Beijing, 25 February 2013
Yesterday started with my wife finally remembering a song that had been chasing around in her head all night: “September”, by Earth, Wind and Fire, whom we see here in concert:
This is a song from “our” generation; it came out in 1978. My wife tracked down a version of it on the web and promptly played it for the rest of the day. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s a great song – a feel-good song, my wife calls it – but after you’ve sung along with the refrain
Ba de ya – say do you remember
Ba de ya – dancing in September
Ba de ya – never was a cloudy day
for the fifth time, it begins to pall – at least for me. But not my wife. Mercifully, she had to turn it off when we went to bed, but then the fireworks, which had been grumbling along all day,
began to build up to their final roar for midnight.
Because, for those of you who do not closely follow matters Chinese, yesterday was the Lantern Festival, the last day of the Chinese new year celebrations, whose end is traditionally celebrated with an orgy of fireworks.
At one moment during the evening I slipped out to the local 7-11 to buy a bottle of our favourite wine (a Spanish tempranillo – but I digress). Coming back, I looked up and glimpsed through the clouds what all this sound and fury was all about: the full moon.
Because the Chinese new year is really a lunar festival. It starts on the second new moon after the winter solstice and ends 15 days later at the full moon. I had picked up the new moon – or newish moon; it had already waxed a few days – in Luang Prabang.
And now I was seeing the full moon, shining serenely down on all this silliness.
A full moon is a beautiful thing. It certainly has caught the attention of many poets. A short search on the web brought to light at least 100 poems about the moon by well-known poets; Lord knows how many have been written by bad poets. But the poem which always comes to my mind when I see a full moon is not actually about the moon. I need to explain. One night in Vienna, I woke up and was enchanted by the brilliant nearly full moon pouring its white light into the bedroom. Two nights later, I was in Cambodia on the shore of the Mekong River. Looking up, I saw the full moon and thought to myself “This same moon will be shining down on my wife and children in a few hours” and found that thought immensely comforting. Now for the poem, which is by the Welsh poet Alun Lewis. He wrote it during the Second World War, when he was far away in India, in the city of Poona.
Last night I did not fight for sleep
But lay awake from midnight while the world
Turned its slow features to the moving deep
Of darkness, till I knew that you were furled,
Beloved, in the same dark watch as I.
And sixty degrees of longitude beside
Vanished as though a swan in ecstasy
Had spanned the distance from your sleeping side.
And like to swan or moon the whole of Wales
Glided within the parish of my care:
I saw the green tide leap on Cardigan,
Your red yacht riding like a legend there.
And the great mountains Dafydd and Llewelyn,
Plynlimmon, Cader Idris and Eryri
Threshing the darkness back from head and fin,
And also the small nameless mining valley
Whose slopes are scratched with streets and sprawling graves
Dark in the lap of firwoods and great boulders
Where you lay waiting, listening to the waves
My hot hands touched your white despondent shoulders
And then ten thousand miles of daylight grew
Between us, and I heard the wild daws crake
In India’s starving throat; whereat I knew
That Time upon the heart can break
But love survives the venom of the snake.
When I read the poem for the first time, I was reminded of that night in Vienna with its full moon. And now, when I’m far away from home and see the moon, I think of this poem and of my wife.
Earth Wind and Fire concert: http://sharelike.me/image/pics/EarthWindandFireconcertPics1ApCC7Md5iwM.jpg
Full moon: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-gY39tpbGmzg/TnLTHVEnSyI/AAAAAAAABaM/R2kBI2LddYg/s1600/Moon_Lantern_Festival.jpg
New moon Luang Prabang: my photo