Nature, the Super Moon, the Coronavirus, and Charles Ives

Nature presents us with contraries, opposite poles, also known as antipodes…

On Monday night, as I made my appointed rounds through the streets of the city, suddenly I noticed the remarkably bright full moon, so close, so distinctive. With a faint mist surrounding it, it almost seemed to have its own corona. It took me by surprise, and once aware of it I had to wheel ’round many times to contemplate its pristine beauty, till finally the moon was eclipsed by gathering clouds.

I cannot say for certain, but it may be that our moon and sun are imitations of a moon and sun which are more beautiful to behold in some higher world. That is my hope, belief, and intuition.

As a race or as a species, we indulge in chauvinism, imagining that our moon and our sun must be best. But there is another theory or observation which says that many things found in this world of ours arise in imitation of things found in higher worlds.

There, nature flows in abundance. It is not built up from physical stuff, but flows directly from the mind of God, with no dirt or bugs, and no planes flying overhead. That is how it can be more beautiful — intimate, like a little wood, and yet we sense that its lakes, rivers, and forests could go on forever.

In our present world of opposites, we cannot fully enjoy the sun and moon at the same time in the same sky, for always one will be waxing while the other is waning. But in the spiritual sky, the sun and moon shine together, in a world higher than ours which is more subtle, and not racked by the extremes of opposites which plague our mortal existence.

This view is not new, but is a Platonist view found in both strains of Hinduism as well as Christianity. It is the view C.S. Lewis propounded in The Last Battle, which was the concluding volume in The Chronicles of Narnia. To those who would doubt or belittle me for holding such a view, I might well reply in Lewis fashion: “Whatever do they teach them in the schools these days?”

Science, I suppose, which is all for the good, provided it does not blind us. (Shades of Thomas Dolby there.) Science accurately describes our own world in astonishing detail, but doubts the existence of the higher worlds, because it has found no way to measure them. Such is life.

Fast forward to Friday, (a Friday the 13th at that), and I am confronted with the horrors of the coronavirus which appears to be spreading exponentially around the world. I need not describe it, since omnipresent news reports make its advance upon us more than plain. If the 20th century was the Century of Death, the 21st may be one in which the dead are counted ever more precisely by bean-counters who have become inured to the task, rushing in like British dentists to perform a BDA or Bomb Damage Assessment while the rubble is still smoking. But I digress…

The beauty of the moon, and the horrors of infection, are the sorts of polar opposites which Charles Ives regards in his 1923 song “On The Antipodes”:

On The Antipodes

Nature’s relentless; Nature is kind.
Nature is Eternity; Nature’s today!
Nature is geometry; Nature is mystery.
Nature’s man’s master; Nature’s man’s slave.
Sometimes Nature’s nice and sweet, as a little pansy,
and sometimes ‘it ain’t.’
Nature is man’s enemy; Nature is man’s friend.
Nature shows us part of life; Nature shows us all the grave.
Does Nature know the beginning of Time
or the ending of Space?
Man! We ask you!
Is Nature nothing but atomic cosmic cycles
around the perennial antipodes?

Poetry and song bring out these contrasts far better than prose, so I am left with little to add, excepting a pronunciation guide. It’s \an-TIH-puh-deez, which C.J. gets wrong in The West Wing, suggesting that those who fail to study antipodes are doomed to mispronounce them. 😉

Today being Friday the Thirteenth, the appearance of a black cat would not be altogether unexpected. So, in case Ives’s mystic atonalism doesn’t quite float your boat, I’ll offer a song more in the tradition of Tin Pan Alley, with a nod to all you cat-lovers out there in television land:

Kathleen Beller (a.k.a. Mrs Dolby) in a 1980 production of Rappaccini’s Daughter

Farewell time

It is farewell time;
The play of the heart will now begin.
The banner of Divine Love will
Fly today in the boundless sky.
The sun, the moon, the deathless consciousness,
Infinity’s secret wealth, the World-Lord’s very Feet,
Far Heaven’s blessing-message,
The flood of liberation,
The Abode of divine Nectar,
All will be united in the heart of our world.

– Sri Chinmoy, from My Flute, Agni Press, 1972

Of Further Interest

Charles Ives – “The Cage” and “Walking”
Survival, Friday The 13th, Doctor Who, and Black Cats
Peaceful Morning Meditation Music April 13th

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