Yesterday I stayed up to watch the penumbral lunar eclipse. Penumbra is from the Latin almost shadow, the region where some of the light source is obscured.
The eclipse is seen here as a faint shadow upon the upper left part of the moon:
Waiting with my camera, I was a little disappointed. I had expected something more.
The experience later brought to mind Haiku poet Basho's account of his visit to the Kashima shrine.
Crouching under a pine
I watched the full moon.
Pondering all night long
On the sorrow of Chunagon.
On reading the above poem by Teishitsu, Basho writes:
Having for some time cherished in my mind the memory of this poet, I wandered out on the road at last one day this past autumn, possessed by an irresistible desire to see the rise of the full moon over the mountains of the Kashima shrine.
After a long journey, Basho arrives at the Kashima shrine:
... it started to rain in the afternoon, and in no way could we see the rise of the full moon... Shortly before daybreak, however, the moon began to shine through the rifts made in the hanging clouds... We sat for a long time in utter silence, watching the moonlight trying to penetrate the clouds and listening to the sound of the lingering rain. It was really regrettable that I had come such a long way only to look at the dark shadow of the moon, but I consoled myself by remembering the famous lady who had returned without composing a single poem from the long walk she had taken to hear a cuckoo.
Basho is referring to a story by Sei Shonagon - who describes the cuckoo's song as 'so faint that one doubts one's own ears'.
Given his disappointment, Basho wrote the following verse:
In a temple,
I watched the moon
With a solemn look.
Perhaps my disappointment was to be expected with such expectation, but I now see that the beauty is in the faintness of the shadow - so faint that one doubts one's own eyes.
I have long been interested in shadow. For example, in mathematics: objects in higher dimensions can be represented as shadows in lower dimensions.
In my twenties, I was not that interested in art, but strangely became very interested in Caravaggio's painting and his use of shadow, seen here in Supper at Emmaus:
[Incidentally, John Berger's Ways of Seeing has a brilliant discussion with a group of children about it, starting at 25:53].
Around the same time I also became interested in Botticelli's drawings of Dante's Paradiso, in particular this one of The Empyrean:
The absence of image here represents Dante loss for words:
Like those who see so clearly while they dream
that marks of feeling, when their dreaming ends,
remain, though nothing more returns to mind,
so I am now. For nearly all I saw
has gone, even if, still, within my heart,
there drops the sweetness that was born from that.
I did not think about these images again until recently, around 20 years later. I have become interested in some of the themes present in these pieces of art: not only shadow, but also religious emotions, mythic images, the ineffable...
My interest in these things 20 years ago might be considered as shadows of other selves that only now are receiving more light. To quote Mary Boole:
Coming revelation casts its shadow before.
How might we notice such shadows when they appear, so faint that one doubts oneself?
I am reminded of another Haiku, this by the poet Sodo:
Watching the moon,
My shadow seeing me home.