I recently wrote a guide to ballet called Celestial Bodies and working on it my thoughts often turned to “Queen-Moon,” as John Keats called her. The French kings who nurtured classical dance in its formative years—the 17th and 18th centuries—allied themselves with the omnipotent sun. But in the middle of the 19th century, when the ballerina rose as ruler of the art form—a phosphorescence of white tulle in the ballets La Sylphide, Giselle, and Swan Lake—she was allied with the moon. The gold sun was classical. The silvered moon, romantic.
Poets admire both, but they tend to gaze and you can’t look long at the sun. The moon, shining with reflected light, welcomes gazing and patiently listens to longing. So, yes, hymns to the sun pop up now and then, but it is the moon that moves poets and artists, just as it draws the tides and spurs the seasonal migration of birds. “A Midsummer Noon’s Daydream” was never written. The love madness of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream requires the Luna in lunatic. In Vincenzo Bellini’s opera Norma, the Druid priestess of the title prays to the moon in the singular aria “Casta Diva” (“Pure goddess, who casts silver light upon these sacred trees”). The sound is spectral, sterling, rising.