On October 20th, the Hunter’s Moon made its appearance in the night sky. This moon, which is the first full moon following the Harvest Moon, actually goes by many names.
Besides the Hunter’s Moon, it has been called the Travel Moon, the Dying Grass Moon, and the Sanguine or Blood Moon. Gordon Johnston writes in an article for NASA that the name Travel Moon may come from the Algonquin tribes in northeastern United States. It is around this time that the Algonquins would move from their hunting lands in the mountains to the lower, more favorable, climates. However, Johnston adds that the Travel Moon could also be in reference to the bird migration.(1)
The Dying Grass, Blood Moon, or Sanguine Moon also have conflicting origin stories. Johnston reports that, “Some sources indicate that the Dying Grass, Sanguine, and Blood Moon names are related to the turning of the leaves and dying back of plants with the start of fall. Others indicate that the names Sanguine or Blood Moon are associated with hunting”(1).
It is interesting to note is that these origins are not necessarily in conflict with each other. When the leaves have fallen, and the plants have died, it is the ideal time to hunt. The loss of foliage gives the hunter better sightlines. Additionally, the remnants of the harvest are still laying in the fields and the animals emerge from the woods to forage. Furthermore, with the migration to warmer climates, as mentioned with the Travel Moon, the animals will be more active. What this all means is that during this time the animals will be easier to spot, and with all these events converging at this time that is perhaps why October’s full moon has so many names.
When the Hunter’s Moon begins to recede, the planets, stars, and constellations begin to fill up the night sky. It is these other heavenly elements that have made their way into today’s poems by Robinson Jeffers, William Alexander Percy, and Winifred M. Letts.
“October Evening” by Robinson Jeffers
Male-throated under the shallow sea-fog Moaned a ship’s horn quivering the shorelong granite. Coyotes toward the valley made answer, Their little wolf-pads in the dead grass by the stream Wet with the young season’s first rain, Their jagged wail trespassing among the steep stars. What stars? Aldebaran under the dove-leash Pleiades. I though, in an hour Orion will be risen, Be glad for summer is dead and the sky Turns over to darkness, good storms, few guests, glad rivers
There is something about this poem that resonates with my memories of October nights. There is a haunting feeling with the shallow fog and the coyote howling. There is also a mention of the sea coast and perhaps a change over from the crowded summer community to a less densely populated winter village. Growing up in a coastal town north of Boston, I feel like I know this seasonal shift.
Jeffers also mentions the star Aldebaran, the star cluster of Pleiades, and the Orion constellation. All these stars can be seen in the northern hemisphere during the winter months. Aldebaran, the red star that becomes the “eye” of Taurus constellation, is located between Orion and Pleiades. These three celestial beings seem to travel together through the sky, and have become the thread for today’s poems.
“The Unloved to His Beloved” by William Alexander Percy
Could I pluck down Aldebaran And haze the Pleiads in your hair I could not add more burning to your beauty Or lend a starrier coldness to your air. If I were cleaving terrible waters With death ahead on the visible sands I could not turn and stretch my hands more wildly, More vainly turn and stretch to you my hands.
The title of this poem is really what really drew me in. Percy’s admiration and despair is so prevalent in this poem. His unrequited love is so intense that it is not limited the human realm. The object of his fancy shines brighter, and is more beautiful, than the stars in the heavens. Specifically, the stars of Aldebaran and Pleiades.
“If Love of Mine” by Winifred M. Letts
If love of mine could witch you back to earth It would be when the bat is on the wing, The lawn dew-drenched, the first stars glimmering, The moon a golden slip of seven nights’ birth. If prayer of mine could bring you it would be To this wraith-flowered jasmine-scented place Where shadow trees their branches interlace; Phantoms we’d tread a land of fantasy. If love could hold you I would bid you wait Till the pearl sky is indigo and till The plough show silver lamps beyond the hill And Aldebaran burns above the gate. If love of mine could lure you back to me From the rose gardens of eternity.
Winifred M. Letts’ poetry was greatly influenced by the events of World War I. “If Love of Mine” is part of a four poem collection called “Ad Mortuum”. The other poems in this collection are “Dead”, “Your Name”, and “Heart’s Desire”(2).
In this poem, we again see that the night sky plays a large role in the expression of loss. Letts brings our attention the moon and then the shadows cast by branches. She also mentions Aldebaran and the Plough, which is dipper part of the Big Dipper. All this sets the stage for deep desire to reconnect with a lost love, and to perhaps bring them back from “the rose garden of eternity”.
I find the connection between these poems interesting. They are not explicitly connected by object or by time. But there is a commonality that appears with the constellations and the night sky. They seem to promote a darkness, and perhaps mysterious, nature within each poem. These verses seem to connect the poets to the heavens, and the heavens back to the human experience.
- Gordon Johnston, Full Moon Guide: October – November 2021
- Library of Congress: Blackwell Family Papers
William Alexander Percy’s “The Unloved to His Beloved” can be found in Enzio’s Kingdom and Other Poems.
Winifred M. Letts’ “If Love of Mine” can be found in the reproduction of her 1918 book The Spires of Oxford and Other Poems
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