April 1: Half Moon, Small Cloud by John Updike

Welcome to poetry month. This year, Knopf’s poem-a-day celebration is dedicated to the memory of John Updike (1932-2009), who remained loyal to the art of poetry throughout his career as a brilliant and popular practitioner of the short story and the novel, and as perhaps the most generous and eminent literary critic of our time. In keeping with Updike’s almost magical ability to greet the typewriter with a joyous sense of purpose every working day, he ended his life writing: his final collection of poems, Endpoint contains some poems written during the last days of his illness, in a spirit of gratitude and clear-eyed summation. The volume includes a characteristically Updikean mixture of serious and light verse, of sonnets and contemporary songs, as he opens the rich store of his inner self once more for our perusal and understanding.

Today’s selection is John Updike’s “Half Moon, Small Cloud.”

(Listen to a tribute reading of the poem by the New York Times writer-at-large Charles McGrath, a friend of John Updike’s who will also be the reader on the audio edition of Endpoint, soon to be available digitally.)

Half Moon, Small Cloud

Caught out in daylight, a rabbit’s
transparent pallor, the moon
is paired with a cloud of equal weight:
the heavenly congruence startles.

For what is the moon, that it haunts us,
this impudent companion immigrated
from the system’s less fortunate margins,
the realm of dust collected in orbs?

We grow up as children with it, a nursemaid
of a bonneted sort, round-faced and kind,
not burning too close like parents, or too far
to spare even a glance, like movie stars.

No star but in the zodiac of stars,
a stranger there, too big, it begs for love
(the man in it) and yet is diaphanous,
its thereness as mysterious as ours.

Listen to John Updike reading his 1961 poem “Earthworm.”

Read more poems from Endpoint.

More about Endpoint.

Buy the book.

About John Updike.