Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Harvest Moon Muse

The moon has to be every artist's Muse. Especially writers. Especially poets.

Who hasn't been taken with the moon at some stage in their lives? From the fanfare of the moon landing or the wide-eyed glory of a full moon, the romance of moonlight or the link to lunacy, its emotional significance in astrology, the moon plays a part in all our lives. 

But to artists, it's inspiration. When there's a full moon in the sky, it's like a crystal ball of inspiration gleaming, and our pens are ready for plucking, as Yeats remarked, 'the silver apples of the moon.' Maybe its because our intuition is at a peak and so we're more able to attune to insight. Whatever, the moon plays the role of creativity's advocate. 

So, before September is over, I thought I'd write a bit on the harvest moon. (I know it's already passed and I've missed it - damn - but anyway...) For those of you who don't follow moon lore, the harvest moon is the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox, which means it usually occurs before or after September 21st. You can't miss a harvest moon - a huge golden full moon, low in the sky, so close it seems to be sitting on the horizon.

The harvest moon is my favourite moon. One worth waiting and watching for.  I'm especially taken with the whole lore of it. I've always thought there was something special to the harvest moon: the time of reaping and sowing, September's scythe moving us on through the fields of life, letting the old stuff fall away, while embracing the new, the simultaneous contradictory acceptance of regret and rebirth, and all its connotations with seasons and the cyclical nature of life. To me, the harvest moon represents change, the pale gold light of it a new currency, a horizon harbinger, the quiet shimmering significance of autumn transition. 

I'll never forget the first time I saw a harvest moon in the sky - it was absolutely HUGE! Like a magnified moon.  Hanging just above the hills, yellow-gold in colour and so close. I remember holding a palm up to the car window and having it dwarved in comparison. And I was so full of regret at the time, I felt it all related somehow to this huge moon in the sky. We were right in the transition period, mid-September, when life begins again, when moving on is a natural occurence, and I couldn't move on from one particular thing, and this moon suddenly put it all in luminous perspective.

So anyway, I wrote a poem about it. About the whole reap and sow, sow and reap aspects of it.  I couldn't but, it was so damn strange and extraordinary and hung in my mind for months later until I did. (Well actually I wrote a few poems, a repetitive villainelle proving a handy form for the subject matter.) One of which I've included (ta-dah) here:

Harvest Moon Dirge

Last time I was supposed to see you and didn't - 
there was a looming harvest moon in the sky, scythe 
bent low to sweep the barren fields of my soul, 
what I didn't reap, what I didn't sow. 

Blinding, bright, like an optic nerve of sky, searing 
nucleus of Fate and mirrorball of revelation,
mirage of maybes and white-washed whimsy,
illuminating all that was dark before.

So promising - a luminous wafer, haloed horizon,
orb of pale gold possibility, pearl of potential,
lucky penny wish found and framed in sky, 
harvest, of what a heart could have at full loom. 

And ominous. Gaping question, glowering accusation, 
peering pupil dilated, the shock of a faceless 
dice; Time's white skull with a toothless grin,
do or die dagger night-sky ultimatum. 

Or so obvious. Your lit-up face, that wounded wide-eyed stare;
full moon a magnifying glass on my half-heart haunted 
from moments missed and memories shadowed
by the looming lunar ghost of what might have been. 

And seems it wasn't only me it affected; I'm sure you've all heard the classic Neil Young song 'Harvest Moon' which I think so gracefully captures that to-and-fro type of swaying between past and futures, looking back and moving on. (It's included at the bottom incase you haven't!) And so many poems written about it, two which I'm particulary fond of posted here too. 

The experience of that harvest moon was exactly like as Carl Sandburg explains in his poem 'Under the Harvest Moon': "Love, with little hands/comes and touches you/with a thousand memories/and asks you/beautiful, unanswerable questions." And maybe that's what every full moon or noticed moon does to us: asks us beautiful unanswerable questions. It could explain the hold the moon has on us not just as artists, but as human beings.
The moon - such a guiding and inspirational force for writers, definitely more to follow on this topic. With more moon poems, by the tonne. Watch this space. Suggestions welcome!

moon musing,

~ Siobhán.


'Under the Harvest Moon' -  Carl Sandburg
Under the harvest moon,
When the soft silver
Drips shimmering
Over the garden nights,
Death, the gray mocker,
Comes and whispers to you
As a beautiful friend
Who remembers.

Under the summer roses
When the flagrant crimson
Lurks in the dusk
Of the wild red leaves,
Love, with little hands,
Comes and touches you
With a thousand memories,
And asks you
Beautiful, unanswerable questions. 

'Moon In Virgo' -  James Lee Jobe

You are not beaten. The simple music rises up,  
children's voices in the air, sound floating out
across the land and on to the river beyond,
over the valley's floor. No, you cannot go back
for those things you lost, the parts of yourself
that were taken, often by force. Like an animal
in the forest you must weep it all away at once,
violently, and then simply live on. The music here
is Bach, Vivaldi; a chorale of children, a piano,
a violin. Together, they have a certain spirit
that is light, that lets in light, joyful, ecstatic.
"Forgive," said The Christ, and why not? Every day
that you still breathe has all the joy
and murderous possibilities of your bravest dream.
Forgive. Breathe. Live. The moon has entered Virgo,
the wind shifts, blows up from the Delta, cools this valley,
and you are not beaten; the children sing, it is Bach,
and you are brave, alive, and human.


  1. Delighted to see one of your poems in this blog!

    First CD I bought was titled 'Fingernail Moon' its artist, Jim Hunter, was unknown to me but I figured with a title like that it had to be good. I was not disappointed.

  2. Thank you Margie! Sounds like a cool CD. Anything with a moon title has got to be good I say!


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