For much of my childhood, I couldn’t see the Man in the Moon. I thought my parents were making him up. Or could only adults see him? But one night, all my mother’s pointing paid off, and there he was. I remember feeling sorry for him, being so far away and always looking down at me with his sleepy blue smile. On this poem’s winter night, the moon kept rising and falling teasingly behind the woods I was driving through. When he finally showed his face, he looked different, younger, and, somehow, in love. Like a crooner. But that’s all in the poem, isn’t it?  As Frost said, to paraphrase a poem is “to say it worse.”

THE MAN IN THE MOON

He used to frighten me in the nights of childhood,
The wide adult face, enormous, stern, aloft.
I could not imagine such loneliness, such coldness.

But tonight as I drive home over these hilly roads
I see him sinking behind stands of winter trees
And rising again to show his familiar face.

And when he comes into full view over open fields
He looks like a young man who has fallen in love
With the dark earth,

A pale bachelor, well-groomed and full of melancholy,
His round mouth open
As if he had just broken into song.


Billy Collins is a former two-term U.S. Poet Laureate (2002-03) and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. “The Man in the Moon” originally appeared in Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins. ©2001. Reprinted by permission of Random House.

Photo by Suzannah Gilman