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‘“Then shall the sun be turned to darkness and the moon to blood…”’
I know about eclipses from an elder of the church.
He says we should expect the Lord to give these portents now.
God’s people, as in Joel’s day, must daily wait and watch.

I’m in the audience at Stratford. It’s my first King Lear.
Myopic, superstitious Gloucester, troubled at the sight:
‘These late eclipses of the sun and moon portend no good
to us…’ I think: about astrology, Edmund was right.

This cloudless, freezing night in March, I’m gazing at the sky
— at far-flung, automatic bodies falling into line;
the earth, the sun’s dumb slave, in silent mastery of its moon —
and wondering at the workings of the heavenly machine.

I’m not the first, nor best, to press his wonder into verse.
I’m reading disbelieving Hardy, following his thought
that in a motion so ordained and calm, ‘so small a shade’,
can be confined the beauty and confusion we have wrought.

Audio file

Listen to this poem — read by the author

At a Lunar Eclipse — Thomas Hardy

Thy shadow, Earth, from Pole to Central Sea,
Now steals along the Moon’s meek shine
In even monochrome and curving line
Of imperturbable serenity.

How shall I link such sun-cast symmetry
With the torn troubled form I know as thine,
That profile, placid as a brow divine,
With continents of moil and misery?

And can immense Mortality but throw
So small a shade, and Heaven’s high human scheme
Be hemmed within the coasts yon arc implies?

Is such the stellar gauge of earthly show,
Nation at war with nation, brains that teem,
Heroes, and women fairer than the skies?

Audio file

Listen to this poem — read by Joe Mahon