On November 14, 1969, Apollo 12 launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Apollo 12 was the second manned space flight heading for the moon. On November 19, the landing module Intrepid set down on the northwest rim of the ”Ocean of Storms” or Oceanus Procellarum. The Ocean of Storms was first thought to be created by ancient asteroid impacts, but is now thought to be the result of underground activity. (1)
The Ocean of Storms is the largest of 20 lunar maria, or lunar seas. The term “maria” is the plural of the word “mare”, which is the Latin word for “sea”. (2) You can see these “seas” from the earth without the need for a telescope. They are the darker spots that indicate lowlands or craters, surrounded by the lighter areas, which indicate highlands. The “Man in the Moon” is a perfect example of how these two contrasting features can be seen from earth.
Although we use the phrase “The “Man in the Moon” to describe some features of the moon, the moon itself is often referred to as a feminine entity. Lousia May Alcott’s (1832-1888) poem “The Mother Moon” may be a perfect example of this.
“The Mother Moon” by Louisa May Alcott
The moon upon the wide sea Placidly looks down, Smiling with her mild face, Though the ocean frown. Clouds may dim her brightness, But soon they pass away, And she shines out, unaltered, O'er the little waves at play. So 'mid the storm or sunshine, Wherever she may go, Led on by her hidden power The wild see must plow. As the tranquil evening moon Looks on that restless sea, So a mother's gentle face, Little child, is watching thee. Then banish every tempest, Chase all your clouds away, That smoothly and brightly Your quiet heart may play. Let cheerful looks and actions Like shining ripples flow, Following the mother's voice, Singing as they go.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s (1850-1894) “The Moon” follows Alcott’s lead by describing the moon as something that watches over those on earth.
“The Moon” by Robert Louis Stevenson
The moon has a face like the clock in the hall; She shines on thieves on the garden wall, On streets and fields and harbour quays, And birdies asleep in the forks of the trees. The squalling cat and the squeaking mouse, The howling dog by the door of the house, The bat that lies in bed at noon, All love to be out by the light of the moon. But all of the things that belong to the day Cuddle to sleep to be out of her way; And flowers and children close their eyes Till up in the morning the sun shall arise.
Wallace Stevens (1879–1955) also refers to the moon as a feminine entity. However, in “Lunar Paraphrase” his mother reference is less about the motherly love and care, and more about the process of giving birth.
“Lunar Paraphrase” by Wallace Stevens
The moon is the mother of pathos and pity. When, at the wearier end of November, Her old light moves along the branches, Feebly, slowly, depending upon them; When the body of Jesus hangs in a pallor, Humanly near, and the figure of Mary, Touched on by hoar-frost, shrinks in a shelter Made by the leaves, that have rotted and fallen; When over the houses, a golden illusion Brings back an earlier season of quiet And quieting dreams in the sleepers in darkness— The moon is the mother of pathos and pity
It should be noted that the moon isn’t limited to these feminine portrayals. Poets often comment on the moon’s ever present nature. For example, Charlie Smith starts his poem “Moon, Moon” with these lines:
The moon follows me street by street-- The same moon with its camembert and blue face, Blue-eyed moon
Similarly, Chinese Poet Li Bai wrote:
Why is it impossible to climb to the bright moon, yet the moon follows us everywhere?
The above lines reference that idea that the moon seems to be everywhere. Depending on your personal experience, the ever present nature of the moon may link back to the idea of the moon as a mother figure. Even if that isn’t the case, it does open the door to speak about the timeless nature of the moon.
Li Bai also wrote this about the moon:
People today haven’t seen the moon in ancient times, but the moon today has shone over the ancient people. Past or present, people are like water ever-flowing, but the moon they share remains unchanged.
Similarly, Kobayashi Issa wrote this haiku:
elsewhere, no doubt someone's viewing this island this moon
David G. Lanoue explains that in this haiku, “Issa provides an interesting perspective: he stands on an island under the moon, imagining the viewpoint of another person, on another island, looking in his direction.. . . and because of his out-of-body perspective, Issa is there too, immersed in his own picture.”
As we can see in this short exploration into the poems about the moon, it is clear that the moon has a special place in the mind of the poet. From early China to mid 1900s America, the moon’s presence has made its way into verse. It is always there and provides comfort in our darkest nights. It provides us with a bit of stability within our ever changing lives.
Finally, in order to end this exploration into poetry inspired by the moon, I want to return to the work of haiku master Matsuo Basho. I think this haiku sums up our relationship to the moon perfectly.
The moon glows the same: It is the drifting cloud forms Make it seem to change
- Lousia May Alcott; The Mother Moon
- Robert Louis Stevenson; The Moon
- Wallace Stevens; Lunar Paraphrase
- Li Bai’s poems were retrieved from Liu Jue”s “Lunar Longings” published on The World of Chinese
- Kobayashi Issa’s haiku was retrieved from David G. Lanoue’s Haiku of Kobayashi Issa at the Haikuguy.com
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Nice work as always, Mark. This brings back memories of filming a lunar eclipse using time-lapse photography with my Super-8 movie camera as a teenager one warm summer night on the farm. I had to continuously reset the tripod to keep the moon in the frame, and while the eclipse was being filmed, I listened to Boston on my tape player (still my favorite band after all these years). One of a small handful of good memories from my youth. Also, any mention of Basho and Issa automatically gets a big thumbs-up from me. 🙂
Hi Mike, That is so great! Super-8 movie camera?! I haven’t thought about those in years. By any chance did you try and overly any Boston songs to the film? And if so, what song?
Thanks for sharing!
I would have loved to have added a soundtrack to that eclipse film clip but alas, my Chinon Super-8 camera was a silent camera, so no sound at all. I had Boston’s second album (Don’t Look Back) in my tape deck at the time and can specifically recall “A Man I’ll Never Be” playing as the moon slowly slipped in and out of the earth’s shadow (there’s a quiet section of the song immediately following the guitar solo where the drums come in and you can hear the reverb on each beat, and that particular moment is just burned into my mind). Such a vivid memory! This must have been around 1980 or so.
A lovely collection of verses about the moon which everyone can see and relate to! 🙋♂️
Thanks Ashley! The moon is everywhere!
enchanting as ever Mark; thanks for the collection – I feel it is ages if ever that I heard the moon called mother. Mine was a mad sunny dragon. Dad was the saving elusive moon. His internal emigration in their marriage gave me the role model I guess to get out of there as soon as I could, age 18. (I later learned how she was abused by her own mother, and they were both affected by being in their late adolescence and lost when Hitler came to power. Transgenerational trauma, it is known as today.) Thanks for putting poetic non-mythical images to the experience…
Hi Barbara, thank you for sharing your experience and connections to these poems. I am glad that you found them enjoyable. Hope you are well.
I get unnecessarily giddy when I see the moon during daylight hours. It’s like when I was a kid and my mom occasionally made breakfast for dinner. Just an appreciation for those little variances I guess. As if the moon could be so bold as to show itself during the sun’s hours. I’ve always thought the sun was rather arrogant.
I bet there is a children’s book out there about the boldness of the moon and the arrogance of the sun.. If there isn’t, I think there should be.
Wait, what happens when there is an eclipse? How does the Sun feel when the Moon steps in front and steals the glory?
Hahaha. I guess that’s why eclipses don’t last long. The sun gets all hot and bothered about it of course!
Thank you Cindy!