The Moon--a Special Problem

The contention of the nature-mystic is that man can enter into

direct communion with the objects in his physical environment,

inasmuch as they are akin to himself in their essential nature.

Now Goethe says:

"The stars excite no craving,

One is happy simply in their glory."

And Schopenhauer asks why the sight of the full moon has

upon us an influence so soothing and elevating. His explanation

is in harmony with the general trend of his philosophical

doctrine. He says that the moon has so little relation to our

personal concerns that it is not an object of willing. We are

content to contemplate her in passive receptivity. We have here

a problem which is well worthy of discussion. Let us bring the

matter to the test of actual experience as embodied in modern

prose and poetry. For while it goes without saying that the

qualities of physical remoteness, elevation, and vastness, have

their own peculiar mystical power, and that they are especially

manifested in the phenomena of the starry heaven, there is a

danger of emphasising this fact to the detriment of the basic

principle of Nature Mysticism. In order to bring the discussion

within reasonable limits, let it be confined to Schopenhauer's


"That orbed maiden, with white fire laden,

Whom mortals call the moon."

Is it true that there is, alongside of the feeling of her remoteness,

none of the active emotion which essential kinship would lead

us to anticipate?

Appeal might at once be made to the proverbial "crying for the

moon"; and there would be more in the appeal than might

appear at first sight. For there comes at once into mind the

sublimination of this longing in the lovely myth of Endymion

which so powerfully affected Keats, and fascinated even

Browning. Appeal might also be made to the sweet naturalism

of St. Francis with his endearing name, "Our sister, the Moon."

There is, moreover, the enormous mass of magical and

superstitious lore which gives the moon a very practical and

direct influence over human affairs. This may be ruled out as

not based on facts; but it remains as an evidence of a sense of

kinship of a practical kind. And if this fails, there is the teaching

of modern science. We now know that the tides are evidence of

the moon's never-ceasing interposition in terrestrial affairs, and

that, apart from her functions as a light-giver, innumerable

human happenings are dependent on her motion and position.

There is even a theory that she is part and parcel of the earth

itself, having been torn out of the bed of the Pacific. And, in any

case, her surface has been explored, so far as it is turned to us,

and, with a marvellous accuracy of detail, mapped out, and

named. Science, then, while measuring her distance, certainly

does not increase the sense of our alienation from her.

But let us turn, as proposed, to the writings of modern seers and

interpreters. See how Keats associates the moon with the

humblest and most homely things of earth:

"Some shape of beauty moves away the pall

From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,

Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon

For simple sheep; and such are daffodils

With the green world they live in."

There is no sense of a gap here, in passing from heaven to earth.

In a strain of stronger emotion, he makes Endymion speak:

"Lo! from opening clouds, I saw emerge

The loveliest moon that ever silvered o'er

A shell from Neptune's goblet; she did soar

So passionately bright, my dazzled soul

Commingling with her argent spheres did roll

Through clear and cloudy."

There is little of Schopenhauer's passive and contemplative

receptivity here! Rather a mingling of being in a sweep through


Catullus sang how that:

"Near the Delian olive-tree Latonia gave thy life to thee

That thou shouldst be for ever queen

Of mountains and of forests green;

Of every deep glen's mystery;

Of all streams in their melody."

And Wordsworth, in fullest sympathy enforces the old-world

imaginings. He dwells on the homely aspect:

"Wanderer! that stoop'st so low, and com'st so near

To human life's unsettled atmosphere;

Who lov'st with Night and Silence to partake,

So might it seem, the cares of them that wake;

And through the cottage-lattice softly peeping,

Dost shield from harm the humblest of the sleeping"--

And links on these friendly thoughts to the mythical spirit of the


"well might that fair face

And all those attributes of modest grace,

In days when Fancy wrought unchecked by fear,

Down to the green fields fetch thee from thy sphere,

To sit in leafy woods by fountains clear."

Or take the famous Homeric simile so finely translated by


"As when in Heaven the stars above the moon

Look beautiful, when all the winds are laid,

And every height comes out, and jutting peak

And valley, and the immeasurable heavens

Break open to their highest, and all the stars

Shine, and the shepherd gladdens in his heart."

The stars are here associated with the moon--so much the better

for the principle now defended.

Compare this with some lines from Goethe himself--the Goethe

who would persuade us that the stars excite no craving, and that

we are happy simply in their glory. He thus addresses the


"Bush and vale thou fill'st again

With thy misty ray

And my spirit's heavy chain

Castest far away.

Thou dost o'er my fields extend

Thy sweet soothing eye,

Watching, like a gentle friend,

O'er my destiny."

Browning felt the charm of a lambent moon:

"Voluptuous transport rises with the corn

Beneath a warm moon like a happy face."

So with an English picture from Kirke White:

"Moon of harvest, herald mild

Of plenty, rustic labour's child,

Hail! O hail! I greet thy beam,

As soft it trembles o'er the stream,

And gilds the straw-thatched hamlet wide,

Where Innocence and Peace reside;

'Tis thou that gladd'st with joy the rustic throng,

Promptest the tripping dance, th' exhilarating song."

To emphasise this aspect is not to forget that there is another.

Wordsworth experienced both types of emotion. Time, he sings:

"that frowns

In her destructive flight on earthly crowns,

Spares thy cold splendour; still those far-shot beams

Tremble on dancing waves and rippling streams

With stainless touch, as chaste as when thy praise

Was sung by Virgin-choirs in festal lays."

But abundant evidence is available to prove that the position

taken by Goethe and Schopenhauer may easily lead to a loss of

true perspective. The moon and stars, though remote, are also

near: though they start trains of passive and contemplative

thought, they also stimulate active emotions and even

passionate yearnings. What more passionate than Shelley?

"The desire of the moth for the star,

Of the night for the morrow,

The devotion to something afar

From the sphere of our sorrow."

There do not seem to be many poets who have brought into

clear antithesis and relief this dual aspect of the mystic

influence of the heavenly bodies. But it definitely arrested the

imagination and thought of Clough, whose poem, "Selene,"

deals wholly with this theme. It is too long for quotation here,

though the whole of it would be admirably in place. Enough is

given to show its general drift. The Earth addresses the Moon:

"My beloved, is it nothing

Though we meet not, neither can,

That I see thee, and thou me,

That we see and see we see,

When I see I also feel thee;

Is it nothing, my beloved?

. . .

O cruel, cruel lot, still thou rollest, stayest not,

Lookest onward, look'st before,

Yet I follow evermore.

Cruel, cruel, didst thou only

Feel as I feel evermore,

A force, though in, not of me,

Drawing inward, in, in, in,

Yea, thou shalt though, ere all endeth,

Thou shalt feel me closer, closer,

My beloved!

. . .

The inevitable motion

Bears us both upon its line

Together, you as me,

Together and asunder,

Evermore. It so must be."

It behoves the nature-mystic, then, to be wholehearted in

defence of his master principle. _Homo sum, et humani a me nil

alienum puto_--so said Terence. The nature-mystic adopts and

expands his dictum. He substitutes _mundani_ for _humani_,

and includes in his _mundus_, as did the Latins, and as did the

Greeks in their _cosmos_, not only the things of earth but the

expanse of heaven.

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