A Thursday Love Poem, “The Four Moon Planet,” by Billy Collins

Cover of "The Notebooks of Robert Frost"
Cover of The Notebooks of Robert Frost

I don’t know what Robert Frost was thinking when he jotted those words in his notes, “I have envied the four moon planet.” Or maybe he never wrote them at all. Maybe Billy Collins just made the whole thing up. I’ll have to read The Notebooks of Robert Frost to find out for sure. But it’s a lovely poem that Billy created from Frost’s idea.

And since aliens and outer space are sometimes subjects of scary movies and costumes (I’ve dressed as an alien for Halloween, haven’t you?), then maybe it’s not too much of a stretch to make “The Four Moon Planet” by Billy Collins our October 31st Thursday Love Poem. You know, it being Halloween and all, and we bloggers feeling this market-driven need to relate everything to everything else.

Come to think of it, isn’t that what poets do? I recall Billy saying as much in another poem. “The Trouble with Poetry,” I believe it was.

Aside: And while I’m thinking of it, if you managed to miss the former Poet Laureate reading, quipping, and doing poetry tricks with Stephen Colbert on the Colbert Report Tuesday night, treat yourself by clicking here.

But what’s a Thursday Love Poem, you ask? Well, let me quote myself from last Thursday, when we enjoyed the first ever Thursday Love Poem. Last week we were dumped unceremoniously by Edna St. Vincent Millay via the Thursday Love Poem feature’s flagship poem, appropriately called “Thursday.”

. . . And what should a Thursday Love Poem be here on The Dad Poet? Well, let’s face it, it’s got to be a bit unconventional. No Hallmark cards of course, and none of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Not that your sweetheart doesn’t deserve a nice greeting card, and not they the Bard’s love poems are not a delight (come to think of it a few might actually fit in here) . . . But we have already read Robert Burns’, “my luv is like a red red rose.” Here I want to share something different, off-center, unexpected, something that resonates, but may not be what you expect from a love poem.

. . . I do not wish to act as if true love and romance in a poem is “dishonest,” as some writers claim. But for a poem to be a Thursday Love Poem it will have to look at that tenderness squinting sideways, maybe standing on its head, in order to give us a unique view, one other than what the masses have come to expect of a love poem.

In other words a Thursday Love Poem isn’t your grandmother’s love poem, baby.

And so for this Thursday Love Poem we go galactic, but subtly with the master of wit and winsomeness, Billy Collins. Perhaps I’ll make a brief comment or two below the poem’s text.

 

The Four-Moon Planet

I have envied the four-moon planet.
-The Notebooks of Robert Frost

Maybe he was thinking of the song
“What a Little Moonlight Can do”
and became curious about
what a lot of moonlight might be capable of.

But wouldn’t this be too much of a good thing?
and what if you couldn’t tell them apart
and they always rose together
like pale quadruplets entering a living room?

Yes, there would be enough light
to read a book or write a letter at midnight,
and if you drank enough tequila
you might see eight of them roving brightly above.

But think of the two lovers on a beach,
his arm around her bare shoulder,
thrilled at how close they were feeling tonight
while he gazed at one moon and she another.

From Ballistics
Copyright © 2008 by Billy Collins
Random House

Alright then. You have heard me defend Collins, as if he needs defending, from those who criticize his “simplicity,” using the word “accessible” as if it were a bad thing, as if erecting an electric, barbed-wire fence around an art museum were a good idea. You have heard me say a hundred times that accessibility does not equal simplicity. Neither does complexity, ambiguity, or depth of thought require linguistic word puzzles meant to lose the reader and prove how very clever and intelligent the poet is. Collins is certainly accessible, but he’s anything but simplistic.

And this poem is a prime example. It may also serve as an illustration of why I love poetry so much.  Prose might have simply told us, “In matters of love we are so unknowably different from each other that we are doomed to have wildly divergent views of what our relationship actually is.” Or, “We never see each other for who we are, and nobody could ever truly know the other’s thoughts.”

This is probably all true; it might even be a revelation, but how beautifully Collins sets us up, not to tell us this, but to let us discover it ourselves in the final line, “while he gazed at one moon and she another.” He says it without ever saying it. And the result is that tiny gasp, maybe not the freezing, headless sensation Emily Dickinson described, but a tug in the gut that makes me feel something true. And it comes about from a carefully laid trap that I am glad to have fallen into, the way I am glad when Agatha Christie brilliantly shows me why I should have known all along what Miss Marple understood about the murderer. This is why I can’t get enough good poems in my life, getting slapped in the gut, liking it, and asking for more.

Poem on.

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