William Turner of Oxford is on his horse,
riding between fields and old barn doors.
Fields that should be blacker than a widow's dress,
but tonight there's a comet burning in the west.
The frost is building on the thatched walls as
William Turner picks up his pen and draws.

The light that falls from Donati's Comet.

Well it's the 5th of October 1858
and the cattle are restless behind the wicker gates.
There's an owl swooping through the beech trees
as the comet light sparkles between the reeds.
William Turner is up on the Downs tethering his horse
and trying to map that comet's course
but as he shields his eyes a tear falls
as he realises he'll never catch it all.

The light that falls from Donati's Comet.

Next morning he's mixing gum and powder on a plate
and tracing that comet's tail with a dark stain.
Thinking of all that light that flooded his eyes
and how he'll never see its like again in his time.
Leaves are falling one by one into the Thames
and a stonemason hammers at a monument to the dead.
On his palette the blues and greens turn to black
and the chisel chips time into a dark sack.

Donati's Comet ( Comet 1858 VI )
Recorded by two English artists.
Samuel Palmer on Dartmoor and William Turner outside Oxford
of which two watercolour paintings exist.
Both depicted it around early October when it was most brilliant.
see. R.J.M. Olsen : Fire & Ice : A History of Comets in Art.



Donati's Comet and Death on the Mississippi The next comet in Mark Twain's life coincided with a similarly mixed event. Twain saw Donati's Comet in June of 1858, the month his brother Henry died from injuries suffered in the explosion of the Pennsylvania on the Mississippi River below Memphis. Twain was working on that boat with his brother and might also have perished in the explosion if he had not left the ship in New Orleans just eight days before after fighting with its pilot.