Autumn has swept in with the rain, and we are now poised on the interval between the brash blaze of summer and the cooler nights that produce fall’s spectacular colors. It is around this time that I begin to think about my writing and revisit ideas that have accumulated whilst I lay languidly reading in the shade of a beach umbrella. Really, autumn is a reminder that I need to get to work.
Instead, I think about the moon. This is not as far fetched a subject as it seems at first blush, since so much of what we write and read is concerned with the waxing and waning of earth’s patient satellite. Where would poets be without the moon? And, come to think of it, where would I be? Whenever I describe a night scene, I usually dedicate at least one sentence to the state of the moon, and my my art quilts would be lost without the queen of the night.
Fall is a time when the moon comes into its own. Consider the Harvest Moon, the bright copper orb that startles the earth with its brilliance, and the spookily wonderful Halloween moon. And if that isn’t enough, in Japan there is the Great Moon of Mid-Autumn.
Though it isn’t as famous as cherry-blossom viewing in the spring, the full autumn moon does have significance in Japan. This is the night when people who live in rural areas still set out tables with vegetables, fruits and little rice cakes—a sort of thanksgiving for the year’s harvest. In shrines, at temples and in their gardens at home, the people view and admire the silver presence, beautiful but solitary in the cooling sky.
Over red maples
Rises a silver presence…
Lonely autumn moon.
When I was little, I thought the moon was a fascinating mystery and had many questions about it. What was the moon made of? Where did it come from? Certainly there was the folk tale that explained how a rabbit pounded rice into cakes inside the moon (more fun than the Man In the Moon, I thought,), but— hold on— what about that other folk tale? The one which declared that the moon was home to a beautiful princess who was found in a bamboo thicket?
Folk tales could be confusing. I preferred the country dances that were moon-inspired, especially the boisterous ‘Tanko Bushi’ which told of a full moon rising over a coal town and all its smoke.
Even when I grew older, the moon held its magic. My parents’ house was only a short walk from Osaka Bay, and I loved to stroll of an evening on the embankment. Great clumps of susuki, a species of ornamental pampas grass, grew there in the fall. Their white plumes glowed silver in the moonlight and their thin, razor-sharp leaves rustled soft accompaniment to the swell and break of the tide. Sometimes I would carry a notebook with me to sketch or to write poetry, but I didn’t write very much. The full moon was poetry enough.
Much of Japanese literature involves the moon as does its music. Of the latter, no song before or since has affected me as much as Kojo No Tsuki, a song-poem about the moon as it is viewed from the walls of a ruined castle. The elegance of that music and the melancholy verses of a poet musing over the faded glories of yesteryear were truly haunting. Even now, that song makes me reflect on the mysteries of the natural world embodied in the beautiful but somehow lonely autumn moon.
How many autumns
Have passed you by, Lady Moon,
Silent and alone?