Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon by JRR Tolkien

The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon

Hey, Diddle, Diddle
Hey, diddle, diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon.
The little dog laughed
To see such sport,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.

The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon
There is an inn, a merry old inn
Beneath an old grey hill,
And there they brew a beer so brown
That the Man in the Moon himself came down
One night to drink his fill.

The ostler has a tipsy cat
That plays a five-stringed fiddle;
And up and down he saws his bow
Now squeaking high, now purring low,
Now sawing in the middle.

The landlord keeps a little dog
That is mighty fond of jokes;
When there's good cheer among the guests,
He cocks an ear at all the jests
And laughs until he chokes.

They also keep a hornéd cow
As proud as any queen;
But music turns her head like ale,
And makes her wave her tufted tail
And dance upon the green.

And O! the rows of silver dishes
And the store of silver spoons!
For Sunday there's a special pair,
And these they polish up with care
on Saturday afternoons.

The Man in the Moon was drinking deep,
And the cat began to wail;
A dish and a spoon on the table danced,
The cow in the garden madly pranced
And the little dog chased his tail.

The Man in the Moon took another mug,
And then rolled beneath his chair;
And there he dozed and dreamed of ale,
Till in the sky the stars were pale,
And dawn was in the air.

Then the ostler said to his tipsy cat:
'The white horses of the Moon,
They neigh and champ their silver bits;
But their master's been and drowned his wits,
And the Sun'll be rising soon!'

So the cat on the fiddle played hey-diddle-diddle,
A jig that would wake the dead:
He squeaked and sawed and quickened the tune,
While the landlord shook the Man in the Moon:
'It's after three!' he said.

They rolled the Man slowly up the hill
And bundled him into the Moon,
While his horses galloped up in rear,
And the cow came capering like a deer,
And a dish ran up with the spoon.

Now quicker the fiddle went deedle-dum-diddle;
The dog began to roar,
The cow and the horses stood on their heads;
The guests all bounded from their beds
And danced upon the floor.

With a ping and a pang the fiddle-strings broke!
The cow jumped over the Moon,
And the little dog laughed to see such fun,
And the Saturday dish went off at a run
With the silver Sunday spoon.

The round Moon rolled behind the hill,
As the Sun raised up her head.
She hardly believed her fiery eyes;
For though it was day, to her surprise
They all went back to bed!
--JRR Tolkien

I skipped doing a long poem yesterday, so I thought I'd do both a long and short today. I love the very idea of Tolkien's poem: this bit of nonsense is so pervasive in our world, it must have meant something at some time, so why not imagine what it might have been? It's kind of what he did for the whole Lord of the Rings series. Anyway, I also think it's just plain fun.


  1. Here is my favorite poem from the moon spoken by a man as he lay dying, proped up on a rock, facing earth after giving his life to save mankind.


    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 rot in the moulds of Venus,
    We retch at her tainted breath.
    Foul are her flooded jungles,
    Crawling with unclean death.

    [ --- the harsh bright soil of Luna ---
    --- Saturn's rainbow rings ---
    --- the frozen night of Titan --- ]

    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.
    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 friendly skies
    And the cool, green hills of Earth.

    -- Robert A. Heinlein

  2. That's why the SF poetry award is called the Rhysling.

  3. When we were first married, I began to read science fiction which Randy really liked. Early Heinleins were favorites. I can't read this poem without crying.
    There is one word wrong, however: friendly should be fleecy in the final stanza. Plus, I like to move the yet from the penultimate stanza to the start of the last as a slight change in the feel of the poem. Here is a note from Wikipedia
    Real Life
    Heinlein revealed in the liner notes to the Leonard Nimoy-read album "The Green Hills of Earth," that he partially based Rhysling's unique abilities on a blind machinist he worked with at the Philadelphia Naval Yards during World War II. He never identified him beyond the name "Tony." Heinlein was amazed that Tony had a perfect safety record and a production record equal to sighted machinists, and could identify all his co-workers solely on the sound of their footsteps and other aural clues, without need of them speaking to him first. Tony also occasionally played the accordion and sang for the assembled shop.


  4. You know, Dad, that you've got about three stories mixed up there. The man who sits propped up on a rock on the moon as he dies is D.D. Harriman "the man who sold the moon" and he's dying because his aged body couldn't take the strain of the G's when the rocket took off, but he's happy because he finally got to go to the moon. The short story is called "Requiem"

    The one who saved the world is Johnny Dahlquist who finds out about a coup attempt by some officers on the moon and disables all the nuclear bombs so they can't take over the world, but gets a fatal dose of radiation in the process. This is in the story "The Long Watch"

    The blind poet Rhysling wrote this poem/song in the story "The Green Hills of Earth". According to the story, he had played around with it for years, but it really crystalized into this form while he was on a specific spaceship. I don't remember all the details, but he may have been doing something heroic and technical to save the ship-or the crew at the climax of the story before he dies, and he recorded the poem in the process. I haven't read that story as recently as the others.

    Nevertheless, Heinlein is a great author, and just about all his stories in that book are memorable and touching, so it doesn't surprise me that you've crystalized the best bits into one superstory.


  5. In Green Hills of Earth, Rhysling (who is blind) fixes the nuclear reactor in the dark, by touch, saving the ship. The same sort of thing as the end of Wrath of Khan (which made me cry.)

  6. That's ok, I get my children mixed up too. So far, I only can keep my wife straight, except when I call her Sharon.


  7. I called Sam "David" about three times while we were with Marcelle