Picture: NASA

Space is famously quite big. And as we are looking at space as a subject as it is the anniversary of the first moon landings let’s shrink it down, down, down to moons.

Before going right down to our own moon let’s consider the moons of the solar system. There are quite a few of them (at least 200)

Most moons that have names are called after mythological deities. The first to be identified were named, like the planets, for classical mythology – so Jupiter and Saturn’s major moons are called things like Ganymede, Europa, Titan.  Uranus is the big exception having literary moons.  Most of these are named after characters from Shakespeare: Puck, Titania and, er, Margaret. I do love the fact that the Solar System contains a moon called Margaret.  A few of the moons of Uranus have names taken from Alexander Pope’s satire, The Rape of the Lock, so there is one called Belinda and an Ariel (who figures in both Pope and Shakespeare’s work).

Further out the moon names stay mythological but get more diverse. My favourite moon of all is Weywot, moon of the dwarf planet Quaoar, (50000 Quaoar to give it its full name) way out in the distant Kuiper Belt. Weywot and Quaoar are gods of the Tongva native American tribe that occupied the Los Angeles basin.

Sadly, as far as I know, no one has written poems songs or stories about little Weywot yet. Bigger moons have featured in literature – Kurt Vonnegut’s, The Sirens of Titan springs to mind. As watery moons bigger than Mercury      increasingly seem to offer the best chance of discovering extra-terrestrial life we can expect lots more sci-fi based around the bigger moons of Saturn and Jupiter.

Poetry, though, very largely focuses on our own moon, and for the obvious reason that few poets are astronomers  (A.E. Housman being a notable exception) and they tend to be more interested in what they can see than theoretical  knowledge of distant celestial bodies. Other moons may well interest us but our moon affects us, influences our moods, causes tides and in the past and for people in deep countryside still, sometimes provides illumination.

Most of all it is the experience of looking at the moon and moonlight, and our responses to it, that tend to inspire poets.

Hymn to the Moon By Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

Written in July, in an arbour

Thou silver deity of secret night,
Direct my footsteps through the woodland shade;
Thou conscious witness of unknown delight,
The Lover’s guardian, and the Muse’s aid!
By thy pale beams I solitary rove,
To thee my tender grief confide;
Serenely sweet you gild the silent grove,
My friend, my goddess, and my guide.
E’en thee, fair queen, from thy amazing height,
The charms of young Endymion drew;
Veil’d with the mantle of concealing night;
With all thy greatness and thy coldness too.

Lady Mary Wortley Montague 1689-1762) was a very remarkable woman. Much of her writing was satirical and she       prosecuted a celebrated literary feud with Pope. She is also famous for introducing smallpox inoculation to Britain, having observed it in Turkey while living there with her husband who was  ambassador. More information about the poem, and how she popularised inoculation, can be found through the links below:

Star-Gazer by Louis Macneice

Forty-two years ago (to me if to no one else
The number is of some interest) it was a brilliant starry night
And the westward train was empty and had no corridors
So darting from side to side I could catch the unwonted sight
Of those almost intolerably bright
Holes, punched in the sky, which excited me partly because
Of their Latin names and partly because I had read in the textbooks
How very far off they were, it seemed their light
Had left them (some at least) long years before I was.

And this remembering now I mark that what
Light was leaving some of them at least then,
Forty-two years ago, will never arrive
In time for me to catch it, which light when
It does get here may find that there is not
Anyone left aliveTo run from side to side in a late night train
Admiring it and adding noughts in vain.

Image by Hokusai

The thief left it behind— Ryokan

                  The thief left it behind:
                   the moon
                   at my window.

‘Ryokan had a reputation for gentleness that was sometimes carried to comical extremes. A      famous story about him relates that one day when Ryokan returned to his hut he discovered a robber who had broken in and was in the     process of stealing the impoverished monk’s few possessions. In the thief’s haste to leave, he left behind a cushion. Ryokan grabbed the cushion and ran after the thief to give it to him.

This event prompted Ryokan to compose this haiku. Ryokan is laughing at the absurdity of the theft. “The thief left it behind,” he foolishly couldn’t recognize the one great treasure the poor monk possessed — “the moon,” ’

From the chaikhana poetry blog

4 thoughts on “Space

  1. SPACE
    Sometimes the moon is full and
    Gives us almost daylight
    Other times it is disappears and is completely dark
    But sometimes it is just a crescent
    As it journeys across the sky

    The moon has a big effect on the earth
    As it moves round in its orbit
    It pulls the seas and so causes our tides
    It is said to affect our mood
    It is our nearest neighbour in space

    It has inspired poetry and songs
    Its light more cold and blue than that of the sun
    It is cool and only reflects the light of the sun
    I often look up at it in the sky
    Trying to pick out the marks on its surface
    The ‘seas’ and the craters and ‘lines’

    Then suddenly man actually landed on the moon
    Stepped off the lunar module
    The now famous ‘The eagle has landed ‘
    Neil Armstrong was the first man who stepped down
    Onto its dusty surface


    20th July 1969! An account by my sister :

    I was 14 and a space geek!
    My earliest memories were drawing pictures of Yuri Gagarin going into space and Later a huge astronaut fan, following all the missions as if they were movie stars. Even had a scrap book. Start Trek also helped.
    I wanted to be an astronaut one day but that’s another story.

    I was 14 and eager to stay up all night. Mum and Dad had gone to bed.
    My big sister – a physicist- was at home.
    We decided to stay up all night watching TV – all the great pundits –
    Alastair Burke and I think Richard Dimbleby on grainy black and white TV.

    I remember where I sat ( on the floor) and
    Urszula on the sofa and we kept ourselves awake.

    I was really proud of having watched this event live ,
    together with my brainy big sis!

    I told my fellow geeky friends at school about that night and have recalled it ever since!

    letter extract
    The Lunar Landing

    I suppose today was a day that history will remember.
    It does not mean much to me now.
    Once these great technical feats moved me ……
    If I could I would pray for these men.
    They have opened the door to the future.
    The future of the children we shall teach.
    I sometimes wonder if mankind as a whole
    is big enough to take this future
    I think a lot will depend on the people that
    we can make out of the children we teach.
    The responsibility is ours.
    I hope we are big enough.
    I hope they come back and I hope that our generation
    can teach the world that people matter.

    Bill Ghee, Shipston -on-Stour, 20 July 1969


  2. That’s wonderful. Urszula – thank you for sharing Bill and your sister’s thoughts and recollections, as well as your own!



  3. Fountains of Ice

    Fountains of ice sublime into the sky
    Some falls as the whitest snow
    In the Solar System
    Pure crystals of isotopic ice
    Falling to cover Enceladus
    Some escapes to be snowballed
    into the E-ring
    Into the shepherd moons
    Into Saturn

    Mike Dawson


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