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 eleva
ing. 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:
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,
. . .
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.