Lines Written To And Beneath A Full Moon, 18 March 2022 (1)
White milky ball of alabaster glow
Shining borrowed light (2) on the world below;
In your brilliance bathing sweet silent dreams
Rippling, at a glance, the tides at their seams.
Chaste (3) quiet sovereign, nature thy subject brood
Enthralled by your beauty, by your strength subdued.
Fleeting is your reign, temporary might
Heav’n’s silver queen, so long as it is night.
The dais that she climbs with the fall of dusk
Perched on her throne of celestial ivory tusk.
None dares resist your gentle lunar sway
By which earth’s entranced till the song of day
Swells like a chorus lifting the horizon
By whose tuneful gleam, life is arisen.
But lo! Lest the sun steal my eulogy
Conquer my muse with morning’s poetry
Blind my attention, in its beam suspend
Worship of the moon, whom I’d not offend
By greeting Helios (4) far too hastily
And causing Selene a grave indignity.
Dazzling siblings, by whom the sky is shared
Whose fiery chariots (5) streak across the air.
Their proud course painted by their long career
Circling the globe, encompassing the year.
Still, it’s to the moon I must now return
Beneath whose orb my passions fiercely burn.
Awed by your glory is thy starry train
Gilded Grecian heroes dancing in the frame
Of this Greek canvas, pagan canopy (6)
Glittering with myths adorned by deities
To whom, should you look up, this fine, dark Eve
You’d lose all your science and transfer your belief.
Twins to the north, proud brothers Gemini (7)
As on earth embrace, floating in the sky.
Sprung from the nest of a ripe mother’s womb
In the heav’ns placed—that dark, deathless tomb.
Near them stands tall the snow-white bull from Crete (8)
With whose bovine seed Minos did compete
For a wife bewitched, in a cowhide dressed
By Taurus fondled, entered, and caressed.
Dare we forget the handsome son of Troy? —(9)
For whose fowl rape, an eagle Zeus deployed.
Stripped was Ganymede of his innocence
To bear Jove’s cup as swift Aquarius.
Then there’s the Lion’s kingly tawny mane;
Heracles’ Labor, Nemea’s dread bane (10)
Of whose thick skin the hero made a robe
Sending to the sky the spirit of Leo.
Of the constellations, this is a third
To learn their fellow nine, fly like a bird
To that vast beyond where gods make their home
Firmamental realm, monumental dome.
Much do we honor this zodiacal crew
Dimly though they shine in the moon’s rear view
Before whom they bow, starry subjects all
Kissing the feet of the white, milky ball.
Of the beasts’ lunar love much can be said
Nature’s crude, wild cast, in tooth and claw red (11)
Tis true: all engage in perpetual fight
And in worship of the queen of the night
To whom the bay of the wolf loudly rings
And the sad song of the nightingale sings,
Whose plaintive, long chant impregnates the air
Giving birth to a twilight child of care.
By the moon’s command, all beasts know their place
Their call to slumber, their call to the chase
Their limited life, their mandate to spawn
Their thrill to survive yet another dawn.
As for us, their masters, of Adam’s seed
Born; a sinfully curious, noble breed
Hungry for knowledge and heedless of life (12)
Immune to reason, attracted to strife
To which we commit the bulk of our days
And reap the profits of conduct that pays
Well in the market, but poor in the Eyes
Of a God cringing at what he descries.
Thus is it deemed by the Holy Bible—
Man’s evil ways are incorrigible.
That said, there’s some chance he might be redeemed
By the kingly Jew, the bold Nazarene. (13)
Or, looking up, at the sky vespertine
By The matron of night, the moon, our queen.
Quiet is the pull of her soft gravity
Grounding man in his low humanity
Yet always nudging him toward the sublime
Up to the heights he’d not otherwise climb.
His striving she stokes, his heat and his fire
Whispr’ing to him: “Quit thy doubt, and aspire!
Lift thyself up, on no other wings fly
Then those on which none but you can rely.
Those are the surest, the soundest, and best
Moved by your own conscious effort and breast.
You are your own capt’n, the sky, your vast sea
Probe its depths and be acquainted with me.
For I am the white crepuscular ball,
A lover to none, a goddess to all.
Stretch out your arms, I’m almost within reach
This is the lesson ambition will teach…”
And then—no more did her pale lips convey
Silenced at once by the glint of the day
Uprose the hot sun, the orb of the east
The Oriental star whose reign will not cease.
Faint grew her milk white alabaster glow
As earth stirred anew with motions below.
Into the distance receded her eye
Swallowed by the depths of fathomless sky.
Shielded by the wisps and plumes of the clouds
The pleasant azure blue lightly enshrouds
A moon whose majesty none can ignore
The chaste flawless star, I write these lines for.
- (Title) – This poem was composed on the morning of 18 March 2022, in a clime than which America has few more southerly to offer. It was, as you’ll doubtless recall, a still, tranquil, dark morning from which the moon, beaming in the pride of her monthly fullness, stubbornly refused to take her leave. The astronomer interested in verifying the phase of the moon on this day can refer to his trusty lunar calendar, by which poetic claims such as mine are more often overturned than corroborated.
- “Borrowed Light” – The moon’s “light”, as our learn’d astronomer is quick to remind us, is not of its own origin; its illumination is the work of a far brighter star, the sun, of which our moon, that floating chunk of displaced Earth, is merely reflective. In that way, yes, its light is borrowed, but that it comes to us second-hand is no reason to love her glimmer any less. She still shines with the brilliance of a glory all her own, and glistens no less brightly in a pair of poetic eyes.
- “Chaste…” – The moon’s chastity is a result of her association with Artemis, or Diana, the goddess of, among other things, nature, the hunt, wild animals, and the moon. Some, like the great Anglo-American writer, Christopher Hitchens, viewed her as a progenitor to the Virgin Mary. Much like that of Jesus’ mother in the Christian religion, the role that Artemis plays in Greek myth is both diverse and vital. Her cult followers were no less devout than the mariologists scribbling in their nunneries today.
- “Helios and Selene”- The sibling deities of the day and night sky, Helios and Selene weren’t unimportant gods, nor were they very highly esteemed. Other gods, such as Zeus, Apollo, Artemis, and Athena, inspired greater devotion. The people gravitated to them much more than they did to Helios and Selene. In time, Apollo, or Phoebus, came to be associated with the sun, Helios, of which he was seen to be the radiant embodiment, while Artemis, his modest sister, overtook Selene and became the divine personification of the moon.
- “Whose Fiery Chariots” – It was by a chariot that the apparent movement of the sun and moon across the sky was propelled. Ovid, in the second book of his Metamorphoses, explains in eloquent detail just how this process worked: Every morning, Phoebus, or Helios, would mount a flaming chariot to which a team of wing-footed horses was attached. Commanding this vehicle, he would then climb to an incredible height, at which the meridian of the sun was fixed, before plummeting down into Tethys’ bosom. This marked the daily course of the sun. A fateful lapse of paternal judgment led him to grant his mortal son, Phaëton, permission to lead the chariot for one day. Phaëton, intent on confirming the divinity of his lineage, and on proving that Apollonian blood pumped through his veins, proceeded to make a total mess of things. Unable to control the mighty chariot, about whose intractability he was warned, he flew too near and too far from the Earth–causing it to burn and freeze in certain places. It’s because of Phaëton’s recklessness we have such inhospitable areas on Earth–such as Antarctica and the Sahara. It also explains the differences we see in skin pigmentation. Unamused by Phaëton’s antics, Zeus finally hurled a lightning bolt at the boy, killing him instantly.
- “Pagan canopy” – An acknowledgement that many of the stars, and most of the constellations of which they are the members, are given Greek names, and were probably first observed and charted by that civilization’s astronomers.
- “Proud Brothers Gemini” – Located in the northern celestial hemisphere, Gemini means twins in Latin. The two brothers to whom the name refers are Castor and Pollux. They were, even by mythological standards, the fruit of a most unusual soil. Sprung from the same womb–to whose fertilization both Zeus, in the guise of a swan, and Tyndareus, in his human form as king of Sparta, contributed–the boys had different fathers. Immediately after having sex with Leda, Zeus departed the queen’s busy boudoir, into which her royal husband promptly stepped. King Tyndareus, unaware of his wife’s divine visitor, proceeded in the performance of his marital duty. Thus, Castor and Pollux were the result of what embryologists call heteropaternal superfecundation, or the production of twins by different fathers. One was mortal, the other immortal. Zeus repeated this sneaky little trick a second time, to which Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, owes her parentage; Clytemnestra was her mortal sister.
- “The snow-white bull from Crete” – Man’s fascination with, and dependence on the ox–the beast to whom he outsourced his heaviest burdens; from whose protein-dense flesh, he derived strength and nourished himself; by the burning of whose entrails, he appeased an incense-eating Pantheon of gods–is perhaps as old as his fascination with himself. Evidence of this claim, to which every cultural and religious tradition of Europe and Asia will attest, isn’t lacking: Think, for example, of the breathtaking images of oxen by which the mystic caves of Lascaux are adorned. One might be misled, based on the scenes at which he stares, into thinking that the world depicted on these walls was uninhabited by men. Or, turning toward the Orient, you might recall the sanctity with which the Hindu cow is esteemed. To the surprise of the modern vegan–to whom this Indian humaneness is the highest mark of morality– this is no trendy affection for the gentle lowing beast, but an ancient veneration coeval with the origin of man. Between the two, India and France, rests Crete–a small island south of Greece on which the Minoan civilization developed. King Minos, after whom this ancient civilization is named, achieved his position with a little bit of divine help. In hopes of being elevated above his brothers (Rhadamanthus and Sarpedon), he beseeched the god Poseidon for a boost. Poseidon agreed, but there was a condition: Minos must acknowledge the sea god’s greatness by giving him something valuable in return. To that end, Poseidon brought to the shores of Crete a giant, snow-white bull–an immaculate beast in whose dazzling presence, all other animals were thought laughably weak. Although Minos had promised to sacrifice the bull, as a sign of thanksgiving to Poseidon’s favor, he reneged on his commitment. Such was the beauty of this sea-born bull–it drove an indebted king to impiety. Poseidon, enraged, imposed on Minos the following punishment: He visited a terrible spell upon Pasiphae, Minos’ wife, who at once became infatuated with the white bull. But her love of the beast was more amorous than aesthetic, and she sought to gratify her unnatural passion by having sex with the bull. In order to steal the bull’s attention, she hired the Athenian craftsman, Daedelus, to build her a wooden cow into which her beloved bull could be more warmly…received. Thus, when I say that the snow-white bull from Crete, “stands tall”, you can be assured of the phallic implication. Taurus, tumescent, impregnated Pasiphae, by whom the ghastly Minotaur was born.
- “Handsome Son of Troy” – Of Troy’s most famous sons, we remember three: Hector, Paris, and Aeneas.The first was a valiant hero and superlative fighter. The second, an effeminate scoundrel. The third, a great empire’s founder. Ganymede, when viewed among these remarkable men, is Ilium’s forgotten son. While tending his sheep on the heights of Mount Ida, minding his business and working at his pastoral craft, he was abducted by Zeus. The god, now disguised as an eagle, was smitten by Ganymede’s boyish beauty. He was not quite a child, as depicted by Rembrandt, but a soft lad in the flowering of his pubescence–the very age of delicacy, innocence, and grace for which the older men in that day had a sweet tooth. Zeus, the thunder-wielding pederast, unable to control his sexual urge, and wearied by his querulous wife, swooped down to Earth and plucked Ganymede. Caught in the talons of the lord of all gods, Ganymede was then flown to Olympus. Ganymede, Zeus’ freshly-anointed catamite, became the god’s loyal cup-bearer, earning himself the name, Aquarius–by which we identify him today.
- “The Lion’s kingly, tawny mane” – The first of Heracles’ “twelve labors” was to slay the Nemean Lion–the savage beast by which the small Peloponnesian town of Nemea had been terrorized. After failing to subdue the lion with his vaunted bow and arrows, he decided to wrestle it to the ground with the use of his bare hands. Equipped with these mighty paws (more powerful than those on the beast), Heracles thrust, choked, wrenched, and slammed the lion until the life departed its body. The first labor complete, Heracles then moved on to the next eleven. The Hebraic Heracles, Samson, underwent a similar trial with a lion, out of which he emerged victorious thanks to the use of his bare fists.
- “In tooth and claw red” – See Alfred Lord Tennyson’s elegiac poem, In Memoriam of A.H.H: “Who trusted God was love indeed / And love Creation’s final law / Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw / With ravine, shriek’d against his creed”. The work was dedicated to one Arthur Henry Hallam–a friend with whom Tennyson was most intimate, and for whom he had the utmost affection. Completely unexpectedly, Hallam died of a cerebral hemorrhage while visiting the continent. Tennyson never recovered from the loss.
- “Hungry for knowledge and heedless of life” – Despite its flourishing abundance of vegetable life, the Garden of Eden is known for its having been home to but two trees: that of life, and that of knowledge. Of the fruit of the former, our first parents were not only permitted, but encouraged to eat. Their sole prohibition, the only law by which their limitless freedom and unsupervised indulgence was constrained, was to avoid that of the latter. This, for them, was too tall a task. Eve, and later Adam, failed to abide by this one simple rule, for whose transgression the fallen pair was expelled from the Garden.
- “The kingly Jew, the bold Nazarene” – Jesus of Nazareth who, at the time of his crucifixion, was mockingly called the “King of the Jews”. This epithet was superscribed on his cross, from which he was hung wearing a crown of thorns and a seamless robe. That he was “bold” is affirmed by the fact that he challenged the conventions of the Pharisees, the teachings of his tribesmen, and the patience of an Empire by which he was ultimately killed.