Moon Swoon June

In October, I wrote this:

The belief that there is a connection between things that happen on Earth and things that happen at around the same time in the night sky is such a seductive one that it has transcended human eras, societies, religions, and politics. Dictators and democrats alike have believed in auspicious and inauspicious times to begin initiatives or end policies. (Or lives.)
 
It is understandable that we humans would think of ourselves so non-humbly, that we would see ourselves not only as the conclusion to nature’s long, almost-eternal, statement, one that seems to have led to us, but that we would view ourselves as not merely a conclusion to nature’s statement, a period mark, but as THE conclusion, an exclamation point. To paraphrase a TV show: “We are the one who knocks.” We aren’t much, but we’re all we think about.
 
In the universal scheme of things, however, humanity’s history may not even show up as a comma in eternity’s sentences.
 
And this is just fine. Nature or the Big You Know Who Upstairs granted us a wonderful gift, life, for no reason at all, which is the definition of grace. And humans, many humans, were granted consciousness, which also was undeserved.— “‘The Way’,” October 28, 2014


The moon is a large object, a little over 2000 miles across. The Earth is about 7900 miles across, so the Moon is about one-quarter the size of Earth. It is much larger than other planets’ moons, and it is also pretty near-by compared to many other moons orbiting the other planets. It is about 238,000 miles away. The Apollo missions took three days to reach it. The Moon’s size and its closeness mean that it has a large effect on Earth and Earth has a large effect on it; our oceans’ high and low tides exist because of the moon’s size and proximity.

It is not so big as to have any intrusive effect on human life. If the Moon had a personal tidal effect, like the effect it works on our home planet, none of us would have learned to walk. Part of the day we would be hopping on our left legs, and the other portion of the day on our right legs.

Its stark beauty is its effect. The sunlight it reflects on a dark night is its beauty. The words of our poets are its salutary side effect.

In 1969, after Apollo 11 successfully landed on the Moon, W.H. Auden published “Moon Landing” in The New Yorker magazine:

Moon Landing, W.H. Auden
It’s natural the Boys should whoop it up for
so huge a phallic triumph, an adventure
     it would not have occurred to women
     to think worth while, made possible only

 
because we like huddling in gangs and knowing
the exact time: yes, our sex may in fairness
     hurrah the deed, although the motives
     that primed it were somewhat less than menschlich.

 
A grand gesture. But what does it period?
What does it osse? We were always adroiter
     with objects than lives, and more facile
     at courage than kindness: from the moment

 
the first flint was flaked this landing was merely
a matter of time. But our selves, like Adam’s,
     still don’t fit us exactly, modern
     only in this—our lack of decorum.

 
Homer’s heroes were certainly no braver
than our Trio, but more fortunate: Hector
     was excused the insult of having
     his valor covered by television.

 
Worth going to see? I can well believe it.
Worth seeing? Mneh! I once rode through a desert
     and was not charmed: give me a watered
     lively garden, remote from blatherers

 
about the New, the von Brauns and their ilk, where
on August mornings I can count the morning
     glories, where to die has a meaning,
     and no engine can shift my perspective.

 
Unsmudged, thank God, my Moon still queens the Heavens
as She ebbs and fulls, a Presence to glop at,
     Her Old Man, made of grit not protein,
     still visits my Austrian several

 
with His old detachment, and the old warnings
still have power to scare me: Hybris comes to
     an ugly finish, Irreverence
     is a greater oaf than Superstition.

 
Our apparatniks will continue making
the usual squalid mess called History:
     all we can pray for is that artists,
     chefs and saints may still appear to blithe it.

 
Here is Auden reciting two pieces of the above on Michael Parkinson’s talk show in 1972 (once upon a time, poets were guests on talk shows):

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3 comments

  1. Leigh W. Smith · April 30, 2015

    Fabulous post, stem to stern, Mark. (Such that I adore the title.) I didn’t recall this Auden poem, either, even with its few raw moments of sexism . . . nevertheless, what a wile with words! Do you think the 21st century poetry corpus will ever compare with the world’s 20th century one? It would be interesting to be able to live out this entire century and find out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · May 1, 2015

      Thank you as always for your thoughts, Leigh! Whew. 20th Century poetry is such a huge topic.

      One of the things that I love turning over in my mind is Auden being famous enough to appear on a talk show. Now, Michael Parkinson really has no equivalent in the U.S. Perhaps Dick Cavett (you are nowhere near old enough to remember him, but have probably seen clips), but with Tonight Show-level ratings. Charlie Rose, but with a band. And more than one light. (Parkinson did nothing but interviews; no monologue, no skits.)

      A long TV show chat with Auden? I will live to see the end of this century (and be 132) before ever seeing something like that happen again. Billy Collins on either of the two Jimmys?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Leigh W. Smith · May 7, 2015

        I’m older than my photo probably looks, Mark, but yeah, I’ve seen some clips of the Dick Cavett show (perhaps one of Woody Allen on there?), but I don’t think either my parents or grandparents watched it b/c I didn’t see it when it originally aired (that I can recall). I don’t watch much late-night TV other than Stewart, Oliver, and Maher, but I have seen some literary figures on Jon’s show of course, particularly Sherman Alexie. I can’t recall which poets might have appeared in his many-year reign.

        Liked by 1 person

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