The Eclipse Brought 2 Poems to Mind

2017 solar eclipse over New York


I hope you had a good eclipse experience. I spent mine on the front steps of a Bronx hospital, where my friend Rachel Kranz is very sick. It became an informal party as I shared my special glasses with 15 or so doctors, nurses, and patients. We were all impressed.

As I watched, I conflated an image from Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner with an image from an old Scottish ballad. One mentions the sun, the other the moon.

Coleridge’s poem is filled with celestial movement. When things are going well, the sun does just fine:

The Sun came up upon the left, 
Out of the sea came he! 
And he shone bright, and on the right 
Went down into the sea. 

The moon has grimmer associations:

From the sails the dew did drip— 
Till clomb above the eastern bar 
The hornèd Moon, with one bright star 
Within the nether tip. 

One after one, by the star-dogged Moon, 
Too quick for groan or sigh, 
Each turned his face with a ghastly pang, 
And cursed me with his eye. 

Anyway, when the action stops and the mariner’s ship is becalmed, Coleridge gives us a size comparison that we had a chance to check out yesterday:

All in a hot and copper sky, 
The bloody Sun, at noon, 
Right up above the mast did stand, 
No bigger than the Moon.

And true enough, the two heavenly bodies looked pretty much the same size.

The other passage, which Coleridge actually alludes to in “Dejection Ode,” is from “The Ballad of Sir Patrick Spence”:

Late, late yestreen I saw the new Moon, 
With the old Moon in her arms; 
And I fear, I fear, my Master dear! 
We shall have a deadly storm. 

This time, it appeared that the moon was in the sun’s arm, but otherwise the cradling image workeed.

And everyone who put on the glasses said, “Wow!”

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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