November 30, 2002

From Gerald R. Lucas


On certain nights
When the angles are right
And the moon is a slender crescent

It's circle shows
In a ghostly glow
Of earthly luminescence

In my current favorite Rush song, “Earthshine,” Peart begins by describing a natural phenomenon: the eponymous earthshine. The Earthshine Project describes earthshine as the sun’s light reflecting off of earth (albedo) and lighting up a new moon, or the dark portion of the moon. Earthshine makes a dark moon glow faintly, providing the primary metaphor in Rush's song.

A beacon in the night
I can raise my eyes to
A jewel out of reach
For a dream to rise to

The initial stanzas and chorus suggest a solitary observer of this natural event. The earthshine, since it's such a rare occurence — the "angles" must be just "right" — suggests something novel and curious, sparking a poetic reaction in the narrator, much like Keats' nightingale. There's a mystery to this "ghostly glow" that is strange, yet somehow familiar. While the image of the full moon alludes to many classical interpretations from the chaste Diana to the romantic glow for new lovers, earthshine relies on a third party: that of the earth's glow. This "beacon" seems to encourage the narrator to "raise [his] eyes" and look: to consider his place in the world which immediately sparks images of jewels and dreams in his vision.

Floating high
In the evening sky
I see my faint reflection

Pale facsimile
Like what others see
When they look in my direction

Like jewels and dreams that are out of reach, the narrator's thoughts turn to image and perception. The moon inspires dreams of hope for love that everyone seems to share based on the simple fact that all can experience the shine of the moon. However, it takes the perceptive and sensitive soul to glimpse the earthshine, though it, too, floats high overhead.

The earth has been replaced by the narrator in the fourth stanza, as if he looks at the earthshine through glass, catching his own faint reflection glowing back at him. He projects this image into the eyes of others, suggesting that what they perceive is just a facsimile of something else — a play of light reflects through them and on to the object. Indeed, we see through our own filters and through our own earthshine: everything is a facsimile, a ghostly glow of faint reflections that we call reality.

Stretching out your hand
Full of starlit diamonds

Here, not content to passively gaze, a second party stretches out a hand to grasp the image of the earthshine. Images are like "starlit diamonds," and perhaps more valuable since they provide the foundation of our perception. Images of love and desire projected onto objects and ideas link our reality to our craving and produce that which we value. We desperately want our reality to match the ghostly glow of our perception, but how it ought to be is just a projection, a reflection, a facsimile of ourselves. We are the center of our own worlds, but while we interact with others everyday, these others are forever separate from us: always strangers caught in the glow of our perceptions, as we are strangers caught in the glow of theirs. Yet, this does not keep us from attempting to make contact.

Reflected light
To another's sight
And the moon tells a lover's story

My borrowed face
And my third-hand grace
Only reflect your glory

Another party, perhaps the narrator's lover, shares her vision of earthshine with the narrator. He attempts to see though her eyes: his own face just a reflection of her desires, her "glory." The "lover's story" becomes another desire projected on the moon and on the narrator, yet the narrative now reflects this new story. While the participants cannot truly touch each other, being separated by the orbits of their distinct bodies, they do share reflections and a mutual space, like the earth and moon. These orbits influence each other in many ways — tides, gravity, and reflections forever alter the landscapes of each body, but any notion of an intrinsic self is forever obfuscated by earthshine.

You're still out of reach
For a dream to rise to

Indeed, the fact that the narrator cannot possess the starlit diamonds of the moon does not mean that he will not try. His narrative touches in many ways, inspiring dreams and desires that he may never know physically. The song itself reflects Peart's earthshine: his own jewel in the heavens that we can look at and project our own deires onto. The metaphor is complex: there are multiple participants, each playing the earth and moon in this little drama — each reflecting and projecting facsimiles.

There is a bittersweet quality to this song. While it suggests that true communication and contact is not possible, it also reserves hope of contact in a perpetual longing, perhaps akin to that of Keats' romanticism: as long as we have eyes to lift, hands to stretch, and dreams to rise, we can perhaps make meaningful contact in our own spheres of influence.