The full moon tends to get all the best press and draw the most eyeballs and adulation, but for my money, the new moon (or at least the “new moon + 1 day”; more on that below) is every bit as worthy of our regard.
The full moon represents abundance, being topped out, awash and abursting, like the universal mother with breasts so full of milk she cannot bear to move another inch until she drains them into the avid awaiting mouths of her children.
The full moon lights up the entire earth; we must remain deep in shadow if we are to avoid its glare (as if we’d ever want to, unless we’re a burglar or thug).
But the new moon, that mere sliver of hope, is everything that abundance and fullness are not. Spare and subtle, it allows the stars top billing, encouraging their shine and prominence on the cosmic stage, generous to a fault. Here and then gone, the new moon is a wisp, almost a chimera, slipping anonymously over the horizon before night even unfolds.
It turns out, though, that “new moon” is something of a misnomer, since moon science (also known as “the people who think about and name things before others of us coming along later can object”) holds that “the face of the Moon that can be seen from the Earth is no longer illuminated by the Sun’s rays—as only the opposing side is facing the Sun. As a result, it is invisible in the Earth’s sky.”*
Meaning that “new moon” is actually “no moon,” no sliver or light at all. It instead awaits the literal “new” moon the next evening, when that lovely crescent wisp with the pointy ends on which one could hang a hat or favorite cherub will make its brief monthly appearance with the dusk.
This claim that the new moon doesn’t actually appear on the official “new moon” night seems both intuitively and literally wrong to me, given my natural, ready recognition when the “new” moon really does show itself in the sky and compels me to exclaim, “Look, the new moon!”
Do I exclaim in that way, with such ardor, when the sky is instead dark and there is no moon to be seen at all? Do I gaze skyward and point and gush, “Look, the new moon!”?
No, I do not.
But enough of my arguments with moon observers no doubt more learned and coldly logical than I. We are here to celebrate not only the new moon, in whatever guise you want to recognize it, but also the full moon, giving it yet more press again, I know, but in rather modest fashion.
Sara Teasdale, a highly romantic and blessedly transparent (in my estimation) poet straddling the 19th and 20th centuries, captures all the hope and glory of the new moon in her poem of that name below, while ancient Chinese poet Tu Fu (another of those names I sing joyously to the heavens at every opportunity), offers spare but lovely homage to the full moon that apparently shone just as bright in the 8th century when he observed it on his frequent travels along the Yangtze and its tributaries.
Tu Fu was fortunate enough in his own way to die while floating on a boat after an illness, but Teasdale endured a sadder fate. Lovesick and lonely after a failed marriage and in lifelong frail health, she was suffering from pneumonia in January 1933 when she took her own life with an overdose of barbiturates at age 48. But she left this behind for us, for which we can sing her and her beloved moon’s praises today.
THE NEW MOON
By Sara Teasdale
Day, you have bruised and beaten me,
As rain beats down the bright, proud sea,
Beaten my body, bruised my soul,
Left me nothing lovely or whole —
Yet I have wrested a gift from you,
Day that dies in dusky blue:
For suddenly over the factories
I saw a moon in the cloudy seas —
A wisp of beauty all alone
In a world as hard and gray as stone —
Oh who could be bitter and want to die
When a maiden moon wakes up in the sky?
By Tu Fu
Above the tower—a lone, twice-sized moon.
On the cold river passing night-filled homes,
It scatters restless gold across the waves.
On mats, it shines richer than silken gauze.
Empty peaks, silence: among sparse stars,
Not yet flawed, it drifts. Pine and cinnamon
Spreading in my old garden . . . All light,
All ten thousand miles at once in its light!
This is surely the best moon song in existence, and this live, slightly funkified version has that always romantic-sounding “Live At Montreux” moniker that makes it an intriguing listen for Van fans…
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Photo of howling wolf by Remko Tanis, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/remkotanis/
New moon (+ 1) by Paul Tomlin, York, United Kingdom, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/paultomlin/
New moon (+ 1) over earth, shot from international space station courtesy of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nasamarshall/
Full moon by Kari Hak, Sparks, Nevada, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/32920110@N07/
* See http://www.moonconnection.com/moon-glossary.phtml#n for more about all things moon
Boy, Andrew, these are lunar effects I hadn’t heard about before.
When we colonize the moon and look back at Earth, will we feel a similar
gush of emotion?
Substitute “Earth” for moon in your or Ms. Teasdale’s comments and
see what I mean.
Your over-analytic super nerd buddy,
Waldo de Baldo
Not to worry, Mr. Waldo: If you mean to ask whether I feel and deign to convey as much regard for the earth and its terra firma as I do the distant moon, I would answer with a most emphatic “Yes! Times 10!” I mean, the moon is lovely and wondrous and romantic and more than worth pointing to and writing poems about, but in the end, an inert mass of rock and gas comes up rather short, in my opinion, of a planet that sports salamanders and baseball, poetry and port, Bryce Canyon and daffodils, killer whales and emperor penguins, and the kind of human ingenuity that has produced printing presses and microphones, shaving cream and banana cream, craft beers and Kindles, not to mention, oh you know, all that other stuff that we like so much and amuse ourselves with to no end! (Including the don’t-that-beat-all gush we call love…) Of course, there is also war and pestilence and wickedness everywhere, but it’s the new moon, (+1!), by ye gods, so I ain’t goin’ there today.
Your analytic-romantic-bring-it-all-on-buddy, Andrew
Looking at the Earth from the Moon, the Earth would have the same allure of distance that the Moon does now. A full Earth wouldn’t have much of the mystery for all the reasons you mentioned. Now that we’ve walked on the Moon, perhaps that lunar mystery is fatally punctured.
You know, we humans are phototropic, greatly affected by light. Lunar dwellers would get much more sunshine on their big bald heads than Earth-dwellers are used to. This would help us evolve into another human species. Just give us a few centuries and some genetic engineering…
W de B
Great classic song to accompany a trip to the Moon. Here’s another…
Whoa, Marianne, I think I want to drop in on that little road house! You got an address? Does Neil play and dance there regularly? I’m a little worried, though, about that kid making out with his girlfriend while driving. I’d want to stay out of his way!
Ah well, youth…I bet I did that a time or two. Done worse too, ha! Thanks to 9 lives (not having that for dinner), and some light bulb moments, I get to boogie on.
As always, I enjoy seeing your blog in my mailbox and sharing your mental meanderings with us.
And, an ultimate classic….https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EX1gM7bXfVU
Some muse, that old devil moon;
Paper moon, hangs like a lantern and
Neither dark side of the moon, unseen and mysterious,
Nor the portent of a bad moon rising
Can hinder a romantic moon dance.
Cool rays of blue moon or honey glow of harvest moon,
Moonlight floods Earth, a moon river breaching its banks.
Wait, wait, fabulous moon songs both, but those lyrics don’t match with that link!
In any case:
I’ve got a post coming up on him a bit later on—he turns 100 in December. Stay tuned!
Being outside nearly constantly these last six weeks put me intimately in touch with the lunar peregrinations. It gives one an appreciation for why the ancients were obsessive in their observations.