Our Marvellous Moon
The moon like a flower
In heaven's high bower,
With silent delight,
Sits and smiles on the night.
- William Blake
I often marvel at our Moon, whether I am looking up to the sky to find its comforting luminescent smile in an artificially-lit city, appreciating its value in illuminating the woods at night or observing super moons or eclipses. Produced by the Moon's gravitational influence, ocean tides, too, have fascinated this city dweller whenever I have travelled to the Maritimes or overseas. The Moon is a marvel indeed!
The Moon is almost as old as, the Earth, since the Moon is thought to have been formed from the debris left over after a giant impact between Earth and a Mars-sized body. 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the first human connection between Earth and our celestial neighbour, via the crewed landing of the Apollo 11 spacecraft on the Moon on July 20, 1969. In the video above, at 22:55, you can hear American astronaut Neil Armstrong utter his still-thrilling famous words, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
Toronto Public Library is commemorating this momentous occasion with a program series, Voyages Out: the Moon and Space Exploration. This series of events in select library branches, in partnership with the Aga Khan Museum, gives you glimpses of the universe in ways you have never seen. By exploring the moon and stars, astronomy, and humankind's role in exploring the depths of our universe, Voyages Out aims to change the way we think about our place in the universe. You can meet Canadian astronaut Dave Williams on April 4 at the Toronto Reference Library or on April 9 at the North York Central Library. He will be talking about his new book, Defying Limits: Lessons from the Edge of the Universe.
With a valid adult Toronto Public Library card, you can pick up a Museum + Arts Pass for the Aga Khan Museum to see the exhibition The Moon: A Voyage Through Time, which explores the moon in Islamic culture, past and present.
Also, there will be a Retro Futures exhibition at the Toronto Reference Library from May 18 to July 28, inspired by the 50th anniversary of NASA's first successful lunar landing. This is a nostalgic trip back to futures-that-might-have-been, as seen from the starry eyes of early science fiction writers. The exhibition features rare books, magazines, artwork and ephemera from the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy.
Although the Moon has provided humans through the ages with a shared celestial experience, everyone has their own unique memories of it. I remember swimming in the Moon's shimmery reflection on northern lakes, and I recollect my parents singing their favourite song, Moon River, from Breakfast at Tiffany's. I also recall going to Washington, D.C. and being enthralled by seeing an actual piece of moon rock in the very centre of the red sphere in the dazzling Space Window at the Washington National Cathedral.
I especially remember, on a magically moonlit and incredibly cold winter's night, going on a wolf howl in Algonquin Provincial Park. Wolves howl, particularly in the winter, to bind their pack together. They are fascinating animals, and I am not surprised that folklore has developed about them, and even about humans turning into werewolves on a full moon.
Throughout history, Earth's closest celestial neighbor, the Moon, has inspired and intrigued people. Around the world, they have looked up in awe at the Moon and told stories to explain its mysteries. They imagined that the Moon represented people or animals and even believed it to be the cause of strange behaviour, and many different cultures have created stories about this intriguing orb.
The Moon nearly always keeps the same side facing towards Earth, due to its rotating about its axis in about the same time it takes to orbit Earth. The far side is not actually dark, but nonetheless it provided a muse for English rock band Pink Floyd. For their critically-acclaimed The Dark Side of the Moon album, Roger Waters wrote the memorable lyrics for the song Eclipse, "And everything under the sun is in tune but the sun is eclipsed by the moon."
An astonishing number of poets, spanning continents and centuries, have been inspired by the Moon, as they have love, lost, dreamed and hoped under it. The inventive poet Edward Lear created a delightfully romantic couple in his poem The Owl and the Pussycat, who had such a fine time under the Moon and stars:
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
- Edward Lear