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Moonrise (July 20, 1969)

U.S. astronaut Buzz Aldrin salutes the American flag on the surface of the Moon after he and fellow astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first men to land on the Moon during the Apollo 11 space mission on July 20, 1969.

The moon marked out the edge of heaven.
On this, our scriptures all agreed.
The moon was fixed, it could not fall.
The moon would fill our final needs.

The songs we’d learned were of the moon,
A fitting subject, known to all,
But the songs we sang were of the Earth,
And those that lived before the Fall.

These songs of forests flowing round
The Earth’s four corners warmed the frost
That killed our gardens, coming early,
To remind us all of what we’d lost.

“Why wander yearning for the moon?”
We’d ask of stones and ancient trees.
Their silence sang back in the night,
Of lands where all free choices freeze.

“Tranquillity”, they promised us,
“Is the highest peak you will attain.
Tranquillity, where your bones will rest
Forever in the airless rains.”

Our numbers grew, as did our tongues,
Beside brown rivers, on ancient plains.
We made more gods, we built up walls,
We fashioned towers of dirt and rain.

Within those walls we planted fruit
And flowers bordering roofless rooms,
Wherein we sang the centuries down,
Observing all the phases of the moon.

In time our towers turned to steel,
And their foundations into fire.
The rooms we made were sealed as stone,
And in those rooms we rose much higher.

The moon grew monstrous as we ascended;
In our window it grew larger than the world.
We lowered our ladder gingerly,
Stepped down, a bit of cloth unfurled.

We named the place Tranquillity.
A fitting gesture, all agreed.
We photographed ourselves on site,
Tossed away some junk we did not need,

And left, returning to that place
Where we’d begun beside the plains,
Boasting our footprints would endure
Forever in the airless rains.

Sometimes at night, we still look up
And see the moonrise scrape the sky.
It is the same, yet not the same,
And we know why, yes, we know why.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • John Venlet July 20, 2018, 1:05 PM

    Such an auspicious day and event, a Sunday, that my parents even allowed us to watch this on teevee. A usually verboten activity for the Lord’s day.

  • Patvan July 20, 2018, 1:33 PM

    I first (and always) read your poem(s) as presented.
    Regarding these poems, sometimes I’m driven to feel the need to read each stanza backwards.
    (I’m weird that way.)
    It’s those sometimes that I do the smilecry….
    Thank you…again. Just fookin wow.

  • Bill in Tennessee July 20, 2018, 3:27 PM

    Excellent poetry, again. I’m just a poor technical writer, now retired, and now an alt-right agitator, but I could never rise to this level of writing.
    But I do wonder, when I see the full moon, why did we abandon the space program and not return to the moon? If we are ever to escape this crowded prison planet, the moon will need to be our starting point.

  • Dr. Jay July 20, 2018, 3:39 PM

    My grandmother never believed the Moon Landing actually happened. If questioned about it she’d reply, “Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?” Then with a smile she’d say, “that’s Chico Marx in Duck Soup.” My grandmother was a real hoot.

  • jwm July 20, 2018, 4:32 PM

    I remember watching it on TV. And I love this poem.
    There are very few poets who can put a chill on my spine or a lump in my throat. VanderLeun, Kipling, James Dickey…

    JWM

  • Casey Klahn July 20, 2018, 7:44 PM

    Best blog post today. Not surprised.

    The moon! Suck it, Russia! EU? Who??

    We got bored, and left the keys in the moon buggy, because we knew we’d be back. Got. To. Love. Cadillac for that one.

  • Snakepit Kansas July 21, 2018, 6:50 AM

    Although I will never buy GM again due to their acceptance of terms for the Gubmint bailout, my 2006 Caddy CTS six speed manual has been a fantastic car. Hopefully my last car. Next time I move, I hope it is the cemetary.

  • ghostsniper July 21, 2018, 7:25 AM

    Bill in Tennessee, you’re the only person I have ever heard saying the same thing I have for decades.
    How can they be shooting stuff at Mars and elsewhere when they haven’t exploited that moon yet?
    Has anyone seen with their own eyes and a telescope the earthly “debris” that was left there?
    Then how do we know 20 July 1969 happened?
    That was 49 years ago, there should be vast habitation there now.
    Instead of funding warring nations the extremely wealthy should have created a coalition to get this moving. Paging Gates, Bezos, Zuck, Soros, etc.
    I’ll ride the first convoy up and supervise construction, stay there til I die, cremated, go back from wence it came.

    I am made from the dust of the stars
    and the oceans flow in my veins
    Here I hide in the heart of the city
    like a stranger coming out of the rain

    The evening plane rises up from the runway
    over constellations of light
    I look down into a million houses
    and wonder what you’re doing tonight
    Presto

  • Fred July 21, 2018, 8:23 AM

    Except that EV cars are a giant leap backwards.

  • Kerry July 21, 2018, 1:03 PM

    Ghostsniper! Great reference and most appropriate for this post. When I need something to pick me up out of the doldrums, I have tuned into Presto many times. It’s one of my favorite Rush numbers.

  • Gordon Scott July 24, 2018, 3:36 PM

    late, but Ghost: We have pictures from lunar satellites that show the landing sites.

    The technology to fake the photos and video of the moon walks didn’t exist.

    Apollo 11’s crew deployed a mirror array. Today, if you have a powerful laser, you can laze that array, and record the nearly 3 second delay as the beam is reflected back. It’s pretty hard to fake that delay because of, you know, physics.

  • butch July 20, 2019, 4:29 AM

    Bill in Tennessee – We traded the stars for the Great Society. We chose poorly.

  • Richard July 20, 2019, 6:10 AM

    Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, who became the first man to set foot on the moon earlier in the year, talks to U.S. troops during a surprise appearance with Bob Hope’s Christmas show at the 1st Infantry Division headquarters.
    Vietnam 1969

    https://twitter.com/polishpatriottm/status/1035839892637536256?lang=bg

  • David July 20, 2019, 6:52 AM

    The Green Hills of Earth

    Let the sweet fresh breezes heal me
    As they rove around the girth
    Of our lovely mother planet
    Of the cool, green hills of Earth.

    We’ve tried each spinning space mote
    And reckoned its true worth:
    Take us back again to the homes of men
    On the cool, green hills of Earth.

    The arching sky is calling
    Spacemen back to their trade.
    ALL HANDS! STAND BY! FREE FALLING!
    And the lights below us fade.

    Out ride the sons of Terra,
    Far drives the thundering jet,
    Up leaps a race of Earthmen,
    Out, far, and onward yet —

    We pray for one last landing
    On the globe that gave us birth;
    Let us rest our eyes on the fleecy skies
    And the cool, green hills of Earth.

  • Vanderleun July 20, 2019, 8:01 AM

    I know that poem well from its first publication in a pulp SF magazine… It was somewhere in the back of my mind as I wrote this poem.

  • Larry Geiger July 20, 2019, 9:06 AM

    I was at KSC yesterday. Took the bus to the Saturn V center. As you go into the center there is a presentation showing the consoles that were in the LCC for Apollo. My dad was downstairs below the firing rooms on the second floor running the video switcher. The Saturn V is in there on it’s side. It’s a big thing. I saw Apollo 11 lift off. I heard if lift off. I felt it lift off. If they say it didn’t go to the moon, oh well. But it left the earth. I can attest to that.

  • Bunny July 20, 2019, 10:55 AM

    Why are people pining for the moon? Humans are made for earth and we haven’t even learned to live well here at home. Must be missing a chromosome or something.

  • Bunny July 20, 2019, 10:57 AM

    To make it perfectly clear, I must be lacking because I don’t really get it. Sure, it must have been a great accomplishment, but…

  • Bunny July 20, 2019, 11:30 AM

    I wish there were an edit button, then I might post just once. So this is what we got. The ct scan is good, I suppose, the computer chip is debatable. But insoles?
    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/space/5893387/Apollo-11-moon-landing-top-15-Nasa-inventions.html
    Honestly, when I look up at the night sky, I had rather see an inviolable moon and contemplate the beauty and power of God’s creation than think of the junk we left up there. We were, however, all glued to the TV and I think my mother wrote a poem about it.

  • Lance de Boyle July 20, 2019, 11:48 AM

    When’s this Vanderleun fella gonna publish his poems?

    Speaking of Chrissie Hynde….

    Most awesome….

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okvl-9svtS0

  • andre July 20, 2019, 8:18 PM

    Buzz Aldrin took communion on the moon. the first food consumed on the moon.

  • Gordon Scott July 21, 2019, 5:44 PM

    Andre,
    Yes, he did. Apparently Armstrong didn’t like it, but Aldrin didn’t care. As Bill Whittle said in his very good 4-part series, Madeline Murray O’Hair sued NASA over the Genesis reading during Apollo 8’s mission. NASA won, but Whittle describes it as the first example of political correctness; NASA told the astronauts to lay off the religion. So Aldrin’s communion was not made public for many years.

  • Rick July 22, 2019, 4:38 AM

    I was as big a supporter of the space race as existed. I sucked it all up like a sponge. It’s only now in my dotage that I’ve wondered why the American people went along with the huge expenses and creation of yet another eternal Federal jobs program. Left to me I would defund NASA tomorrow.

    But, this is something I wrote to one of my kids about 15 years ago during a conversation we were having about manned space flight.

    Take the time to watch all 4 videos. Lots of people are too young to know what an exciting time this was. This was the culmination of the space race started by the USSR (Russia) in 1957 with the launch of Sputnik. It was the biggest technology breakthrough of the time. It’s hard now to understand what a big deal rockets to the moon were. People under the age of 40 have never lived when there were no rockets or spaceflight. To them, this is ancient history and Neil Armstrong is just an old man who once “did something.”

    I remember lying on the living room floor of my apartment in Pearl City, Hawaii with my one-month-old son on my chest, watching the descent to the moon, the whole world was watching. Even though space flight was getting better all the time it’s important to remember that the entire field of manned spaceflight was less than 8 years old and that success was certainly not assured. Even if they landed there was no guarantee they could get off again. You could have cut the tension with a knife during the descent to the surface and when they finally touched down my relief was so great I broke down and cried. It was a fantastic, dangerous success and their takeoff days later made it that much better. We were all proud to be Americans,

    Days later they came back to earth in the Pacific Ocean. They and their capsule were picked out of the water and taken to Pearl Harbor. I was in the Army stationed at Fort Shafter just a short ride from Pearl Harbor and had a good friend who was a Marine stationed there. Several days after the ship carrying the astronauts got back to Pearl he suggested that we go over to Ford Island and see the space capsule. I didn’t see how that was going to happen but was game to try. Since we were military we had no problems getting into Pearl and then took the ferry over to Ford Island. We walked over toward the hangers and there, sitting all by itself was the Columbia command module. No guards, no fence, no tape, no people. We walked up, felt the surface, talked about the scorch marks, looked in the windows and finally broke off some pieces of the blackened heat shield. My friend Gene had a pill bottle for his pieces but I had nothing but my pocket. No camera, no pictures and when we got home my pieces of the heat shield were just ashes in my pocket. Can you imagine what I’d give for those ashes today?

    It is a cool story, one that would be a lot better if I had even kept the ashes. It gets worse. The astronauts were being moved in a converted, self-contained Airstream trailer until they could be checked over for lunar bugs back in Houston. The trailer was being moved on dirt roads between Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field to be loaded in a C-141 for transport back to Houston. It was all semi-secret and not public knowledge. My supervisor asked me if I’d like to go over and take pictures of the big event. I turned him down because it was too much trouble to go to the motor pool and get a car.

    Later the photo lab I worked in, I got copies of the negatives of all the photos they shot from the moon. I had a huge stack of 8 X 10s color photos but lost those years later in the divorce war. .

    It gets worse. Later I acquired annotated original Mission Control manuals for about 7 of the Apollo missions as well as several Mercury missions. Eventually I sold them on ebay.

  • Vanderleun July 22, 2019, 6:55 AM

    A great tale, Rick. I share your pain about the divorce wars and how things just can evaporate.

  • Anonymous July 23, 2019, 6:17 AM

    Oh, my gosh. I must have read this before, it must have influenced, but I have no conscious recollection of it. My sentiments almost exactly, Mr. Auden, although expressed a bit more harshly than I would ever dare. The reviewer calls it “Grumpy Auden.” Of course, Auden’s musing is also expressed cleverly, flawlessly, not a word out of place, except perhaps “Mneh.” I prefer “Meh.” Even so, “meh” doesn’t really work on a personal level. The moon landing was something, defintely, and not in an Ilhan Omar sort of “something” way. It was a very big deal, however you interpret it. Not wishing to piss in anyone’s Cheerios, as a commenter here once phrased it.
    https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2019/07/19/audens-grumpy-moon-landing-poem/

    Moon Landing by W.H. Auden

    It’s natural the Boys should whoop it up for
    so huge a phallic triumph, an adventure
    it would not have occurred to women
    to think worth while, made possible only

    because we like huddling in gangs and knowing
    the exact time: yes, our sex may in fairness
    hurrah the deed, although the motives
    that primed it were somewhat less than menschlich.

    A grand gesture. But what does it period?
    What does it osse? We were always adroiter
    with objects than lives, and more facile
    at courage than kindness: from the moment

    the first flint was flaked this landing was merely
    a matter of time. But our selves, like Adam’s,
    still don’t fit us exactly, modern
    only in this—our lack of decorum.

    Homer’s heroes were certainly no braver
    than our Trio, but more fortunate: Hector
    was excused the insult of having
    his valor covered by television.

    Worth going to see? I can well believe it.
    Worth seeing? Mneh! I once rode through a desert
    and was not charmed: give me a watered
    lively garden, remote from blatherers

    about the New, the von Brauns and their ilk, where
    on August mornings I can count the morning
    glories where to die has a meaning,
    and no engine can shift my perspective.

    Unsmudged, thank God, my Moon still queens the Heavens
    as She ebbs and fulls, a Presence to glop at,
    Her Old Man, made of grit not protein,
    still visits my Austrian several

    with His old detachment, and the old warnings
    still have power to scare me: Hybris comes to
    an ugly finish, Irreverence
    is a greater oaf than Superstition.

    Our apparatniks will continue making
    the usual squalid mess called History:
    all we can pray for is that artists,
    chefs and saints may still appear to blithe it.

  • Bunny July 23, 2019, 6:37 AM

    I came across this today and must have read it before and been influenced by it, although I have no conscious recollection. My sentiments almost exactly, Mr. Auden, flawlessly executed. I would have preferred meh to mneh, however. And the event itself wasn’t “mneh” at all, no matter how interpreted. It was a very big deal. The reviewer calls the poem Grumpy Auden, trite, artificial, peevish, contrarian. Meh. I like the poem very much and I like yours, as well, Mr. V.
    https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2019/07/19/audens-grumpy-moon-landing-poem/

    Moon Landing by W.H. Auden

    It’s natural the Boys should whoop it up for
    so huge a phallic triumph, an adventure
    it would not have occurred to women
    to think worth while, made possible only

    because we like huddling in gangs and knowing
    the exact time: yes, our sex may in fairness
    hurrah the deed, although the motives
    that primed it were somewhat less than menschlich.

    A grand gesture. But what does it period?
    What does it osse? We were always adroiter
    with objects than lives, and more facile
    at courage than kindness: from the moment

    the first flint was flaked this landing was merely
    a matter of time. But our selves, like Adam’s,
    still don’t fit us exactly, modern
    only in this—our lack of decorum.

    Homer’s heroes were certainly no braver
    than our Trio, but more fortunate: Hector
    was excused the insult of having
    his valor covered by television.

    Worth going to see? I can well believe it.
    Worth seeing? Mneh! I once rode through a desert
    and was not charmed: give me a watered
    lively garden, remote from blatherers

    about the New, the von Brauns and their ilk, where
    on August mornings I can count the morning
    glories where to die has a meaning,
    and no engine can shift my perspective.

    Unsmudged, thank God, my Moon still queens the Heavens
    as She ebbs and fulls, a Presence to glop at,
    Her Old Man, made of grit not protein,
    still visits my Austrian several

    with His old detachment, and the old warnings
    still have power to scare me: Hybris comes to
    an ugly finish, Irreverence
    is a greater oaf than Superstition.

    Our apparatniks will continue making
    the usual squalid mess called History:
    all we can pray for is that artists,
    chefs and saints may still appear to blithe it.

  • Rick July 24, 2019, 4:47 AM

    Gerard,
    Thank you. It was only as I got older that the full realization of how much I had squandered came to me. I resented being in the Army and didn’t fully appreciate the comparisons between my 8-4 job in an air-conditioned building and those who were off in Viet Nam living in the heat and risking death.
    The absolute worse part of my moment of kismet with the command module was that I had no camera and I was a photographer for the Army and always had a camera with me!