Louise Imogen Guiney

An open letter to the moon

To the Celestial and my soul’s idol, the most beautified:

It might appear to us an imperative, though agreeable duty, most high and serene Madame, to waft towards you, occasionally, a transcript of our humble doings on this nether planet, were we not sure, in the matter of friendly understanding, that we opened correspondence long ago. You were one of our earliest familiars. You stood in that same office to our fathers and mothers, back to your sometime contemporary, Adam of the Garden; and while we are worried into acquiescence with the inevitable design of age, we are more pleased than envious to discover that you grow never old to the outward eye, and that you appear the same “lovesome ladie bright,” as when we first stared at you from a babe’s pillow. You are acquainted, not by hearsay, but by actual evidence, with the family history, having seen what sort of figure our ancestors cut, and being infinitely better aware of the peculiarities of the genealogical shrub than we can ever be. Therefore we make no reference to a matter so devoid of novelty. But we do mean to free our minds frankly on the subject of your Ladyship’s own behavior. We take this resolve to be no breach of that exalted courtesy which befits us, no less than you, in your skyey station.

We have in part, lost our ancient respect for you: a sorry fact to chronicle. There were once various statements floating about our cradle, complimentary to your supposed virtues. You were Phoebe, twin to Phoebus: a queen, having a separate establishment, coming into a deserted court by night, and kindling it into more than daytime revelry. You were an enchantress, the tutelary divinity of water-sprites and greensward fairies. Your presence was indispensable for felicitous dreams. To be moonstruck, then, meant to be charmed inexpressibly, to be lifted off our feet.

Now, we allow that you have suffered by misrepresentation, or else are we right in detecting your arts; for, by all your starry handmaidens, you are not what we took you to be! We are informed (our quondam faith in you beshrews the day we learned to read! ) that you are a timid dependent only of the sun, afraid to show yourself while he is on his peregrinations; that you slyly steal the garb of his splendor as he lays it aside, and blaze forthwith in your borrowed finery. That you are no friend to innocent goblins, but abettor to housebreakers; conspirator in many direful deeds, attending base nocturnal councils, and tacitly arraigning yourself against the law. “Let us be Diana’s for esters, gentlemen of the shade, … governed, as the sea is, by our noble and chaste mistress, the moon, under whose countenance we steal.” That your gossip is the ominous owl, and not Titania. Your inconstancy, to come on delicate ground, shineth above your other characteristics. Since we have seen your color come and go, we surmise that there is no dearth of intrigue and repartee up there; and in a red or a grey veil, you masquerade periodically, at unseasonable hours. Of painting your complexion we are disposed to acquit you; yet it is a severe blow to us to learn, from the most trust worthy sources, that you wax.

Selene, Artemis! you are worldly be yond worldlings. We hear that you have quarters, and that you jingle them triumphantly in the ears of Orion, who is no body but a poor hunter. Beware of the exasperation of the lower classes! whose awakening is what we call below a French Revolution. Who, indeed, that hath a mote in his eye, cannot still discern a huge beam in yours? Have you no resident missionary? for you persist in obstinate schisms, and flaunt that exploded Orientalism, the crescent, in the teeth of Christendom. You are much more distant and reserved, O beguiler! than you pretend. Your temper is said to be volcanic.

You that were Diana! who is the Falstaffian, Toby Belchian, Kriss Kringlish person to be seen about your premises? He hangeth his great ruddy comfortable phiz out of your casements, and holdeth it sidewise with a wink or a leer, having never yet found his rhyming way to Norwich. We look on him as an officious rascal. He peereth where you only, by privilege, have permission to enter. He hath the evil eye. He thinketh himself a proper substitute for you, and King of the Illuminari; he reproduceth your smile, and scattereth your largesses; he maketh faces (we say it shudderingly) at your worshippers below. Frequently hath he appropriated kisses that were blown to you personally, or consigned to you for de livery, from one sweetheart to another.

O Lady, O Light-dispenser, think, we hereby beseech you, of the danger of his being taken for you! Picture the discomfiture of your minstrel, who, intoning a rapturous recital of your charms, and casting about for a sight of your delectable loveliness, is confronted, instead, with that broad ingenuous vagabond! In some such despairing rage as the minstrel’s, must have been the inventor of the Ger man tongue, who discarded all other chances of observation after once beholding this thing, ycleped your Man, and angrily insisted on “Der Mond,” the Moon, he as the proper mode of speech. I cite you this from old John Lyly: “There liveth none under the sunne that know what to make of the man in the moon.” We clamor at you from the throats of the five races: Abolish him, or at least, depose the present incumbent, and get you straightway some acceptable minion, one of more chivalric habit, of more spare and ascetic exterior! Your credit and our comfort demand it. “Pray you, remember.”

What scenes, Cosmopolite, Circumnavigator, Universalist, have you beheld: what joy, what plenty, what riot and desolation! You are the archspectator. Death sees not half so widely. He lurketh like an anxious thief in the crowd, seeking what he may take away. But your bland leisurely eye looketh down disinterestedly on all. Caravans rested thrice a thousand years ago beneath you in the desert; Assyrian shepherds chanted to you with their long-hushed voices; the south wind, while the infant world fell into its first slumber, leaped up and played with you in Paradise. You have known the chaos before man, and yet we saw you laugh upon last April’s rain. Are there none for whom you are lonely through the ages? Are there not centuries of old delight in your memory, unequalled now? faces fairer than the lilies, on whose repose you still yearn to shine? Do you miss the smoke of altars? Have you forgotten the beginners of the “stary-pointing pyramid”? Can you not tell us a tale of the Visigoth? How sang Blondel against the prison door? How brawny was Bajazet? How fair was Helen; Semiramis, how cruel? Moon! where be the treasures of the doughty Kidd?

You, Cynthia and Hecate, sweet Lady of Ghosts and guardian of the under world, have been fed upon the homage of mortal lips: you have had praises from the poets exquisite as calamus and myrrh. Many a time have we rehearsed before you such as we recall, from the sigh of Enobarbus:

Sovereign mistress of true melancholy!

o the hymnal

Orbed maiden, with white fire laden,

of the noble salutation of a mirthful-mournful spirit:

Oh! thou art beautiful, howe’er it be,
Huntress or Dian, or whatever named;
And he the veriest pagan, that first framed
His silver idol, and ne’er worshipped thee.

Have we not sung oft that strophe of Ben Jonson’s, full of inexpressible music to our ear?

Lay thy bow of pearl apart
And thy crystal shining quiver;
Give unto the flying hart
Space to breathe, how short soever,
Thou that mak’st a day of night,
Goddess excellently bright!”

and the beloved rhymeless cadence of old Jasper Fisher’s drama, beginning:

Thou queen of Heaven, commandress of the deep,
Lady of lakes, regent of woods and deer.

Sidney, Drummond, Milton, glorified your wanderings. And your truest votary, one John Keats, spake out boldly that

the oldest shade midst oldest trees
Feels palpitations when thou lookest in.

You are an incorrigible charmer: but as he reports you likewise as

a relief
To the poor, patient oyster, where he sleeps
Within his pearly house,

we infer, with pleasurable surprise, that you have set up as a humanitarian.

Now, we venture to assert that you remember compliments meant to be of the same Orphic strain, and inscribed to you, of which we are not wholly guilt less. We have all but knelt to you, with the Libyan. The primeval heathen has stirred within us. We have been under the witchery of Isis. We aspire to be a Moonshee, rather than any potentate of this universe. Have we not followed you, O “planet of progression!” all our bright, volatile, restless, tide-like days? We wound you not with the analytic eye, nor startle you with telescopes. The scepticisms of astronomy enter not into our rubric. Are you not comely? Do you not spiritualize the darkness with one touch of your pale garment? Then what are they to us, your dimensions and your distances? Gross vanity of knowledge! Mere abuse of privilege!

If we affect the abusive, shy of more ceremonious forms of address, forgive us, Luna. We make recantation, and disown our banter. We extend the hand of cordiality even to your month-old Man.

How blithe and beauteous he is! He is embodied Gentility. We bow to him as your anointed Viceroy, your illustrious Nuncio. You know our immemorial loyalty, nor shall our rogueries teach you so late to doubt it.

Da Luna proper e nova,
Da noctis mediae, da, puer!

Forgive us, benignant, peaceful, affable, propitious Moon. Poet are we not, nor lunatic, nor lover; “but that we love thee best, O Most Best! believe it.”


MLA Citation

Guiney, Louise Imogen. “An open letter to the moon.” 1885. Quotidiana. Ed. Patrick Madden. 20 Apr 2007. 04 Dec 2023 <http://essays.quotidiana.org/guiney/open_letter_to_the_moon/>.

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