Moons West & East

A while back, Tito told me of the “Ayame Society,” of which I had been unaware. The society was formed in London  a century or so ago “to establish a garden where the poetic flowers of East and West compete in their fragrances.” Seeing as how it now is, or soon will be, moon-viewing season in Kyoto, I post a short poem concerning the moon by the American poet Robert Frost (1874-1963), in the  hope that this voice from the West might inspire some replies in haiku, here in the Icebox.

“The Freedom of the Moon”

I’ve tried the new moon tilted in the air
Above a hazy tree-and-farmhouse cluster
As you might try a jewel in your hair.
I’ve tried it fine with little breadth of luster,
Alone, or in one ornament combining
With one first-water star almost as shining.

I put it shining anywhere I please.
By walking slowly on some evening later,
I’ve pulled it from a crate of crooked trees,
And brought it over glossy water, greater,
And dropped it in, and seen the image wallow,
The color run, all sorts of wonder follow.

west running brook

N.B. “The Freedom of the Moon” was collected first in Frost’s 1928 volume “West-Running Brook.” The image reproduced here is from a signed first edition of the book, given to me by Jack Hagstrom, a dear friend of the poet himself.

About these ads

10 Responses to “Moons West & East”

  1. marksrichardson Says:

    I refer, for a start, to Tito’s fine haiku on the moon below, under the heading “Moonlight.”

  2. Mark, thanks for this sharing of a beautiful American poem. It reminds me of a haiku by Hokushi I once used in a BBC radio programme, which I simply entitled, ‘Moon’.

    月を松に懸けたり外しても見たり (北枝)
    (With my line of sight -)
    Keeping hanging up the moon
    On the pine-tree …
    And taking it down again!

    There’s another (by Ryuho) about scooping up the moon from a wash-basin … and spilling it again, which echoes the underlying playfulness of Frost’s verse.

  3. marksrichardson Says:

    Tito, I’d like to see the one by Ryuho. And what you quote here by Hokushi is lovely. In their liberties, both are somewhere near the spirit of the “freedom” Frost takes with his moon.

    I quote here, in a sadly whimsical vein, what might be my favorite “moon-viewing” poem in the Western tradition: Philip Larkin’s “Sad Steps”:

    “Sad Steps”

    Groping back to bed after a piss
    I part thick curtains, and am startled by
    The rapid clouds, the moon’s cleanliness.

    Four o’clock: wedge-shadowed gardens lie
    Under a cavernous, a wind-picked sky.
    There’s something laughable about this,

    The way the moon dashes through clouds that blow
    Loosely as cannon-smoke to stand apart
    (Stone-coloured light sharpening the roofs below)

    High and preposterous and separate—
    Lozenge of love! Medallion of art!
    O wolves of memory! Immensements! No,

    One shivers slightly, looking up there.
    The hardness and the brightness and the plain
    Far-reaching singleness of that wide stare

    Is a reminder of the strength and pain
    Of being young; that it can’t come again,
    But is for others undiminished somewhere.

    ——————————————–

    N.B. Larkin is replying, here, to a famous sonnet in the “Astophel & Stella” sequence by Sidney (from the late 16th century). It begins:

    With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb’st the skies!
    How silently, and with how wan a face! ….

  4. marksrichardson Says:

    Another moon-viewing poem from the Western canon. This time by E. A. Robinson, & a very melancholy one indeed. First there is one moon, then there are two–double vision induced by the jug of ale.

    “Mr. Flood’s Party”
    by Edwin Arlington Robinson

    Old Eben Flood, climbing alone one night
    Over the hill between the town below
    And the forsaken upland hermitage
    That held as much as he should ever know
    On earth again of home, paused warily.
    The road was his with not a native near;
    And Eben, having leisure, said aloud,
    For no man else in Tilbury Town to hear:

    “Well, Mr. Flood, we have the harvest moon
    Again, and we may not have many more;
    The bird is on the wing, the poet says,
    And you and I have said it here before.
    Drink to the bird.” He raised up to the light
    The jug that he had gone so far to fill,
    And answered huskily: “Well, Mr. Flood,
    Since you propose it, I believe I will.”

    Alone, as if enduring to the end
    A valiant armor of scarred hopes outworn,
    He stood there in the middle of the road
    Like Roland’s ghost winding a silent horn.
    Below him, in the town among the trees,
    Where friends of other days had honored him,
    A phantom salutation of the dead
    Rang thinly till old Eben’s eyes were dim.

    Then, as a mother lays her sleeping child
    Down tenderly, fearing it may awake,
    He set the jug down slowly at his feet
    With trembling care, knowing that most things break;
    And only when assured that on firm earth
    It stood, as the uncertain lives of men
    Assuredly did not, he paced away,
    And with his hand extended paused again:

    “Well, Mr. Flood, we have not met like this
    In a long time; and many a change has come
    To both of us, I fear, since last it was
    We had a drop together. Welcome home!”
    Convivially returning with himself,
    Again he raised the jug up to the light;
    And with an acquiescent quaver said:
    “Well, Mr. Flood, if you insist, I might.

    “Only a very little, Mr. Flood—
    For auld lang syne. No more, sir; that will do.”
    So, for the time, apparently it did,
    And Eben evidently thought so too;
    For soon amid the silver loneliness
    Of night he lifted up his voice and sang,
    Secure, with only two moons listening,
    Until the whole harmonious landscape rang—

    “For auld lang syne.” The weary throat gave out,
    The last word wavered; and the song being done,
    He raised again the jug regretfully
    And shook his head, and was again alone.
    There was not much that was ahead of him,
    And there was nothing in the town below—
    Where strangers would have shut the many doors
    That many friends had opened long ago.

  5. Nobuyuki Yuasa Says:

    I should like to thank marksrichardson for calling our attention to the three beautiful poems in English about the moon. I am very fond of Robinson’s poem about Mr. Flood, so mch so that I have included it in my small antholoogy of American poetry which I edited for my students. I thnink we can offer different explanations for ‘the two moons’. The most obvious one is that Mr. Flood was weeping (he was not drunk becasue his jug was filled only with water). But I think Robinson is also stressing the loneliness of Mr. Flood by showing the ‘two moons’. Also ‘the two moons’ might suggest two different moons Mr. Flood saw in his life — the happy moon of his young days and the sad moon of his old days. I think Mr. Flood’s name is also very suggestive. He is called Mr. Flood because he has a flood of tears in his eyes, but also because the Flood of Industrial Revolution has swept him away. Anyway, this is a wonderful poem. I was also familiar with Frost’s poem. He is a bit playful in this poem, I think, but I believe that his main purpose in this poem is to describe various shapes and features of the moon. I think Frost is more serious in the following poem called ‘Devotion':
    The heart can think of no devotion
    Greater than being shoreto the occean —
    Holding the curve of one position,
    Counting an endless repetition.
    I believe this poems is about the Half-Moon Bay situated to the south of San Francisco. So it may have something to do with the moon, too. The moon is usually taken as a symbol of changefulness. But here, the Half-Moon Bay is used as a symbol of unchanging devotion. Be that as it may, this poems is more like haiku than the one marksrichardson has quoted. I did not know Larkin’s poems at all. So It was a new discoveryfor me. I am familiar with Sidney’s poem about the moon, but I do not quite see in what sense Larkin’s poem is a reply. Would marksrichardson be kind enough to explain it to me? Anyay,I enjoyed reading the three poems in English very much.

  6. marksrichardson Says:

    Very interesting comments, Yuasa-san. Thank you. I’m glad you like the poems. I do too. And you know your Robert Frost! The poem you quote is an obscure one among his ouvre, and very rarely anthologized.

    However, as a member of the fellowship, so to speak, I am afraid old Eben Flood is, in fact, drunk, & that his jug is filled with something other than water. “Having a drop together” is an English idiom for sharing a few drinks of alcohol–ale, whiskey, etc. And to “drink to” something “convivially” (here, to the bird a-wing), is to offer a toast. Eben Flood’s modesty, “No more sir; that will do” is what we American drinkers often politely say when we mean, well, that we’d rather like another drop or two after all. (I say so grinning, & knowing a drinker’s etiquette.) It is also proverbial, in American English anyway, that drunk folk “see double.” Hence the two moons. At least on an American reading, as I say. Perhaps Old Eben is drinking water & pretending it is ale, but I am pretty sure he went down to Tilbury Town to fill his jug at the local watering hole (i.e., pub). No bottled six-packs of ale in those days; no fifths of Jack Daniels on the local liquor store shelves.

    “Well, Mr. Flood, we have not met like this
    In a long time; and many a change has come
    To both of us, I fear, since last it was
    We had a drop together. Welcome home!”
    Convivially returning with himself,
    Again he raised the jug up to the light;
    And with an acquiescent quaver said:
    “Well, Mr. Flood, if you insist, I might.

    “Only a very little, Mr. Flood—
    For auld lang syne. No more, sir; that will do.”

    The interesting thing is that the moon should have, here, as also in Larkin’s poem, its faintly lingering association w/ on-coming mortality.

    “Well, Mr. Flood, we have the harvest moon
    Again, and we may not have many more;
    The bird is on the wing, the poet says,
    And you and I have said it here before.
    Drink to the bird.”

    I am probably carrying coals to Newcastle, but in case some of our Japanese readers are not familiar with the fact: the moon in the West has been associated of old with mutability, change, and mortality (or fickleness, & also, of course, “lunacy,” or madness).

    In the old cosmology, when the earth was supposed to lie at the center of the universe, people believed that all things “under the moon,” or “within its sphere,” were subject to change, death, etc. Beyond the sphere of the moon all things were supposed to be “untouchable” by Time, & perfect. (This is why John Donne, in a famous old poem, celebrates his own fidelity in love, as compared with the love of other lovers’ “dull sublunary” love. “Sublunary” means: “beneath the moon.”)

    Which brings me to Yuasa-san’s query about Larkin’s “reply” to Sidney, a near contemporary of Donne. Larkin’s poem is a reply in that he borrows his title from the first line of this famous love sonnet, “With how sad steps, O moon, thou climbst the skies…” Here is the sonnet in its entirety:

    Astrophel and Stella XXX: “With how sad steps, O moon, thou climb’st the skies!” (Sir Philip Sidney)

    With how sad steps, O moon, thou climb’st the skies!
    How silently, and with how wan a face!
    What! may it be that even in heavenly place
    That busy archer his sharp arrows tries?
    Sure, if that long-with-love-acquainted eyes
    Can judge of love, thou feel’st a lover’s case:
    I read it in thy looks; thy languished grace
    To me, that feel the like, thy state descries.
    Then, even of fellowship, O Moon, tell me,
    Is constant love deemed there but want of wit?
    Are beauties there as proud as here they be?
    Do they above love to be loved, and yet
    Those lovers scorn whom that love doth possess?
    Do they call ‘virtue’ there—ungratefulness?

    Thinking of this poem, & of the youthful passions in which he can no longer take part, because he is aging–and, as old men must, now rises rather more often at night to “take a piss,” as he rather bluntly says;–thinking of all of this, Larkin bitterly writes of his own “sad steps” & gazes at the moon, the “lozenge of love” about which, some three centuries earlier, Sidney wrote his forlorn love-sonnet, lamenting the fickleness of a woman’s heart. And then the “wolves of memory”–memories of youth & vitality–assail Larkin.

    On other thing I shall add: among the principle definitions of the gerund “mooning,” as the OED points out, is “love-struck dreaming.” Larkin’s poem is an ironic instance of this (the moon reminds him of “the strength and pain / Of being young; that it can’t come again, / But is for others undiminished somewhere”; Sidney’s is by contrast a sincere example of “mooning.”

    (N.B.: Sidney’s sonnet is well known to students of English poetry; it is lodged firmly in all the anthologies & is rather tediously laid before every undergraduate English major in America & Britain, as it was first laid before me back in 1981 or so. Larkin simply counts on the recognition. Note also that “the busy archer” spoken of in Sidney’s sonnet is Cupid, with his bow.)

  7. Nobuyuki Yuasa Says:

    Dear marksrichardon, Thank you very much for your long explanation about the three poems. I composed the following haiku after reading your explanation of Robinson’s poem:
    Two moons in the sky,
    Mr. Flood pretends to drink
    With a ghost of himself.
    The contrast between Sidney and Larkin is impressive. Sidney is disappointed with his love and complains to the moon, but there is a great deal of courtly elegance in his poem. On the other hand, Larkin seems to be describing his sordid reality. There is none of Sidney’s wishfulness in Larkin’s poem. I am old man myself, but I share Dylan Thomas’s belief that an old man should ‘rage against the dying of the light’.

  8. Thank you for that lovely haiku out of “Mr Flood’s Party,” Yuasa-san. I would suggest only the omission of “pretends':

    Two moons in the sky,
    Mr. Flood drinks
    With a ghost of himself.

    Robinson’s life was indeed a sad one: He and his brother Herman both suffered from alcoholism, and his other brother Dean (a pharmacist) died of a drug overdose (likely a suicide) in 1899.

    The third line of your haiku, I would add, is nearly perfect, in my view: Mr. Flood is meeting his own ghost, his own end, at this rather melancholy “party” he has with himself.

    Many thanks again.

    As you probably know, Robert Frost wrote a preface to Robinson’s last book of poetry, “King Jasper” (1935). In that preface he briefly discusses “Mr. Flood’s Party”:

    “The guarded pathos of ‘Mr. Flood’s Party’ is what makes it merciless. We are to bear in mind the number of moons listen­ing. Two, as on the planet Mars. No less. No more. One moon (albeit a moon, no sun) would have laid grief too bare. More than two would have dissipated grief entirely and would have amounted to dissipation. The emotion had to be held at a point.

    He set the jug down slowly at his feet
    With trembling care, knowing that most things break,
    And only when assured that on firm earth
    It stood, as the uncertain lives of men
    Assuredly did not––

    There twice it gleams. Nor is it lost even where it is perhaps lost sight of in the dazzle of all those golden girls at the end of ‘The Sheaves.’ Granted a few fair days in a world where not all days are fair.

    ‘Well, Mr. Flood, we have the harvest moon
    Again, and we may not have many more.
    The bird is on the wing, the poet says
    And you and I have said it here before.
    Drink to the bird.’

    Poetry transcends itself in the playfulness of the toast.”

  9. One more poem about the moon from the Western canon, this time by Thomas Hardy.

    I LOOKED UP FROM MY WRITING

    I looked up from my writing,
    And gave a start to see,
    As if rapt in my inditing,
    The moon’s full gaze on me.

    Her meditative misty head
    Was spectral in its air,
    And I involuntarily said,
    “What are you doing there?”

    “Oh, I’ve been scanning pond and hole
    And waterway hereabout
    For the body of one with a sunken soul
    Who has put his life-light out.

    “Did you hear his frenzied tattle?
    It was sorrow for his son
    Who is slain in brutish battle,
    Though he has injured none.

    “And now I am curious to look
    Into the blinkered mind
    Of one who wants to write a book
    In a world of such a kind.”

    Her temper overwrought me,
    And I edged to shun her view,
    For I felt assured she thought me
    One who should drown him too.

  10. Suresh Salil Says:

    Dear Yuasa,

    Gone through your blog. I am a Hindi poet and translator. Published many of japanese creative works in Hindi translation. Visited also tokyo in a authors delegation. I am planning to translate Basho’s THE NARROW ROAD TO THE DEEP NORTH with the help of your english translation. I need your permission in this regard. Let me know your email also.

    -Suresh salil
    sureshsalilg@gmail.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 436 other followers

%d bloggers like this: