays the Night
Shall close her march in glory, ere she yield
To the young Day, the great earth steeped in dew.

So spake the monitor, and I perceived How vain were my repinings, and my thought Went backward to the vanished years and all The good and great who came and passed with them, And knew that ever would the years to come Bring with them, in their course, the good and great, Lights of the world, though, to my clouded sight, Their rays might seem but dim, or reach me not.

-WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT.

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