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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