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  • Writer's pictureKaecey McCormick

"Mysterium Lunae" by C. Tóibín

After the lunar eclipse earlier this month and my moon pictures last week, this heavenly object has been on my mind. Because of this, I was delighted to find Colm Tóibín’s “Mysterium Lunae” on The Atlantic this weekend, which addresses a different aspect of the moon.

Though published back in April, I found it at just the right moment to inspire my writing practice. Read, enjoy, be inspired!

Mysterium Lunae

Last night

I saw that the moon

Was empty in the sky.

The stars around did

What they do.

They are

Millions of miles


Or millions of years,

And are totally exhausted.

But the moon is blank,

Just a space to show

Where it might have

Been. We will tell

Whoever will attend

That the moon used to catch

Light from the sun

And waxed and waned:

Full, sickle, half-

Moon. And the songs:

“Blue Moon,” “Song to the Moon”

(From Rusalka),

“Moon River,” The Dark

Side of the Moon,

The Moon and the Melodies.

It was all the rage, once,

The moon.

It was a large step,

A sad step,

For mankind.

Soon, the sun will run

Out of hydrogen

And it will all

Be gone.

The disappearance

Of the moon

Is just the start.

I am working day and night

On my book,

Knowing it will

Be the final word

On the matter.

I will compose,

With aid from scientists,

A description in concise

Prose, of the time before the bang,

The gorgeous vacancy,

The pre-astral soup,

Gravity dancing like

A herring

On the griddle—oh,

And the sly almostness

Of atoms and particles,

And how long a neutron

Took to be certain

That it was not a proton,

And the war

Between infinity and

Eternity that would have

Gone on forever

Had the world,

Oozing immanence,

Not begun to roll,

With its built-in


Its sell-by date,

Its oomph, its ooh-la-la,

Its everything that

Is the case.

It is calm here

Now. Waves have

Stopped, of course.

The sea has settled

Down; soon it will

Be a flyover state.

There is

Nothing to compel

Its tides.

At gatherings, they read

Matthew Arnold’s poem

And marvel

At the lines about the

Sea being calm tonight.

What else is there?

But it wasn’t always calm.

I can swear to that.

I remember

Redondo Beach

And the waves high

And the sun

Going down

Over the horizon.

Strange, I have

No memory of the moon.

But it must have been there


But, no matter what, you can

Look all you want—

The moon is in the past,

Like analogue,

Or the Western Seaboard,

Or the library at Alexandria,

Or sic transit gloria

Mundi, a lovely

Old saying

Long eclipsed

By more fashionable

Tongues that yet are

Speechless at

The vacancy

In the night sky.

They are

Howling at the

Thing not there,

That we want back

Now, or at least


About the poet:

Colm Tóibín is an Irish-born novelist and is currently Mellon Professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia and Chancellor of Liverpool University. His first poetry collection, Vinegar Hill, came out earlier this year.

Read any new poems lately? Share a link in the comments or message me directly!

Happy writing!


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