The moon was clear as half a crescent
Three nights ago, but now it’s gone…
D. Rudoy — “The City Dark“
Poems about the Moon have been favored by English-speaking poets for centuries, but how many such poems can you name? In this article, we have collected poems about the Moon by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and other renowned masters. Read on to find out what remarkable qualities the poets of different eras endowed the Moon with!
English Poems About the Moon
The Moon has attracted and enthralled poets for a long time. They worshipped its melancholic beauty, its mysterious image, shrouded in a haze of mystery. The lunar landscape is often featured in the works of romanticism and symbolism.
The Moon is a frequent guest of romantic poets, especially in the works calling for an elegiac mood aiming to immerse the reader in a world of dreams. On the one hand, the Moon is the mistress of the night, the patroness of illusions, a symbol of unhappy and unrequited love. At the same time, it is identified with the feminine, maternal principle. For many poets, the Moon symbolizes the ideal world of dreams, beauty, and creativity.
Percy Bysshe Shelley — “To the Moon”
Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,
Among the stars that have a different birth,
And ever changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy?
This is one of the most famous romantic poems about the Moon. Shelley addresses the night luminary directly and explains the Moon’s pallor as a possible sadness due to its having to ascend to heaven alone (“companionless”), looking at the earth with “a joyless eye”.
The moon in Shelley’s poem cannot find a constant companion who would be faithful. It is surrounded by stars, but they are different in nature (“a different birth”) and changeable (“ever-changing”). The poet personifies the Moon, attributing to it a human desire for mutual feelings and fidelity.
Emily Dickinson — “The Moon Was But a Chin of Gold”
The Moon was but a Chin of Gold
A Night or two ago –
And now she turns Her perfect Face
Upon the World below –
Her Forehead is of Amplest Blonde –
Her Cheek – a Beryl hewn –
Her Eye unto the Summer Dew
The likest I have known –
Her Lips of Amber never part –
But what must be the smile
Upon Her Friend she could confer
Were such Her Silver Will –
And what a privilege to be
But the remotest Star –
For Certainty She take Her Way
Beside Your Palace Door –
Her Bonnet is the Firmament –
The Universe – Her Shoe –
The Stars – the Trinkets at Her Belt –
Her Dimities – of Blue –
Written in a combination of the iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter, the poem “The Moon Was But a Chin of Gold” is an excellent example of the distinctive style of Emily Dickinson who relied on unexpected images and comparisons to describe familiar objects: in this case, comparing the Moon to a chin, and the Universe to a shoe.
The poem uses the same method of personification: the Moon’s appearance starts with a thin, chin-like crescent, eventually turning into a “face” with a forehead, cheekbones, eyes, and lips. Of the poetic features, one can also note the epithets (“lips of amber”, “a chin of gold”) which are usually used in relation to the Sun, not the Moon.
The “rivalry” between the Sun and the Moon has been going on since time immemorial. In the mythologies of many peoples, these images are closely linked, sometimes by family ties. For example, among the ancient Egyptians the goddesses Tefnut and Shu were twins, the first of which embodied the lunar essence, and the second — the solar one. In Indo-European mythology, the motive of the matchmaking of the Moon and the Sun is widespread. And the ancient Romans believed the Moon to be the sister of the Sun god Helios.
Gerard Manley Hopkins — “Moonrise”
I awoke in the Midsummer not to call night, in the white and the walk of the morning:
The moon, dwindled and thinned to the fringe of a finger-nail held to the candle,
Or paring of paradisaical fruit, lovely in waning but lustreless,
Stepped from the stool, drew back from the barrow, of dark Maenefa the mountain;
A cusp still clasped him, a fluke yet fanged him, entangled him, not quite utterly.
This was the prized, the desirable sight, unsought, presented so easily,
Parted me leaf and leaf, divided me, eyelid and eyelid of slumber.
The poem “Moonrise” was written on June 19, 1876: one of the shortest nights of the year known as the summer solstice. Here, Hopkins watches a crescent moon in the sky. Comparing the thinning moon to a fingernail (“the fringe of a finger-nail”) is quite unusual even nowadays, and it was considerably more so in the 19th century when more elevated similes and metaphors were expected in poetry. The poem relies on long lines and Hopkins’ signature ragged rhythm.
“Moonrise” also compares a crescent moon with a banana peel (“paring of paradisiacal fruit”). Although the apple from the tree of knowledge is more commonly referenced in this context, there is a banana type with a similar name. This image is very suitable visually and it makes the poem even catchier.
Sylvia Plath — “The Moon and the Yew Tree”
The moon is no door. It is a face in its own right,
White as a knuckle and terribly upset.
It drags the sea after it like a dark crime; it is quiet
With the O-gape of complete despair. I live here.
Twice on Sunday, the bells startle the sky –
Eight great tongues affirming the Resurrection.
At the end, they soberly bong out their names.
The yew tree points up, it has a Gothic shape.
The eyes lift after it and find the moon.
The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary.
Unabridged version of the poem:
In poetry, the Moon is a common symbol of the feminine principle: it is associated with fertility, the sea (another female symbol), motherhood. This symbolism manifests itself perfectly in the work of Sylvia Plath.
In the poem “The Moon and the Yew Tree,” the poetess tries to define her relationship with religion and parents using the language of metaphors. The cold and distant night star is associated with her mother, while the silent yew takes on the role of father. There is no rhyme, which can be viewed as a hint at the discord between the two parental figures.
Sylvia Plath wrote “The Moon and the Yew Tree” in 1961 when she was in a creative crisis. Her husband, the poet Ted Hughes, recalled that from their bedroom window one could see a yew tree in a nearby churchyard. One evening, when the full moon peeped through the tree’s branches, Hughes gave Plath the idea to capture this scene, which she did, creating a beautiful poem about the moon.
Robert Frost — “The Freedom Of The Moon”
I’ve tried the new moon tilted in the air
Above a hazy tree-and-farmhouse cluster
As you might try a jewel in your hair.
I’ve tried it fine with little breadth of luster,
Alone, or in one ornament combining
With one first-water start almost shining.
I put it shining anywhere I please.
By walking slowly on some evening later,
I’ve pulled it from a crate of crooked trees,
And brought it over glossy water, greater,
And dropped it in, and seen the image wallow,
The color run, all sorts of wonder follow.
Poets often shroud the nocturnal luminary with a veil of mystery, praising its melancholic beauty. The lyrical hero of this poem by Robert Frost manages to solve this mystery. He demonstrates the freedom of the human mind to change the position of the moon physically (“owned”, “pulled” and “conducted”).
The lyrical hero begins the list of his “manipulations” by saying that he “tried” the moon “as you might try a jewel”. Then he declares that he can place the moon anywhere (“anywhere I please”) and even drop it into the water and watch it transform.
Robert Frost — “Moon Compasses”
I stole forth dimly in the dripping pause
Between two downpours to see what there was.
And a masked moon had spread down compass rays
To a cone mountain in the midnight haze
As if the final estimate were hers,
And as it measured in her calipers,
The mountain stood exalted in its place.
So love will take between the hands a face…
The main images of this poem are the Moon and the mountain peak. Moonlight falling on the mountain through the night shroud (“in the midnight haze”) serves not only as a source of light, helping to see and measure the object with the “calipers”. The moon sheds light on the mountain, in the rays of which the mountain becomes majestic (“stood exalted”).
From the last line, it becomes clear that the moonlight in the poem is a metaphor for love. Thanks to love, the face of the beloved blooms and appears in a most favorable light.
Emily Dickinson — “The Moon is Distant From the Sea”
The Moon is distant from the Sea,
And yet, with Amber Hands –
She leads Him – docile as a Boy –
Along appointed Sands –
He never misses a Degree;
Obedient to Her Eye,
He comes just so far – toward the Town,
Just so far – goes away –
Oh, Signor, thine the Amber Hand,
And mine – the distant Sea –
Obedient to the least command
Thine eyes impose on me –
The poem is based on a natural phenomenon: the ability of the moon to influence the tide. Thus, the moon, despite being at a considerable distance, rules the sea (“with amber hands she leads him”). We have already mentioned that Emily Dickinson likes to use this epithet.
In this poem, the heroine’s love for a certain master (“Signor”) is compared with the connection between the moon and the sea. It is also a reflection on the invisible force of gravity as our deepest desires may be triggered by something so remote. We may never reach the object of desire, just as the sea never touches the moon; and yet this distant “master” will determine not only our feelings but behavior as well.
Sarah Tisdale — “Tonight”
The moon is a curving flower of gold,
The sky is still and blue;
The moon was made for the sky to hold,
And I for you.
The moon is a flower without a stem,
The sky is luminous;
Eternity was made for them,
To-night for us.
In “Tonight”, Sarah Tisdale portrays natural phenomena — the moon and the sky — as eternal (“eternity was made for them”), in contrast to a short human life (“To-night for us”). The poem is addressed to the beloved. The meaning of the first stanza is that, just as the Moon was created for Heaven, so the lyrical heroine was created for her beloved.
The second stanza says that the moon and sky are immortal, so their embrace will last forever, but people are not like that. They only have a night, a very short time, to love each other. Therefore, you should not waste these precious moments and miss the unique and precious opportunity to love.
Robert Louis Stevenson — “The Moon”
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.
While Robert Louis Stevenson is primarily known as the author of Treasure Island and the horror story Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, he also wrote children’s poems. One of these poems is “The Moon”.
In the first line, the moon is anthropomorphized (“the moon has a face”), which sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The mention of the clock is no coincidence but a play on words as the watch dial was called “face” in Victorian England.
Moonlight transforms the surrounding landscape, attracting nocturnal creatures that are awake. In contrast, “daytime creatures” await morning and sunlight. Thus, replacing each other as the sky luminary, the Moon and the Sun watch the passage of time all around the clock.
Creedence Clearwater Revival — “Bad Moon Rising”
It would be remiss to only talk about classic English poems about the Moon and fail to recognize “Bod Moon Rising”, one of the greatest hits of CCR. Some people mistake the last line of the chorus for “There’s a bathroom on the right”; but, having familiarized yourself with so many brilliant poems about the Moon, you surely will know what this song is all about even without our help. Enjoy!
This concludes our selection of poems about the moon, but their variety is not limited to this shortlist. What English poems about the moon do you know and like? Have you written any poems about the moon yourself? Share them in the comments!