Monday 15 March 2010

Inconstant as the Northern Star

Gordon Brown has just said that he will remain leader of the Labour Party no matter what, which is a clever, clever thing to announce on the Ides of March, which is today. Every month has ides but March's may not be the one on which a leader should announce his plans for permanence. It took me right back to what dear old Julius said 2053* years ago today:

But I am constant as the northern star,
Of whose true-fix'd and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament.
The skies are painted with unnumber'd sparks,
They are all fire and every one doth shine,
But there's but one in all doth hold his place:
So in the world; 'tis furnish'd well with men,
And men are flesh and blood, and apprehensive;
Yet in the number I do know but one
That unassailable holds on his rank,
Unshaked of motion: and that I am he,

In case that speech makes no sense to you, all the stars appear to revolve around the sky, apart from one star directly to the North and about 52 degrees above the horizon (if you're in Britain) that doesn't move at all. This time lapse photo taken over five hours should illustrate what I mean.

So Caesar is saying that he's better than all the other stars because he doesn't change and doesn't move. However, Caesar is wrong dramatically because he's about to get stabbed. And Caesar is wrong astronomically because the Northern Star does change, or more precisely which star we call Northern changes.
The earth, you see, wobbles a bit like a spinning top beginning to fall down. Therefore, the northern extreme of the heavens, from our point of view, veers around the sky, performing a little loop every 26,000 years. So Julius Caesar would not have been talking about Polaris, the current North Star, but Beta Ursae Minoris, also known as Kochab.

There's something very distressing about discovering that the great symbol of constancy used by everybody from Shakespeare to Joni Mitchell** is, in fact, inconstant. I imagine it also means that Gordon Brown will resign in 26,000 years' time.

The cabinet meeting went well
*Think before commenting.

**Just before our love got lost you said
'I am as constant as the northern star.'
And I said, 'Constantly in the darkness?
Where's that at?
If you want me, I'll be in the bar.'
  - A Case Of You

1 comment:

  1. This blog is very fine. I may have to celebrate with some judicious exploring of myself.