Tuesday 10 May 2011

Moon poems by Sidney and Laux

Last year I was obsessed with the full moon.  How come it’s still possible to write poems about the moon, after all those years of people doing it, from Shakespeare to Wordsworth to Dickinson to Plath and Hughes?  Somehow it is.  At the Torriano on Sunday I mentioned one of my favourite moon poems: this one by Philip Sidney, from Astrophel and Stella. 

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 languisht 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?

I love the conceit behind the poem, and the way the syntax and Petrarchan sonnet rhyme scheme hold it together. 

I’d never heard of the American poet Dorianne Laux before the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival last year, where she read.  The people I discussed her with hadn’t either – an example of how American poetry to the 21st century British reader is a bit like the continent of Africa to a 19th century European explorer: vast, known only in patches, and full of revelations. 

Here is part of Laux’ poem ‘Facts about the Moon’, from the collection of the same name.  The poem has great breadth and assurance, and after this passage it moves in the most extraordinary direction.  You can read the whole poem on her website.

What bothers me most is that someday
the moon will spiral right out of orbit
and all land-based life will die.
The moon keeps the oceans from swallowing
the shores, keeps the electromagnetic fields
in check at the polar ends of the earth.
And please don’t tell me
what I already know, that it won’t happen
for a long time. I don’t care. I’m afraid
of what will happen to the moon.
Forget us. We don’t deserve the moon.
Maybe we once did but not now
after all we’ve done. These nights
I harbor a secret pity for the moon, rolling
around alone in space without
her milky planet, her only child, a mother
who’s lost a child, a bad child…

And you can hear / read a short poem of hers about the moon here.

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