Tycho Brake

A poem by Alfred Noyes


They thought him a magician, Tycho Brahe,
Who lived on that strange island in the Sound,
Nine miles from Elsinore.
His legend reached
The Mermaid Inn the year that Shakespeare died.
Fynes Moryson had brought his travellers' tales
Of Wheen, the heart-shaped isle where Tycho made
His great discoveries, and, with Jeppe, his dwarf,
And flaxen-haired Christine, the peasant girl,
Dreamed his great dreams for five-and-twenty years.
For there he lit that lanthorn of the law,
Uraniborg; that fortress of the truth,
With Pegasus flying above its loftiest tower,
While, in its roofs, like wide enchanted eyes
Watching, the brightest windows in the world,
Opened upon the stars.

Nine miles from Elsinore, with all those ghosts,
There's magic enough in that! But white-cliffed Wheen,
Six miles in girth, with crowds of hunchback waves
Crawling all round it, and those moonstruck windows,
Held its own magic, too; for Tycho Brahe
By his mysterious alchemy of dreams
Had so enriched the soil, that when the king
Of England wished to buy it, Denmark asked
A price too great for any king on earth.
"Give us," they said, "in scarlet cardinal's cloth
Enough to cover it, and, at every corner,
Of every piece, a right rose-noble too;
Then all that kings can buy of Wheen is yours.
Only," said they, "a merchant bought it once;
And, when he came to claim it, goblins flocked
All round him, from its forty goblin farms,
And mocked him, bidding him take away the stones
That he had bought, for nothing else was his."
These things were fables. They were also true.
They thought him a magician, Tycho Brahe,
The astrologer, who wore the mask of gold.
Perhaps he was. There's magic in the truth;
And only those who find and follow its laws
Can work its miracles.
Tycho sought the truth
From that strange year in boyhood when he heard
The great eclipse foretold; and, on the day
Appointed, at the very minute even,
Beheld the weirdly punctual shadow creep
Across the sun, bewildering all the birds
With thoughts of evening.
Picture him, on that day,
The boy at Copenhagen, with his mane
Of thick red hair, thrusting his freckled face
Out of his upper window, holding the piece
Of glass he blackened above his candle-flame
To watch that orange ember in the sky
Wane into smouldering ash.
He whispered there,
"So it is true. By searching in the heavens,
Men can foretell the future."
In the street
Below him, throngs were babbling of the plague
That might or might not follow.
He resolved
To make himself the master of that deep art
And know what might be known.
He bought the books
Of Stadius, with his tables of the stars.
Night after night, among the gabled roofs,
Climbing and creeping through a world unknown
Save to the roosting stork, he learned to find
The constellations, Cassiopeia's throne,
The Plough still pointing to the Polar Star,
The sword-belt of Orion. There he watched
The movements of the planets, hours on hours,
And wondered at the mystery of it all.
All this he did in secret, for his birth
Was noble, and such wonderings were a sign
Of low estate, when Tycho Brahe was young;
And all his kinsmen hoped that Tycho Brahe
Would live, serene as they, among his dogs
And horses; or, if honour must be won,
Let the superfluous glory flow from fields
Where blood might still be shed; or from those courts
Where statesmen lie. But Tycho sought the truth.
So, when they sent him in his tutor's charge
To Leipzig, for such studies as they held
More worthy of his princely blood, he searched
The Almagest; and, while his tutor slept,
Measured the delicate angles of the stars,
Out of his window, with his compasses,
His only instrument. Even with this rude aid
He found so many an ancient record wrong
That more and more he burned to find the truth.

One night at home, as Tycho searched the sky,
Out of his window, compasses in hand,
Fixing one point upon a planet, one
Upon some loftier star, a ripple of laughter
Startled him, from the garden walk below.
He lowered his compass, peered into the dark
And saw--Christine, the blue-eyed peasant girl,
With bare brown feet, standing among the flowers.
She held what seemed an apple in her hand;
And, in a voice that Aprilled all his blood,
The low soft voice of earth, drawing him down
From those cold heights to that warm breast of Spring,
A natural voice that had not learned to use
The false tones of the world, simple and clear
As a bird's voice, out of the fragrant darkness called,
"I saw it falling from your window-ledge!
I thought it was an apple, till it rolled
Over my foot.
It's heavy. Shall I try
To throw it back to you?"
Tycho saw a stain
Of purple across one small arched glistening foot.
"Your foot Is bruised," he cried.
"O no," she laughed,
And plucked the stain off. "Only a petal, see."
She showed it to him.
"But this--I wonder now
If I can throw it."
Twice she tried and failed;
Or Tycho failed to catch that slippery sphere.
He saw the supple body swaying below,
The ripe red lips that parted as she laughed,
And those deep eyes where all the stars were drowned.

At the third time he caught it; and she vanished,
Waving her hand, a little floating moth,
Between the pine-trees, into the warm dark night.
He turned into his room, and quickly thrust
Under his pillow that forbidden fruit;
For the door opened, and the hot red face
Of Otto Brahe, his father, glowered at him.
"What's this? What's this?"
The furious-eyed old man
Limped to the bedside, pulled the mystery out,
And stared upon the strangest apple of Eve
That ever troubled Eden,--heavy as bronze,
And delicately enchased with silver stars,
The small celestial globe that Tycho bought
In Leipzig.
Then the storm burst on his head!
This moon-struck 'pothecary's-prentice work,
These cheap-jack calendar-maker's gypsy tricks
Would damn the mother of any Knutsdorp squire,
And crown his father like a stag of ten.
Quarrel on quarrel followed from that night,
Till Tycho sickened of his ancient name;
And, wandering through the woods about his home,
Found on a hill-top, ringed with fragrant pines,
A little open glade of whispering ferns.
Thither, at night, he stole to watch the stars;
And there he told the oldest tale on earth
To one that watched beside him, one whose eyes
Shone with true love, more beautiful than the stars,
A daughter of earth, the peasant-girl, Christine.

They met there, in the dusk, on his last night
At home, before he went to Wittenberg.
They stood knee-deep among the whispering ferns,
And said good-bye.
"I shall return," he said,
"And shame them for their folly, who would set
Their pride above the stars, Christine, and you.
At Wittenberg or Rostoch I shall find
More chances and more knowledge. All those worlds
Are still to conquer. We know nothing yet;
The books are crammed with fables. They foretell
Here an eclipse, and there a dawning moon,
But most of them were out a month or more
On Jupiter and Saturn.
There's one way,
And only one, to knowledge of the law
Whereby the stars are steered, and so to read
The future, even perhaps the destinies
Of men and nations,--only one sure way,
And that's to watch them, watch them, and record
The truth we know, and not the lies we dream.
Dear, while I watch them, though the hills and sea
Divide us, every night our eyes can meet
Among those constant glories. Every night
Your eyes and mine, upraised to that bright realm,
Can, in one moment, speak across the world.
I shall come back with knowledge and with power,
And you--will wait for me?"
She answered him
In silence, with the starlight of her eyes.


He watched the skies at Wittenberg. The plague
Drove him to Rostoch, and he watched them there;
But, even there, the plague of little minds
Beset him. At a wedding-feast he met
His noble countryman, Manderup, who asked,
With mocking courtesy, whether Tycho Brahe
Was ready yet to practise his black art
At country fairs. The guests, and Tycho, laughed;
Whereat the swaggering Junker blandly sneered,
"If fortune-telling fail, Christine will dance,
Thus--tambourine on hip," he struck a pose.
"Her pretty feet will pack that booth of yours."
They fought, at midnight, in a wood, with swords.
And not a spark of light but those that leapt
Blue from the clashing blades. Tycho had lost
His moon and stars awhile, almost his life;
For, in one furious bout, his enemy's blade
Dashed like a scribble of lightning into the face
Of Tycho Brahe, and left him spluttering blood,
Groping through that dark wood with outstretched hands,
To fall in a death-black swoon.
They carried him back
To Rostoch; and when Tycho saw at last
That mirrored patch of mutilated flesh,
Seared as by fire, between the frank blue eyes
And firm young mouth where, like a living flower
Upon some stricken tree, youth lingered still,
He'd but one thought, Christine would shrink from him
In fear, or worse, in pity. An end had come
Worse than old age, to all the glory of youth.
Urania would not let her lover stray
Into a mortal's arms. He must remain
Her own, for ever; and for ever, alone.

Yet, as the days went by, to face the world,
He made himself a delicate mask of gold
And silver, shaped like those that minstrels wear
At carnival in Venice, or when love,
Disguising its disguise of mortal flesh,
Wooes as a nameless prince from far away.
And when this world's day, with its blaze and coil
Was ended, and the first white star awoke
In that pure realm where all our tumults die,
His eyes and hers, meeting on Hesperus,
Renewed their troth.
He seemed to see Christine,
Ringed by the pine-trees on that distant hill,
A small white figure, lost in space and time,
Yet gazing at the sky, and conquering all,
Height, depth, and heaven itself, by the sheer power
Of love at one with everlasting laws,
A love that shared the constancy of heaven,
And spoke to him across, above, the world.


Not till he crossed the Danube did he find
Among the fountains and the storied eaves
Of Augsburg, one to share his task with him.
Paul Hainzel, of that city, greatly loved
To talk with Tycho of the strange new dreams
Copernicus had kindled. Did this earth
Move? Was the sun the centre of our scheme?
And Tycho told him, there is but one way
To know the truth, and that's to sweep aside
All the dark cobwebs of old sophistry,
And watch and learn that moving alphabet,
Each smallest silver character inscribed
Upon the skies themselves, noting them down,
Till on a day we find them taking shape
In phrases, with a meaning; and, at last,
The hard-won beauty of that celestial book
With all its epic harmonies unfold
Like some great poet's universal song.

He was a great magician, Tycho Brahe.
"Hainzel," he said, "we have no magic wand,
But what the truth can give us. If we find
Even with a compass, through a bedroom window,
That half the glittering Almagest is wrong,
Think you, what noble conquests might be ours,
Had we but nobler instruments."
He showed
Quivering with eagerness, his first rude plan
For that great quadrant,--not the wooden toy
Of old Scultetus, but a kingly weapon,
Huge as a Roman battering-ram, and fine
In its divisions as any goldsmith's work.
"It could be built," said Tycho, "but the cost
Would buy a dozen culverin for your wars."
Then Hainzel, fired by Tycho's burning brain,
Answered, "We'll make it We've a war to wage
On Chaos, and his kingdoms of the night."
They chose the cunningest artists of the town,
Clock-makers, jewellers, carpenters, and smiths,
And, setting them all afire with Tycho's dream,
Within a month his dream was oak and brass.
Its beams were fourteen cubits, solid oak,
Banded with iron. Its arch was polished brass
Whereon five thousand exquisite divisions
Were marked to show the minutes of degrees.

So huge and heavy it was, a score of men,
Could hardly drag and fix it to its place
In Hainzel's garden.
Many a shining night,
Tycho and Hainzel, out of that maze of flowers,
Charted the stars, discovering point by point,
How all the records erred, until the fame
Of this new master, hovering above the schools
Like a strange hawk, threatened the creeping dreams
Of all the Aristotelians, and began
To set their mouse-holes twittering "Tycho Brahe!"

Then Tycho Brahe came home, to find Christine.
Up to that whispering glade of ferns he sped,
At the first wink of Hesperus.
He stood
In shadow, under the darkest pine, to hide
The little golden mask upon his face.
He wondered, will she shrink from me in fear
Or loathing? Will she even come at all?
And, as he wondered, like a light she moved
Before him.
"Is it you?"--
"Christine! Christine,"
He whispered, "It is I, the mountebank,
Playing a jest upon you. It's only a mask!
Do not be frightened. I am here behind it."

Her red lips parted, and between them shone,
The little teeth like white pomegranate seeds.
He saw her frightened eyes.
Then, with a cry,
Her arms went round him, and her eyelids closed.
Lying against his heart, she set her lips
Against his lips, and claimed him for her own.


One frosty night, as Tycho bent his way
Home to the dark old abbey, he upraised
His eyes, and saw a portent in the sky.
There, in its most familiar patch of blue,
Where Cassiopeia's five-fold glory burned,
An unknown brilliance quivered, a huge star
Unseen before, a strange new visitant
To heavens unchangeable, as the world believed,
Since the creation.
Could new stars be born?
Night after night he watched that miracle
Growing and changing colour as it grew;
White at the first, and large as Jupiter;
And, in the third month, yellow, and larger yet;
Red in the fifth month, like Aldebaran,
And larger even than Lyra. In the seventh,
Bluish like Saturn; whence it dulled and dwined
Little by little, till after eight months more
Into the dark abysmal blue of night,
Whence it arose, the wonder died away.
But, while it blazed above him, Tycho brought
Those delicate records of two hundred nights
To Copenhagen. There, in his golden mask,
At supper with Pratensis, who believed
Only what old books told him, Tycho met
Dancey, the French Ambassador, rainbow-gay
In satin hose and doublet, supple and thin,
Brown-eyed, and bearded with a soft black tuft
Neat as a blackbird's wing,--a spirit as keen
And swift as France on all the starry trails
Of thought.
He saw the deep and simple fire,
The mystery of all genius in those eyes
Above that golden wizard.
Tycho raised
His wine-cup, brimming--they thought--with purple dreams;
And bade them drink to their triumphant Queen
Of all the Muses, to their Lady of Light
Urania, and the great new star.
They laughed,
Thinking the young astrologer's golden mask
Hid a sardonic jest.
"The skies are clear,"
Said Tycho Brahe, "and we have eyes to see.
Put out your candles. Open those windows there!"
The colder darkness breathed upon their brows,
And Tycho pointed, into the deep blue night.
There, in their most immutable height of heaven,
In ipso caelo, in the ethereal realm,
Beyond all planets, red as Mars it burned,
The one impossible glory.
"But it's true!"
Pratensis gasped; then, clutching the first straw,
"Now I recall how Pliny the Elder said,
Hipparchus also saw a strange new star,
Not where the comets, not where the Rosae bloom
And fade, but in that solid crystal sphere
Where nothing changes."
Tycho smiled, and showed
The record of his watchings.
"But the world
Must know all this," cried Dancey. "You must print it."
"Print it?" said Tycho, turning that golden mask
On both his friends. "Could I, a noble, print
This trafficking with Urania in a book?
They'd hound me out of Denmark! This disgrace
Of work, with hands or brain, no matter why,
No matter how, in one who ought to dwell
Fixed to the solid upper sphere, my friends,
Would never be forgiven."
Dancey stared
In mute amazement, but that mask of gold
Outstared him, sphinx-like, and inscrutable.

Soon through all Europe, like the blinded moths,
Roused by a lantern in old palaces
Among the mouldering tapestries of thought,
Weird fables woke and fluttered to and fro,
And wild-eyed sages hunted them for truth.
The Italian, Frangipani, thought the star
The lost Electra, that had left her throne
Among the Pleiads, and plunged into the night
Like a veiled mourner, when Troy town was burned.
The German painter, Busch, of Erfurt, wrote,
"It was a comet, made of mortal sins;
A poisonous mist, touched by the wrath of God
To fire; from which there would descend on earth
All manner of evil--plagues and sudden death,
Frenchmen and famine."
Preachers thumped and raved.
Theodore Beza in Calvin's pulpit tore
His grim black gown, and vowed it was the Star
That led the Magi. It had now returned
To mark the world's end and the Judgment Day.
Then, in this hubbub, Dancey told the king
Of Denmark, "There is one who knows the truth--
Your subject Tycho Brahe, who, night by night,
Watched and recorded all that truth could see.
It would bring honour to all Denmark, sire,
If Tycho could forget his rank awhile,
And print these great discoveries in a book,
For all the world to read."
So Tycho Brahe
Received a letter in the king's own hand,
Urging him, "Truth is the one pure fountain-head
Of all nobility. Pray forget your rank."
His noble kinsmen echoed, "If you wish
To please His Majesty and ourselves, forget
Your rank."
"I will," said Tycho Brahe;
"Your reasoning has convinced me. I will print
My book, 'De Nova Stella.' And to prove
All you have said concerning temporal rank
And this eternal truth you love so well,
I marry, to-day,"--they foamed, but all their mouths
Were stopped and stuffed and sealed with their own words,--
"I marry to-day my own true love, Christine."


They thought him a magician, Tycho Brahe.
Perhaps he was. There's magic all around us
In rocks and trees, and in the minds of men,
Deep hidden springs of magic.
He that strikes
The rock aright, may find them where he will.

And Tycho tasted happiness in his hour.
There was a prince in Denmark in those days;
And, when he heard how other kings desired
The secrets of this new astrology,
He said, "This man, in after years, will bring
Glory to Denmark, honour to her prince.
He is a Dane. Give him this isle of Wheen,
And let him make his great discoveries there.
Let him have gold to buy his instruments,
And build his house and his observatory."

So Tycho set this island where he lived
Whispering with wizardry; and, in its heart,
He lighted that strange lanthorn of the law,
And built himself that wonder of the world,
Uraniborg, a fortress for the truth,
A city of the heavens.
Around it ran
A mighty rampart twenty-two feet high,
And twenty feet in thickness at the base.
Its angles pointed north, south, east and west,
With gates and turrets; and, within this wall,
Were fruitful orchards, apple, and cherry, and pear;
And, sheltered in their midst from all but sun,
A garden, warm and busy with singing bees.
There, many an hour, his flaxen-haired Christine,
Sang to her child, her first-born, Magdalen,
Or watched her playing, a flower among the flowers.
Dark in the centre of that zone of bliss
Arose the magic towers of Tycho Brahe.
Two of them had great windows in their roofs
Opening upon the sky where'er he willed,
And under these observatories he made
A library of many a golden book;
Poets and sages of old Greece and Rome,
And many a mellow legend, many a dream
Of dawning truth in Egypt, or the dusk
Of Araby. Under all of these he made
A subterranean crypt for alchemy,
With sixteen furnaces; and, under this,
He sank a well, so deep, that Jeppe declared
He had tapped the central fountains of the world,
And drew his magic from those cold clear springs.
This was the very well, said Jeppe, the dwarf,
Where Truth was hidden; but, by Tycho Brahe
And his weird skill, the magic water flowed,
Through pipes, uphill, to all the house above:
The kitchen where his cooks could broil a trout
For sages or prepare a feast for kings;
The garrets for the students in the roof;
The guest-rooms, and the red room to the north,
The study and the blue room to the south;
The small octagonal yellow room that held
The sunlight like a jewel all day long,
And Magdalen, with her happy dreams, at night;
Then, facing to the west, one long green room,
The ceiling painted like the bower of Eve
With flowers and leaves, the windows opening wide
Through which Christine and Tycho Brahe at dawn
Could see the white sails drifting on the Sound
Like petals from their orchard.
To the north,
He built a printing house for noble books,
Poems, and those deep legends of the sky,
Still to be born at his Uraniborg.
Beyond the rampart to the north arose
A workshop for his instruments. To the south
A low thatched farm-house rambled round a yard
Alive with clucking hens; and, further yet
To southward on another hill, he made
A great house for his larger instruments,
And called it Stiernborg, mountain of the stars.

And, on his towers and turrets, Tycho set
Statues with golden verses in the praise
Of famous men, the bearers of the torch,
From Ptolemy to the new Copernicus.
Then, in that storm-proof mountain of the stars,
He set in all their splendour of new-made brass
His armouries for the assault of heaven,--
Circles in azimuth, armillary spheres,
Revolving zodiacs with great brazen rings;
Quadrants of solid brass, ten cubits broad,
Brass parallactic rules, made to revolve
In azimuth; clocks with wheels; an astrolabe;
And that large globe strengthened by oaken beams
He made at Augsburg.
All his gold he spent;
But Denmark had a prince in those great days;
And, in his brain, the dreams of Tycho Brahe
Kindled a thirst for glory. So he made
Tycho the Lord of sundry lands and rents,
And Keeper of the Chapel where the kings
Of Oldenburg were buried; for he said
"To whom could all these kings entrust their bones
More fitly than to him who read the stars,
And though a mortal, knew immortal laws;
And paced, at night, the silent halls of heaven."


He was a great magician, Tycho Brahe.
There, on his island, for a score of years,
He watched the skies, recording star on star,
For future ages, and, by patient toil,
Perfected his great tables of the sun,
The moon, the planets.
There, too happy far
For any history, sons and daughters rose,
A little clan of love, around Christine;
And Tycho thought, when I am dead, my sons
Will rule and work in my Uraniborg.
And yet a doubt would trouble him, for he knew
The children of Christine would still be held
Ignoble, by the world.
Disciples came,
Young-eyed and swift, the bearers of the torch
From many a city to Uraniborg,
And Tycho Brahe received them like a king,
And bade them light their torches at his fire.
The King of Scotland came, with all his court,
And dwelt eight days in Tycho Brahe's domain,
Asking him many a riddle, deep and dark,
Whose answer, none the less, a king should know.
What boots it on this earth to be a king,
To rule a part of earth, and not to know
The worth of his own realm, whether he rule
As God's vice-gerent, and his realm be still
The centre of the centre of all worlds;
Or whether, as Copernicus proclaimed,
This earth itself be moving, a lost grain
Of dust among the innumerable stars?
For this would dwarf all glory but the soul,
In king or peasant, that can hail the truth,
Though truth should slay it.
So to Tycho Brahe,
The king became a subject for eight days.
But, in the crowded hall, when he had gone,
Jeppe raised his matted head, with a chuckle of glee,
Quiet as the gurgle of joy in a dark rock-pool,
When the first ripple and wash of the first spring-tide
Flows bubbling under the dry sun-blackened fringe
Of seaweed, setting it all afloat again,
In magical colours, like a merman's hair.
"Jeppe has a thought," the gay young students cried,
Thronging him round, for all believed that Jeppe
Was fey, and had strange visions of the truth.
"What is the thought, Jeppe?"
"I can think no thoughts,"
Croaked Jeppe. "But I have made myself a song."
"Silence," they cried, "for Jeppe the nightingale!
Sing, Jeppe!"
And, wagging his great head to and fro
Before the fire, with deep dark eyes, he crooned:


"What!" said the king,
"Is earth a bird or bee?
Can this uncharted boundless realm of ours
Drone thro' the sky, with leagues of struggling sea,
Forests, and hills, and towns, and palace-towers?"
"Ay," said the dwarf,
"I have watched from Stiernborg's crown
Her far dark rim uplift against the sky;
But, while earth soars, men say the stars go down;
And, while earth sails, men say the stars go by."
An elvish tale!
Ask Jeppe, the dwarf! He knows.
That's why his eyes look fey; for, chuckling deep,
Heels over head amongst the stars he goes,
As all men go; but most are sound asleep.
King, saint, sage,
Even those that count it true,
Act as this miracle touched them not at all.
They are borne, undizzied, thro' the rushing blue,
And build their empires on a sky-tossed ball.

Then said the king,
"If earth so lightly move,
What of my realm? O, what shall now stand sure?"
"Naught," said the dwarf, "in all this world, but love.
All else is dream-stuff and shall not endure.
'Tis nearer now!
Our universe hath no centre,
Our shadowy earth and fleeting heavens no stay,
But that deep inward realm which each can enter,
Even Jeppe, the dwarf, by his own secret way."

"Where?" said the king,
"O, where? I have not found it!"
"Here," said the dwarf, and music echoed "here."
"This infinite circle hath no line to bound it;
Therefore that deep strange centre is everywhere.
Let the earth soar thro' heaven, that centre abideth;
Or plunge to the pit, His covenant still holds true.
In the heart of a dying bird, the Master hideth;
In the soul of a king," said the dwarf,
"and in my soul, too."


Princes and courtiers came, a few to seek
A little knowledge, many more to gape
In wonder at Tycho's gold and silver mask;
Or when they saw the beauty of his towers,
Envy and hate him for them.
Thus arose
The small grey cloud upon the distant sky,
That broke in storm at last.
"Beware," croaked Jeppe,
Lifting his shaggy head beside the fire,
When guests like these had gone, "Master, beware!"
And Tycho of the frank blue eyes would laugh.
Even when he found Witichius playing him false
His anger, like a momentary breeze,
Died on the dreaming deep; for Tycho Brahe
Turned to a nobler riddle,--"Have you thought,"
He asked his young disciples, "how the sea
Is moved to that strange rhythm we call the tides?
He that can answer this shall have his name
Honoured among the bearers of the torch
While Pegasus flies above Uraniborg.
I was delayed three hours or more to-day
By the neap-tide. The fishermen on the coast
Are never wrong. They time it by the moon.
Post hoc, perhaps, not propter hoc; and yet
Through all the changes of the sky and sea
That old white clock of ours with the battered face
Does seem infallible.
There's a love-song too,
The sailors on the coast of Sweden sing,
I have often pondered it. Your courtly poets
Upbraid the inconstant moon. But these men know
The moon and sea are lovers, and they move
In a most constant measure. Hear the words
And tell me, if you can, what silver chains
Bind them together." Then, in a voice as low
And rhythmical as the sea, he spoke that song:


Reproach not yet our sails' delay;
You cannot see the shoaling bay,
The banks of sand, the fretful bars,
That ebb left naked to the stars.
The sea's white shepherdess, the moon,
Shall lead us into harbour soon.

Dear, when you see her glory shine
Between your fragrant boughs of pine,
Know there is but one hour to wait
Before her hands unlock the gate,
And the full flood of singing foam
Follow her lovely footsteps home.

Then waves like flocks of silver sheep
Come rustling inland from the deep,
And into rambling valleys press
Behind their heavenly shepherdess.
You cannot see them? Lift your eyes
And see their mistress in the skies.
She rises with her silver bow.

I feel the tide begin to flow;
And every thought and hope and dream
Follow her call, and homeward stream.
Borne on the universal tide,
The wanderer hastens to his bride.
The sea's white shepherdess, the moon,
Shall lead him into harbour, soon.


He was a great magician, Tycho Brahe,
But not so great that he could read the heart
Or rule the hand of princes.
When his friend
King Frederick died, the young Prince Christian reigned;
And, round him, fool and knave made common cause
Against the magic that could pour their gold
Into a gulf of stars. This Tycho Brahe
Had grown too proud. He held them in contempt,
So they believed; for, when he spoke, their thoughts
Crept at his feet like spaniels. Junkerdom
Felt it was foolish, for he towered above it,
And so it hated him. Did he not spend
Gold that a fool could spend as quickly as he?
Were there not great estates bestowed upon him
In wisdom's name, that from the dawn of time
Had been the natural right of Junkerdom?
And would he not bequeath them to his heirs,
The children of Christine, an unfree woman?
"Why you, sire, even you," they told the king,
"He has made a laughing-stock. That horoscope
He read for you, the night when you were born,
Printed, and bound it in green velvet, too,--
Read it The whole world laughs at it. He said
That Venus was the star that ruled your fate,
And Venus would destroy you. Tycho Brahe
Inspired your royal father with the fear
That kept your youth so long in leading-strings,
The fear that every pretty hedgerow flower
Would be your Circe. So he thought to avenge
Our mockery of this peasant-girl Christine,
To whom, indeed, he plays the faithful swine,
Knowing full well his gold and silver nose
Would never win another."
Thus the sky
Darkened above Uraniborg, and those
Who dwelt within it, till one evil day,
One seeming happy day, when Tycho marked
The seven-hundredth star upon his chart,
Two pompous officers from Walchendorp,
The chancellor, knocked at Tycho's eastern gate.
"We are sent," they said, "to see and to report
What use you make of these estates of yours.
Your alchemy has turned more gold to lead
Than Denmark can approve. The uses now!
Show us the uses of this work of yours."
Then Tycho showed his tables of the stars,
Seven hundred stars, each noted in its place
With exquisite precision, the result
Of watching heaven for five-and-twenty years.
"And is this all?" they said.
They sought to invent
Some ground for damning him. The truth alone
Would serve them, as it seemed. For these were men
Who could not understand.
"Not all, I hope,"
Said Tycho, "for I think, before I die,
I shall have marked a thousand."
"To what end?
When shall we reap the fruits of all this toil?
Show us its uses."
"In the time to come,"
Said Tycho Brahe, "perhaps a hundred years,
Perhaps a thousand, when our own poor names
Are quite forgotten, and our kingdoms dust,
On one sure certain day, the torch-bearers
Will, at some point of contact, see a light
Moving upon this chaos. Though our eyes
Be shut for ever in an iron sleep,
Their eyes shall see the kingdom of the law,
Our undiscovered cosmos. They shall see it--
A new creation rising from the deep,
Beautiful, whole.
We are like men that hear
Disjointed notes of some supernal choir.
Year after year, we patiently record
All we can gather. In that far-off time,
A people that we have not known shall hear them,
Moving like music to a single end."

They could not understand: this life that sought
Only to bear the torch and hand it on;
And so they made report that all the dreams
Of Tycho Brahe were fruitless; perilous, too,
Since he avowed that any fruit they bore
Would fall, in distant years, to alien hands.

Little by little, Walchendorp withdrew
His rents from Tycho Brahe, accusing him
Of gross neglects. The Chapel at Roskilde
Was falling into ruin. Tycho Brahe
Was Keeper of the Bones of Oldenburg.
He must rebuild the Chapel. All the gifts
That Frederick gave to help him in his task,
Were turned to stumbling-blocks; till, one dark day,
He called his young disciples round him there,
And in that mellow library of dreams,
Lit by the dying sunset, poured his heart
And mind before them, bidding them farewell.
Through the wide-open windows as he spoke
They heard the sorrowful whisper of the sea
Ebbing and flowing around Uraniborg.
"An end has come," he said, "to all we planned.
Uraniborg has drained her treasury dry.
Your Alma Mater now must close her gates
On you, her guests; on me; and, worst of all,
On one most dear, who made this place my home.
For you are young, your homes are all to win,
And you would all have gone your separate ways
In a brief while; and, though I think you love
Your college of the skies, it could not mean
All that it meant to those who called it 'home.'

You that have worked with me, for one brief year,
Will never quite forget Uraniborg.
This room, the sunset gilding all those books,
The star-charts and that old celestial globe,
The long bright evenings by the winter fire,
Of Tycho Brahe were fruitless; perilous
The talk that opened heaven, the songs you sung,
Yes, even, I think, the tricks you played with Jeppe,
Will somehow, when yourselves are growing old,
Be hallowed into beauty, touched with tears,
For you will wish they might be yours again.

These have been mine for five-and-twenty years,
And more than these,--the work, the dreams I shared
With you, and others here. My heart will break
To leave them. But the appointed time has come
As it must come to all men.
You and I
Have watched too many constant stars to dream
That heaven or earth, the destinies of men
Or nations, are the sport of chance. An end
Comes to us all through blindness, age, or death.
If mine must come in exile, it stall find me
Bearing the torch as far as I can bear it,
Until I fall at the feet of the young runner,
Who takes it from me, and carries it out of sight,
Into the great new age I shall not know,
Into the great new realms I must not tread.
Come, then, swift-footed, let me see you stand
Waiting before me, crowned with youth and joy,
At the next turning. Take it from my hand,
For I am almost ready now to fall.

Something I have achieved, yes, though I say it,
I have not loitered on that fiery way.
And if I front the judgment of the wise
In centuries to come, with more of dread
Than my destroyers, it is because this work
Will be of use, remembered and appraised,
When all their hate is dead.
I say the work,
Not the blind rumour, the glory or fame of it.
These observations of seven hundred stars
Are little enough in sight of those great hosts
Which nightly wheel around us, though I hope,
Yes, I still hope, in some more generous land
To make my thousand up before I die.
Little enough, I know,--a midget's work!
The men that follow me, with more delicate art
May add their tens of thousands; yet my sum
Will save them just that five-and-twenty years
Of patience, bring them sooner to their goal,
That kingdom of the law I shall not see.
We are on the verge of great discoveries.
I feel them as a dreamer feels the dawn
Before his eyes are opened. Many of you
Will see them. In that day you will recall
This, our last meeting at Uraniborg,
And how I told you that this work of ours
Would lead to victories for the coming age.
The victors may forget us. What of that?
Theirs be the palms, the shouting, and the praise.
Ours be the fathers' glory in the sons.
Ours the delight of giving, the deep joy
Of labouring, on the cliff's face, all night long,
Cutting them foot-holes in the solid rock,
Whereby they climb so gaily to the heights,
And gaze upon their new-discovered worlds.
You will not find me there. When you descend,
Look for me in the darkness at the foot
Of those high cliffs, under the drifted leaves.
That's where we hide at last, we pioneers,
For we are very proud, and must be sought
Before the world can find us, in our graves.
There have been compensations. I have seen
In darkness, more perhaps than eyes can see
When sunlight blinds them on the mountain-tops;
Guessed at a glory past our mortal range,
And only mine because the night was mine.

Of those three systems of the universe,
The Ptolemaic, held by all the schools,
May yet be proven false. We yet may find
This earth of ours is not the sovran lord
Of all those wheeling spheres. Ourselves have marked
Movements among the planets that forbid
Acceptance of it wholly. Some of these
Are moving round the sun, if we can trust
Our years of watching. There are stranger dreams.
This radical, Copernicus, the priest,
Of whom I often talked with you, declares
Ail of these movements can be reconciled,
If--a hypothesis only--we should take
The sun itself for centre, and assume
That this huge earth, so 'stablished, so secure
In its foundations, is a planet also,
And moves around the sun.
I cannot think it.
This leap of thought is yet too great for me.
I have no doubt that Ptolemy was wrong.
Some of his planets move around the sun.
Copernicus is nearer to the truth
In some things. But the planets we have watched
Still wander from the course that he assigned.
Therefore, my system, which includes the best
Of both, I hold may yet be proven true.
This earth of ours, as Jeppe declared one day,
So simply that we laughed, is 'much too big
To move,' so let it be the centre still,
And let the planets move around their sun;
But let the sun with all its planets move
Around our central earth.
This at the least
Accords with all we know, and saves mankind
From that enormous plunge into the night;
Saves them from voyaging for ten thousand years
Through boundless darkness without sight of land;
Saves them from all that agony of loss,
As one by one the beacon-fires of faith
Are drowned in blackness.
I beseech you, then,
Let me be proven wrong, before you take
That darkness lightly. If at last you find
The proven facts against me, take the plunge.
Launch out into that darkness. Let the lamps
Of heaven, the glowing hearth-fires that we knew
Die out behind you, while the freshening wind
Blows on your brows, and overhead you see
The stars of truth that lead you from your home.

I love this island,--every little glen,
Hazel-wood, brook, and fish-pond; every bough
And blossom in that garden; and I hoped
To die here. But it is not chance, I know,
That sends me wandering through the world again.
My use perhaps is ended; and the power
That made me, breaks me."
As he spoke, they saw
The tears upon his face. He bowed his head
And left them silent in the darkened room.
They saw his face no more.
The self-same hour,
Tycho, Christine, and all their children, left
Their island-home for even In their ship
They took a few of the smaller instruments,
And that most precious record of the stars,
His legacy to the future. Into the night
They vanished, leaving on the ghostly cliffs
Only one dark, distorted, dog-like shape
To watch them, sobbing, under its matted hair,
"Master, have you forgotten Jeppe, your dwarf?"


He was a great magician, Tycho Brahe,
And yet his magic, under changing skies,
Could never change his heart, or touch the hills
Of those far countries with the tints of home.
And, after many a month of wandering,
He came to Prague; and, though with open hands
Rodolphe received him, like an exiled king,
A new Aeneas, exiled for the truth
(For so they called him), none could heal the wounds
That bled within, or lull his grief to sleep
With that familiar whisper of the waves,
Ebbing and flowing around Uraniborg.

Doggedly still he laboured; point by point,
Crept on, with aching heart and burning brain,
Until his table of the stars had reached
The thousand that he hoped, to crown his toil.
But Christine heard him murmuring in the night,
"The work, the work! Not to have lived in vain!
Into whose hands can I entrust it all?
I thought to find him standing by the way,
Waiting to seize the splendour from my hand,
The swift, young-eyed runner with the torch.
Let me not live in vain, let me not fall
Before I yield it to the appointed soul."
And yet the Power that made and broke him heard:
For, on a certain day, to Tycho came
Another exile, guided through the dark
Of Europe by the starlight in his eyes,
Or that invisible hand which guides the world.
He asked him, as the runner with the torch
Alone could ask, asked as a natural right
For Tycho's hard-won life-work, those results,
His tables of the stars. He gave his name
Almost as one who told him, It is I;
And yet unconscious that he told; a name
Not famous yet, though truth had marked him out
Already, by his exile, as her own,--
The name of Johann Kepler.
"It was strange,"
Wrote Kepler, not long after, "for I asked
Unheard-of things, and yet he gave them to me
As if I were his son. When first I saw him,
We seemed to have known each other years ago
In some forgotten world. I could not guess
That Tycho Brahe was dying. He was quick
Of temper, and we quarrelled now and then,
Only to find ourselves more closely bound
Than ever. I believe that Tycho died
Simply of heartache for his native land.
For though he always met me with a smile,
Or jest upon his lips, he could not sleep
Or work, and often unawares I caught
Odd little whispered phrases on his lips
As if he talked to himself, in a kind of dream.
Yet I believe the clouds dispersed a little
Around his death-bed, and with that strange joy
Which comes in death, he saw the unchanging stars.
Christine was there. She held him in her arms.
I think, too, that he knew his work was safe.
An hour before he died, he smiled at me,
And whispered,--what he meant I hardly know--
Perhaps a broken echo from the past,
A fragment of some old familiar thought,
And yet I seemed to know. It haunts me still:
'Come then, swift-footed, let me see you stand,
Waiting before me, crowned with youth and joy;
This is the turning. Take it from my hand.
For I am ready, ready now, to fall.'"

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'Tycho Brake' by Alfred Noyes

comments powered by Disqus

Home | Search | About this website | Contact | Privacy Policy