Exeter has been cold and rainy (and a little bit snowy!) ever since my return from abnormally freezing Florida. Despite this, I’ve had some excellent lunar encounters lately.
The first was through the glass roof of a pub conservatory. The pub is lovely and snug with a little fireplace in winter and a beautiful courtyard in summer. Sitting with a friend I glanced up and there was a beautiful slip of a crescent moon, to which I pointed and said, “Reminds me of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” (Though in this case the hornéd moon did not have one bright star/ within the nether tip. Mainly because this is an astronomical impossibility, but what can you do with poets?)
For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, the Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a long poem by Samuel Coleridge in which a sailor shoots an albatross that all the other sailors think has saved them from sailing into the South Pole, so they make him wear it around his neck as punishment, and then they all die, but then they come back to life briefly and sail him home, and then the ship sinks in a whirlpool. This is why we can describe something that annoys us continually as an albatross around our necks. I once saw an albatross at the Natural History Museum in London and I was greatly disappointed, because instead of being some sort of sleekly mystical bird of deepest mysterious black, it turned out to be a giant seagull. I grant you they are the Costco SuperSize of seagulls, but do they really need to be distinguished by such an enchanting name as “albatross”? Why not call them Sumo Seagulls and have done with it? I mean, I certainly wouldn’t want one of those things making an enterprising crack at my bins, but in terms of lyrical allegorical power, seeing one in person certainly put a damper on things. (I’ve since looked up images of them, and it appears that though the Wandering Albatross does indeed resemble a Sumo Seagull, there are others, like the Black-Footed Albatross, that are more soulfully introspective-looking. My apologies, Coleridge.)
My second glimpse of moon was a few nights later on a frosty evening as I hurried towards the cathedral on my way to a musical evening. I looked up and the moon was exactly half-full. A teacup moon. As I crossed the green in front of the cathedral surrounded by the hodgepodge of beautiful architecture that graces that part of town, I watched my breath steaming up the air and remembered how charming it is to live in such a place. A picture window, fogging around the edges, framed the interior of a snug pub which was filled at that time of day with a cozy glow and the convivial conversations of friends meeting for an evening drink. Though I was a solitary traveler that evening, I was reminded of Scrooge with the Ghost of Christmas Present invisibly visiting his employee Bob Cratchit’s house, himself unseen and watching the warm glow within.
On a following damp evening I was again on my way somewhere, though I’m not sure what the occasion was. The moon swollen to a nearly-full circle cast a glow that was diffused and yet magnified through the whole sky by the clouds. The smell of the damp in the air and the cast of the light, gilding everything with silver, making even the humblest discarded takeaway boxes into lustrous relics, made me think of similar moonlit nights from my childhood, hurrying for a walk in the cold before heading home to a cozy house, a warm fire, some hot chocolate and a book. (Though I’ve just remembered where I was going that evening, and it was to an underground–literally underground–indie-rock club. Not a common feature of my childhood, it must be said.)