by Adrienne Su
I have mixed feelings about my belief that Carol Ann Duffy’s “The Woman in the Moon” is likely to endure well into and beyond the 21st century. The happy side is aesthetic: it has disciplined quatrains, playful alliteration, inconspicuous rhymes, and a cascade of clear images that are of the immortal kind. Its metrical dexterity nods to centuries of poetic convention, and while free verse has been more popular than formal for some time now, contemporary poets of enduring power, like Duffy, readily deploy elements of unfree verse even when not writing in strict forms, making poems as musically precise as they are creative and intellectual—the point of poetry. The reason I am unhappy that the poem is likely to be representative of this era is thematic. It’s a piece about patriarchal power and the destruction of the planet, and its message is urgent. “The Woman in the Moon” in the poem speaks in place of the archetypal “man in the moon,” recasting that character as a woman who is irritated by the human assumption that this figure of legend must be male. In the wry voice of your most opinionated aunt (who always turns out to be right), she tells the in- habitants of Earth—addressed as “Darlings”—her thoughts on observing them through the ages. Affectionate and annoyed, she sympathizes with their struggles (our struggles) yet bemoans their abuse (our abuse) of the planet; and the poem’s final sentence laments its destruction. Along the way, the speaker shows herself to be a force not only of nurturing watchfulness but also of literary mastery. She is not only talking; she’s writing to us, it seems, and this woman in the moon is not just any writer. She is demonstrably a poet.