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The moon is full

The other evening I watched the moon come up, immense and gorgeous over our eastern sea. A nice balance prevails in nature's affairs, so that, in the night when the moon is full, it rises at the same time the sun sets. Indeed, on this occasion it was so hugely round one could have supposed it was trying to replace the sun. As the moon wanes it rises later and later - or earlier and earlier as it waxes toward its full girth. Only at the moment of completion does it put on the splendid show I was witnessing.

According to my calendar of the moon's phases, there is but one day of the month when the orb is totally dark. Yet I am certain there are days when it is rising at such inconvenient times as to cause it to lose itself entirely in the light of day. It is then a mere shadow and parody of itself. No poet I know of has written a threnody to that dim specter haunting all but unseen the morn or eve. But without number the poets have written of the moon aloft in darkness, and one that I know of has penned some poignant lines upon the moon's declining into the light of dawn.

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I thought of those lines not too long ago, when I was awakened at an earlier-than-usual hour and went down by the shore to see what was going on. There, diminished but still valiant, the moon seemed to be fighting its way against the very forces of nature. They came back to me in their entirety - words of Sara Teasdale that I must have read ages ago and stored somewhere in the recesses of my mind: Moon, worn thin to the width of a quill, In the dawn clouds flying, How good to go, light into light, And giving light, dying.

My wife, who is of a more literal mind than I, tells me the moon does not ''give'' light. It merely reflects the sun, she says. And she has explanations of a rather scientific kind for the waxing and waning - which I observe with bemused astonishment. To me, the moon seems to give light, as in Teasdale's imagination it seemed to do. Besides, I add, it is just as wonderful that it should be a calm reflector as that it should be all hot and tumultuous like the sun.

I have known men and women who are indeed givers of light, and I would not for a moment detract from them. They are ''hot'' people, with a vital and sometimes terrible force within. They burn you if you come too close to them, and like an object you have briefly touched, they leave you with uncertainty as to whether the sensation is one of heat or cold. But they do, without doubt, send out sparks, and the doers and shapers of the world have been of their kind.

Others I have known are more like the moon. Those people transmit light that comes to them from many sources; from reading, from experience - and, yes, from the burning suns that cross their paths. They are cool and modest people; they do not make a great deal of noise but they can be the best of companions, and some are the rarest of human beings. A child, being asked for the definition of a saint, bethought himself quickly of church windows he had seen and replied that saints are people that the light shines through. He was not, I think, far from the mark.

Around such a one luminescence plays - a penumbra of thoughtfulness and love - and in his company, or hers, you may come close to an understanding of that most mysterious of biblical texts: ''In Thy light shall I see light.''

I had another reason, beyond the sensational display, for observing the moon the other evening. I looked upon it as if for the last time. When next it comes into so stunning a conjunction with the sun I shall be far from this island and from the sea, and the moon will rise over the towers of the great city. Or perhaps it will not rise at all. It is difficult to tell, amid the concrete chasms that man builds for himself, whether nature still functions as it should. How few, in the midst of their busy preoccupations, seem to care!

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