Study Guide

Dangerous Astronomy

Dangerous Astronomy Summary

The speaker tries to comfort his crying infant son and realizes he cannot. Uh oh, somebody call the parenting police. Luckily, the speaker's wife comes to the rescue.

As she feeds their son, the speaker realizes he's jealous of the love between his wife and son. Yikes! Not only is he unable to help out, but also then he gets envious of his own son. Who is a teeny tiny baby. This guy is not exactly a frontrunner for the world's best dad award, is he?

Fortunately, the speaker comes around emotionally and realizes he may have been wrong. The poem ends with the speaker addressing God and asking for forgiveness because he thought he was more important than the things he wanted to praise at the beginning of the poem. Hey, it's not easy being a parent, but somebody's got to do it.

  • Stanza 1

    Lines 1-3

    I wanted to walk outside and praise the stars,
    But David, my baby son, coughed and coughed.
    His comfort was more important than the stars

    • The speaker begins by telling us he wanted to go outside and "praise the stars," which suggests that this guy likes nature. More than that, though, this line suggests a desire inside of the speaker to adore something larger than himself. Seems like a humble guy, huh? 
    • We learn that the speaker's son, David, is coughing, which interrupts the speaker from going outside. Uh oh, daddy duty is calling! 
    • The speaker declares that his son's comfort was "more important than the stars." Like any good father, he's putting his son before his own wants.
    • But by the end of the first stanza, the speaker is in conflict. Although he wanted to go outside, his responsibility to his son comes first. By contrasting his son's comfort with the stars, we get a sense of the shifting emphasis between the speaker's desire to praise nature and his desire to help his son. 
    • Ever had one of those days when what you want to do doesn't line up with what needs to get done? The speaker seems caught between what he wants to do versus his son's comfort. It's sort of like a little tug of war has started, and we have to wait to find out what's going to happen. 
    • Oh yeah, and we don't know yet where the poem is taking place, except that the speaker and his son are probably inside. 
    • Notice anything else? For one, it seems like each line has ten syllables, or somewhere thereabouts. When you see lines of similar length like this, it's usually a hint that there might be a meter at work. So keep your eye out for one in the rest of the poem, and head on over to our "Form and Meter" section to learn more.
  • Stanza 2

    Lines 4-6

    So I comforted and kissed him in his dark
    Bedroom, but my comfort was not enough.
    His mother was more important than the stars

    • This stanza moves the narrative forward a little bit. (By the way, stanza means "room" in Italian. Sort of like how this poem is taking place in a room, each stanza is a little three-line space for the action of the poem to unfold. Cool, huh?)
    • The speaker tries to calm his son in the dark bedroom, but realizes it's not enough. 
    • Line 4 does something fun that only poetry can do. Because the line ends on the word "dark," we hear the slant rhyme (dARk with stARs), and again, the pairing of sounds to emphasize the tension between light and dark (Slant what? Go ahead and brush up on rhyme in the "Form and Meter" section and then come back). 
    • The mother enters in line 6. Here again, the speaker's intentions are interrupted by forces beyond his control. 
    • In stanza 1, he wanted to praise the stars but was interrupted by his son. Here, he tries to comfort his son, but he is incapable of doing that—only his mom can. Yikes! Sounds like his plans aren't going so well. 
    • Also, line 6 is a variation of line 3. Just like the speaker declares that his son's comfort is more important than the stars, so is the son's mama. 
    • Notice how the speaker says, "His mother" rather than "My wife." Any guesses about why he'd do that? Sounds like he's suggesting she's closer to their son than to him. 
    • By line 6, a new association is made. In line 3, the son's comfort "was more important than the stars." In line 6, "[h]is mother was more important than the stars." So, the speaker is aligning his son's comfort with his son's mother. 
    • What's with all the star talk, anyway? In the poem so far, the speaker is realizing that there are more important things (his son/his wife) than his own wants. By admitting that his family is more important to him than the stars, we see him beginning to put them before himself.
    • Also, a rhyme scheme has been introduced. By rhyming stars with, um, stars, the poet is acting like Captain Obvious, saying look, stars, they're probably important in this poem. 
    • And now that we have two stanzas under our belt, we can go ahead and confirm that this poem is a villanelle (read more about this in the "Form and Meter" section), so we can expect to hear that rhyme and find lines 1 and 3 repeated throughout. 
    • We'll go ahead and say those lines will act as the refrain—the repeated lines we'll see again and again in the poem. 
  • Stanza 3

    Lines 7-9

    So he cried for her breast and milk. It's hard
    For fathers to compete with mothers' love.
    In the dark, mothers illuminate like the stars!

    • Notice how line 7 begins with "So"? "So" is often used to mean something like "therefore," so at first, it seems like the son is crying for his mother because she is more important than the stars. But really, the son is just hungry and the mother has come in to breastfeed him. 
    • Finally, in line 8, the speaker stops describing the action and addresses the reader. It's like he's turning toward us and saying, "Hey, it's hard being a dad!" It's somewhat of a confession, of sorts, or admittance that he struggles with his role as a father.
    • He's also admitting that he feels competitive with his wife. Sort of weird, Dad! Your son is starving and all you can think about is how you're competing with your wife for your son's attention? Chill out, why don't you? 
    • In line 9, the speaker alters his comparison a little bit. In the previous stanza, he said mothers were more important than the stars, but here, they are like the stars. 
    • Of course, the poem has to keep up the rhyme scheme and stay true to form, which means repeating lines and images. But Alexie isn't afraid to jazz up those lines a bit, to add some variation. 
    • He's using a cool simile to blend together what's important to the speaker in the poem: stars, son, mother. 
  • Stanza 4

    Lines 10-12

    Dull and jealous, I was the smallest part
    Of the whole. I know this is stupid stuff
    But I felt less important than the farthest star

    • The speaker begins here with a bit of humility and honesty. He admits to being "dull", "jealous", and says he was the smallest part of "the whole." 
    • Notice how "dull" comes right after describing his son's mother as being bright as the stars. The contrast works well to emphasize the speaker's feelings. It's like he's giving us a play-by-play of what happened, allowing the repetition and narration to keep us interested. 
    • In line 10, he says he knows what he's talking about is "stupid stuff", which makes him sound sort of sheepish, as if he doesn't really want to admit to feeling "less important than the farthest star." Sounds like he feels far away from the two people he's supposed to love most, and he's a little embarrassed about it.
    • Why is he telling us all of this anyway? It's not really clear except that we can tell he feels a bit frustrated by what's happening and is describing his discomfort for us. And he can't seem to get away from talking about the stars. 
    • Remember that stars were what he wanted to praise at the beginning? The poem does an awesome job of mixing together what he thought was important at the beginning of the poem with what takes priority for him as a father. 
    • In other words, praising the stars for the speaker has begun to morph into being a good father and husband to his family. The confusing part is that while he wants to help his family, he's realizing there are some things he just can't do as a father, like, oh, breastfeed?
  • Stanza 5

    Lines 13-15

    As my wife fed my son in the hungry dark.
    How can a father resent his son and his son's love?
    Was my comfort more important than the stars?

    • The speaker's wife breastfeeds their son in the "hungry" dark. 
    • Why does the speaker refer to the dark as "hungry"? We know it's a tricky bit of poetic personification, giving a color like "dark" human traits like "hungry", but we're not sure why.
    • It does seem like he's created a cool parallel between the night sky and the room in which he's standing, though. Or, it's as if the dark is as hungry as his son. Which is to say—starving.
    • In line 14, the speaker asks a rhetorical question, which is a fancy way of saying he's asking a question for some other reason than to get a response. 
    • Of course, none of us can answer him, we're just reading! But rhetorical questions give us the sense that the speaker is asking himself the question, or is still baffled by something he doesn't understand. 
    • Line 15 is another rhetorical question. He's talking to himself here, trying to figure something out. 
    • So far, we know his son's comfort is more important than the stars. His wife is more important than the stars. 
    • Basically, he's asking, what about me? How do I fit in here? He also seems to be doubting himself and beginning to feel a bit guilty for being a bad husband and father. 
  • Stanza 6

    Lines 16-19

    A selfish father, I wanted to pull apart
    My comfortable wife and son. Forgive me, Rough
    God, because I walked outside and praised the stars,
    And thought I was more important than the stars.

    • This stanza begins with the speaker calling himself selfish. 
    • No duh, guy. You want to pull your son away while he's breastfeeding from his mother? That is selfish. 
    • But this is also where the speaker comes clean, so to speak. He admits to how he's feeling, and although he's tangled up with guilt and jealousy, his honesty and vulnerability are what make it possible for us to relate to him. He may be a bit jealous and selfish here, but it's only because he loves his family so much.
    • At the end of line 17, the speaker says, "Forgive me, Rough/God…" Although it seemed like he was telling the reader a story, now it seems like he's been talking to God the whole time. It's like we've been listening in on his prayer. 
    • But what's the big deal? Why all the need for forgiveness? He's just watching his wife breastfeed their baby in a dark bedroom. And why does he call God "Rough"? We don't know about you, but Shmoop doesn't think that sounds like a compliment.
    • The last two lines close the poem down with an epiphany, or a sudden realization in the speaker, which might suggest a response to those questions. He says he walked outside and "praised the stars," but thought he was "more important than the stars." 
    • He's asking for forgiveness from God because he thought he was more important than the stars, but through the whole poem he has been comparing the stars to his wife and son, so maybe he is asking for forgiveness because he felt that his resentments are more important than his wife and son's comfort. 
    • The point is, he's not perfect. But hey, who is? 
    • By the end of the poem, we see how the speaker has gone from well-intentioned father, to father with short-comings, to father with a resentment, to father realizing his family is the most important thing, even more important than his own desires and feelings. 
    • And that's what Alexie captures with such precision. That process of loving something greater than yourself requires humility and a willingness to let go of your own wants. Guess being a selfless loving parent isn't always as easy as it looks.