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Signs and Symbols


Among the several quaint and curious volumes in my library is a book from 1963 titled Zodiac, comprising twelve signs engraved in wood by Sante Graziani with accompanying poems by Bertha Ten Eyck James. It’s doubtful that it spent any time on the New York Times’ list of best sellers, which makes it no less valuable to me.

I am drawn to the Zodiac, as I am to many quaint folkloric systems for insight to the human condition. Feng Shui is in that group, as is the I Ching, Bhagavad GitaTorah, Bible, Koran and Yellow Pages, in no particular order of precedence. I play no favorites. And while I do not guide my life exclusively by any of these literary works or divinational systems, I do appreciate their wisdom.

So, as a child of winter, I often look at what is said of Capricorn, the sign of my birth.


Graziani’s image is lush with goatly fur. But James’s poem reveals more about my sign than I had known:

Capricorn, one of the three earthly signs,

is feminine, nocturnal, melancholy.

Sign of ambition, since she rules the knee,

Which, straightening, brings man upright.

Also she rules: cowhouses, sheep pens, barren, fallow fields

And in the house low rooms and near to earth.

For me these are comfortable and comforting notions, ideas I can put on as appropriate or cast aside as useless folklore. As a city boy, I am content with livestock; shades of peaty brown define my wardrobe (such as it is), heights make me dizzy, and how can I be but melancholy in the featureless fields that stretch to my horizon. Cecil Elliott once described me thus: ” He grazes much but produces no wool.”

For the time being I choose to wear this poem.

PS: It is perhaps a sign of my Capricornishness that I just found a typo in the entry for Aquarius, which lacks a period at the end of the poem. My immediate reaction is to put it there.

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