How does the full moon and moonlight make waves in a lover's heart and the sea

Dr Mohendra Irengbam *

A full moon at the Kovalam Beach when my Family and I visited in 1982
A full moon at the Kovalam Beach when my Family and I visited in 1982

A plaque left on the Moon by the Apollo 11 Astronauts reads: "Here men from planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D. We come in peace for all mankind."

Moon became a universal symbol of love. Love is an emotional drive designed to make a lover blind to the actual reality of his/her lover. The word 'lunatic' comes from the word 'lunar' because Moon affects human mind and emotions by a rise in oestrogen and testosterone hormones. "Love can be heaven, love can be hell and at the touch of love everyone becomes a poet, " said Plato.

A reflective English love song takes me back to Bombay in 1952. It was crooned by Perry Como:
Don't let the stars get in your eyes/ Don't let the moon break your heart/Or keep your heart from me/ For someday I'll return/ And you know you are the only one I'll ever love.

Bollywood has also curry flavoured the enchanting Moon and moonlight. My favourite film ever, was JAAL that I saw in 1952 at the Strand Cinema at Colaba Causeway in Bombay. It starred Dev Anand (Tony Fernandez) and Geeta Bali (Maria) at a fishing village in Goa.

My heart goes very tender even now with the haunting melody of this song: Yeh Rat, Yeh chandani phir kahan/soonja dilki dastan; Chandani raten pyar ki baten khogaye jane kaha? Sunja dilki dastan. In English: where will we find the night and this moonlit night? Listen to the story of my heart. Where have the moonlit nights and words of love become lost? Listen to the story of my heart.

The heartstring-tagging song was rendered by Tony Fernandez, strumming a Spanish guitar against the backdrop of a tropical beach (Goa), where the moonlight slumbered on the boughs of trees, gently kissed by the cool sea breeze.

The famous balcony scene of Romeo & Juliet in the film Romeo and Juliet that I saw in Imphal in the immediate post war period, starring Norma Shearer as Juliet.  The balcony is now reconstituted in the new Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London.
The famous balcony scene of Romeo & Juliet in the film Romeo and Juliet that I saw in Imphal in the immediate post war period, starring Norma Shearer as Juliet. The balcony is now reconstituted in the new Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London.

Real balcony of Juliet's House, and Juliet's Grave- red marble sarcophagus in Verona in Italy, 120 Km from Venice. Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is a true story of romantic love of two real lovers who lived and died for each other in Verona, Italy in 1303.
Real balcony of Juliet's House, and Juliet's Grave- red marble sarcophagus in Verona in Italy, 120 Km from Venice. Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is a true story of romantic love of two real lovers who lived and died for each other in Verona, Italy in 1303.

The most famous balcony scene in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, which stands alone as the best of English literature's romantic exchanges between two lovers is in the shebang of moonlight, when Juliet soliloquises: "O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? What's in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other word would smell as sweet."

Being in love for the first time is as riveting as staying in a five-star hotel for the first time after being used to fleabag hotels. I have had my experiences of blissfulness and sadness.

A fool moon's energy can cause romantic chaos for someone with unrequited love. Research has shown that unrequited love is very common. Practically everyone loved someone who did not respond by their 20s. Or the other way round. Experience with unrequited love differs for individuals in a variety of forms.

That the moon can break somebody's heart, is vividly described by Bysshe Shelley's poem "To the Moon" that portrays his disappointment in love. The Moon represents to him fatigue, alienation, loneliness, useless labour, and unrequited love.

According to science, it theorises that human emotions react to subtle changes in the Earth's magnetic field. Each lunar phase is believed to have a particular effect on one's emotions. If I remember correctly, there are right phases of the moon as it orbits the Earth.

The full moon can also cause havoc since it can bring high tides or trigger earthquakes. When the English proverb 'Time and tide wait for no man' was created, the word 'tide' was not the same as we understand it now. The word 'time' was the same as the old English (Saxon) word tide (time). It was repeated for alliterative effect. By tide, we now understand the alternating rise and fall at sea level. It's true though, time, by the atomic clock that keeps the international time ticking, and lunar tides that come every 12 hours, wait for nobody.

Ocean Tide at Puri (Jagannath Kshetra) one evening in 1960. During our College NCC annual Camping.
Ocean Tide at Puri (Jagannath Kshetra) one evening in 1960.
During our College NCC annual Camping.

I saw the biggest tides ebb and flow at Jagannath Puri in India during my college years. They were different kinds of tides caused by sea level disturbances out in the sea, produced by wind. They came and broke upon the beach about every minute. These tides start out as ripples on the surface of the ocean, while tsunamis are giant sea waves caused by a seismic disturbance at the bottom of the sea, such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

These tides have a velocity with which they bring water onto the beach, where it's 'broken'. At some places, such as Hawaii, where water travels from deep sea to shallow water towards the beach, its amplitude will increase until it finally breaks, suitable for surfing (riding a wave on a surfboard towards the shore).

The high tides are caused by the gravitational force of Moon on oceans of Earth. The Moon's gravity tries to pull anything on Earth. Though the solid Earth can resist, the liquid water can't as it's always moving. Since Earth is rotating, two tides occur each day with 12 hours and 25 minutes between them, depending on the position of Moon.

It was only after Isaac Newton discovered the law of gravity that scientists understood how the gravity of Moon caused tides. Advances in science have shown that while the gravitational attraction of Moon causes oceans to "bulge" out, in the direction of Moon, another "bulge" occurs on the opposite side. It's probably because Earth is also being pulled a bit towards Moon and away from the water on the far side. The bulge is what we call a high tide.

Moon's gravity causes the bulge by deforming oceans, and as Earth rotates under this ocean bulge, we have high tides. Because there are two bulges, we get two high tides and two low tides each day. Nobody exactly knows why there are two opposite bulges: one, on the side of Earth that faces Moon, and the other on the opposite side of Earth where Moon's gravity is the weakest. Among many theories, two I find quite satisfactory, involve gravity and inertia in the creation of two opposing major tidal bulges:

As the gravity of Moon pulling water away from Earth on its side facing Moon is greater than the oceans' inertia that attempts to keep the water in place, water bulges towards Moon. Inertia or centrifugal force as I remember it from classical mechanics in school, is a tendency for an object to remain unchanged (Newton 1st law of motion). While Moon's gravity is directly responsible for creating a bulge (pulling away) on the side of the Earth facing it, the Earth's inertia acts to counterbalance it.

Moon's gravitational force on the opposite sides of Earth is weaker than the Earth's inertia, and thus the water tries to keep going in a straight line (laws of motion) ie moves away from Earth, forming another bulge. Over the rest of the globe, gravity and inertia are in relative balance. Because water is fluid, the two bulges stay aligned with Moon while Earth rotates.

Another theory says, the gravitational force of Moon that causes Earth to accelerate slightly towards it, causing the water to get pulled towards Moon faster than the solid rock on the side nearest to Moon. On the far side, the solid Earth 'leaves behind' some of the water, which is not as strongly accelerated towards Moon as the solid Earth is. This produces the 'bulge' on the opposite sides of Earth.

It's not only Moon that causes tides as we understood at school. Sun also plays a part. Though Sun is very far away, its massive size contribute gravity about half as strong (46%) as the one produced by Moon.

Ocean tides vary in size and shapes at different places on Earth, as they depend on a variety of factors, such as the shape of the local coastlines, storms at sea, location of Sun and Moon, and the natural velocity of water that depends on the depth and salinity of the water at different points on Earth. There are no tides at the equator as the difference between high and low tide is rather very small compared to other latitudes.

The high tides occur in the so called "Spring tides" and the "Neap tides". In modern astronomy, the Spring tide happens when Earth is directly aligned between Sun and Moon (Full moon). The Neap tide occurs when Sun and Moon are aligned, with Sun and Earth on opposite sides of Moon (New moon). During these times the bulge of ocean water raised by the moon is added to the smaller tidal bulge raised by the Sun.

When Moon is located at right angles to Earth-Sun line, at its first quarter or the last quarter (phases of the moon), Sun and Moon interfere with each other and so the tidal bulges are low. This is called Neap tide. Spring tide and Neap tide levels are about 20% higher or lower respectively than the average.

Since Moon moves around Earth, it's not always at the same place at the same time each day that a tide occurs. The times for high and low tides change by 50 minutes. A high tide is thus caused by combined forces of gravity of Moon, Sun, and many other forces, including the earth's inertia creating the spin. The highest tides in the world are at the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia in Canada.

Author's website:

* Dr Mohendra Irengbam wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at irengbammsingh(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on September 30 2022 .

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