Notes to Poem: Meditation on the Moon

Peter Y. Chou,

Preface: While compiling art images of levitation, it occurred to me that the Moon is the subject of homage to many artists East and West. Suddenly I realized that the Moon's procession from darkness (New Moon) to light (Full Moon) symbolizes the spiritual aspirant's journey from ignorance to knowledge (enlightenment). So the Moon may be regarded as our guru, and this poem is a homage to that wonder in the sky— the Queen of the Night who teaches us to fly home to the stars.

Commentary on poem "Meditation on the Moon"

every month when there is a half-moon
Moon Phases: The first quarter and third quarter moons (both often called a "half moon"), happen when the moon is at a 90o angle with respect to the earth and sun. So we are seeing exactly half of the moon illuminated and half in shadow.

straight edge drawn from curvature of earth
The half moon is a semi-circle— a plate broken exactly in half, or a protractor (curved section measuring 0o to 180o and the straight edge measuring 0 to 6 inches). The half moon's straight edge is made from the curvature of both earth and sun in its orbit around the earth. In his poem "Five Half-Notes on a Half-Moon" (Nirvana: 53 Short Verses, 1999, p. 8), Frank Lennon writes perceptively:
1. A geometer exactly breaks
    a dinner plate in half.
2. A flat-nosed sun
    of blank profile.
3. A crude cheese knife.
4. Rock-a-by rock.
5. Did the sun & round earth
    draw this straight edge?

Let the crescent moon shine
William Wordsworth, "Tintern Abbey" (1798), Lines 134-135:
... Therefore let the moon
Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;
And let the misty mountain winds be free
To blow against thee: and in after years,
When these wild ecstasies shall be matured
Into a sober pleasure, when thy mind
Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,
Thy memory be as a dwelling-place
For all sweet sounds and harmonies...

like a bow turning into a ship then a giant pearl
These images are from the phases of the moon—
bow (crescent New Moon), ship (tilted Half Moon), pearl (Full Moon)

artists and poets love to pay homage to this night drama
In Marc Chagall's The Painter to the Moon (1917) (left), the artist is shown with feet leaving the orb of earth as he levitates to the blue spheres of heaven, showing that art yearns to express the transcendent. Two other moon paintings are School of Hokusai (1760-1849): Scholar Gazing at the Moon (19th century) and Alex Grey (born 1953): Wonder: Zena Gazing at the Moon (1996)— a portrait of Grey's daughter Zena gazing at the moon in awe and wonder. If we keep a child's wonder with us as we age, our mind will be always fresh like the sage whose pure mind is making new discoveries every day.

waxing wistfully— Moonlight Sonata...Moon River
Beethoven, Moonlight Sonata #14, Opus 27, #2 (1801)
(Listen), CD, YouTube, Analysis
Antonin Dvorak, Rusalka: Song to the Moon (1900)
(Listen) CD, YouTube
Claude Debussy, Claire de Lune (1903)
Listen, CD, YouTube
Johnny Mercer & Henry Mancini, Moon River (1961)
Listen, CD, YouTube, Lyrics

farmers sow seeds at the New Moon for better growth
Crops that produce above the ground should be planted on days leading up to the full moon. Root crops should be planted on days between the full moon and the new moon. In his Moon Gardening (2002), R.J. Harris says: "the moon not only controls ocean tides but influences the groundwater tables beneath our feet. The best time to turn over a garden is during the last quarter of the moon because that is when the water table has dropped to its lowest point. It means less moisture is within the soil. It is far easier to turn soil over when there is less moisture in it." Farmer Aaron Dinwoodie grows the vegetables at Half Moon Bay, according to moon phases. The SLAC physicist-turned-farmer is a big believer in moon planting— a biointensive cultivation technique that takes into account how the moon sits in the sky before planting or transplanting crops. The period when the moon is descending, is considered a good time for transplanting, explained Dinwoodie, because the descent of the moon is supposed to maximize growth. The beginning of the new moon is the period of new growth. Just as the moon raises and lowers the tides of the ocean, so it does to the planet's water tables. Dinwoodie sows his vegetable seedlings two days before the new moon to take advantage of this natural source of water. References: Gardening by the Moon; Planting by the Moon; National Geographic, (6-14-2001, 7-10-2003); Farmer brings new meaning to 'harvest moon' (Oakland Tribune, 5-28-2007)

Moon in the dewdrop
Moon in a Dewdrop is a book on Zen Master Dogen (1200-1253) edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi (1985). The Moon symbolizes enlightenment in Zen: “Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water. The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken. Although its light is wide and great, the moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide. The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in dewdrops on the grass, or even in one drop of water. Enlightenment does not divide you, just as the moon does not break the water. You cannot hinder enlightenment, just as a drop of water does not hinder the moon in the sky. The depth of the drop is the height of the moon. Each reflection, however long or short its duration, manifests the vastness of the dewdrop, and realizes the limitlessness of the moonlight in the sky.”
    Finger pointing at the moon is another Buddhist metaphor that the pointer is not the pointed. If the student looks only at the finger (sign, scriptures, or guru), he will not see the moon (enlightenment). Finally, the student needs to transcend both the finger and the Moon for even attachment to enlightenment will hinder the student's full awakening (see Ryokan & the Moon).
    Dew Symbolism: Dew has a double significance, alluding to spiritual illumination, since it is the true forerunner of dawn and of the approaching day. The clear, pure water of dew is, according to some traditions, closely connected with the idea of light. There are occasional references in the Far East to the 'tree of sweet dew' situated on Mount Kuen-Lun (cf. Hindu Meru) and other sacred mountains symbolizing world -axis. Light spreads outwards from this tree, and through the process of synaesthesia, it has come to be known as the 'singing tree' of legend and folklore. (J.E. Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols, 1962, p. 77).
    Dew is the light of dawn; spiritual refreshment; benediction; blessing. Sweet dew is peace and prosperity. Dew can also represent change, illusion, and evanescence. Related also to the moon, nightfall, and sleep. Celtic: The most sacred form of water among the Druids. Chinese: Immortality. The Tree of Sweet Dew grows on the sacred mountain Kwan-lung, the axis mundi, and takes on the symbolism of the Tree of Life. Hebrew: In Qabalism it is resurrection. The Dew of Light emanates from the Tree of Life by which t dead are revived. Mexican: The dew f the peyotl, the sacred cactus, found at the intersection of the two perpendicular diameters traced in a circle, is the dew of immortality. Neo-Platonic: Dew is the natural envelope of souls; generation. Roman: The seminal fluid of Jupiter. (J.C. Cooper, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols, 1978, pp. 50-51)

Cyrano's flight
Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac (1897)
Historical Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655) (Wikipedia)

Cyrano wrote a book Voyage to the Moon. It took his hero several attempts to get there. And what means he used! He surrounded his body with glasses of morning dew. When the sun drew the water up, it drew him with it. A group of soldiers tied their ordinance to his flying machine and, like a modern rocket, it rose into the sky.

Online Text: Scene 3.11
First, with body naked as your hand,
Festooned about with crystal flacons, full
O' th' tears the early morning dew distils;
My body to the sun's fierce rays exposed
To let it suck me up, as 't sucks the dew!...
Or (since fumes have property to mount)—
To charge a globe with fumes, sufficiently
To carry me aloft!

that fullness bigger than the ocean
Invocation to the Isa Upanishad (c. 500 B.C.): "That is full. This is full. This fullness comes from that fullness. Take this fullness from that fullness and all that remains is fullness." Sun is full of light. The Moon is full. Moonlight comes from Sunlight. Even when there's no moonlight, Sun is still full because Consciousness is full. Hence that fullness is bigger than the ocean, bigger than the universe.

Blue Moon
Blue Moon is commonly used metaphorically to describe a rare event, as in the saying "once in a blue moon". The common definition of blue moon is the second full moon in a calendar month. This happens every 2.72 years. The moon has also literally had a visible blue coloring on rare occasions, caused by atmospheric disturbances as in volcanic eruptions. The last "Calendar Blue Moon" occurred on June 30, 2007. Future Blue Moons will appear on December 31, 2009, August 31, 2012, and July 31, 2015.

Snow Moon, Blood Moon
Names of Full Moons according to Native Americans:
February: Snow Moon, Hunger Moon, Opening Buds Moon
July: Blood Moon, Buck Moon

shining in splendor— Queen of the Night
On the 105th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first man-made flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina (December 17, 1903), the radio was playing Mozart's "Queen of the Night" aria from his Magic Flute opera. It inspired this haiku:
Wednesday, December 17, 2008, 11:29-11:36 am
KDFC 102.1 FM: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart,
Magic Flute: Queen of the Night Aria, K620 (1791)
Listen, (CD) YouTube

The Full Moon shining
in all her splendor— here is
the Queen of the Night.

So look upon the Moon as our guru
The Sanskrit word guru is composed of gu (darkness) and ru (light). So a guru is someone who brings the student from darkness to light or ignorance to knowledge. The phases of the Moon from darkness (New Moon = beginner student) to light (Full Moon = enlightenment) remind us that we have a spiritual teacher in the night skies if we just look up and see.

reflects its and our lightness of being—
the lesson that Beatrice taught Dante

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321),
Paradiso, I.91-105 (1300 A.D.)

Beatrice tells Dante about lightness of being:
    You are not on the earth as you believe;
    but lightning, flying from its own abode,
    is less swift than you are, returning home.

With these words and her smile, Dante began
to levitate and fly
with Beatrice through the
celestial spheres until they reached paradise.

Sandro Botticelli's Dante's Paradiso I: Ascent to Heaven (1495)

Remember the Moon— it can make us fly
The Moon inspired us to fly throughout the ages. Daedalus made wings for Icarus for flight. Leonardo designed flying machines. On Dec. 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, NC, the Wright Brothers made the first man-made flight. Finally, on July 20, 1969, U.S. astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr. with Michael Collins piloting Apollo 11 landed on the Moon. The 10¢ U.S. airmail stamp was issued on Sept. 9, 1969 to commemorate "First Man on the Moon".

              — Peter Y. Chou
                   Mountain View, 12-17-2008

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© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (12-22-2008)