The Man in the Moon, an anonymous Medieval lyric



Moon Photograph

John Adams Whipple and James Wallace Black, ‘The Moon’ (1857-60)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Robert O. Dougan Collection, Gift of Warner Communications Inc., 1981. Creative Commons Licensed.


In this anonymous poem from the 1300s, there is a man, known as Hubert, who is living on the moon. Hubert seems to be having a terrible time up on the moon: as the poem says, he is shivering and having to work too hard, and he is always afraid of falling off. It is said that this man was ‘born and raised’ on the moon, yet he also seems to be in a state of punishment there. Hubert is a medieval peasant who is guilty of stealing thorns in order to make hedges, a form of fence to stop livestock from wandering.

This poem is found in the ‘Harley manuscript’ (Harley 2253), a rich collection of early lyric poetry in English, French, and Latin. The Harley manuscript includes love lyrics alongside religious lyrics, as well as lyrics that have a sharp political or satirical message. The manuscript is formed of multiple ‘booklets’; this poem about the man on the moon is in Booklet 6 and found between two French lyrics. One of the French lyrics is spoken by an outlaw in the forest voicing a political protest; the other French lyric is a comic piece about a knight and his beloved lady. It is very difficult to define what a medieval lyric is, because medieval lyrics are on many different subjects and use many different forms. But it might be useful to think of lyrics as relatively short poems that often (but not always) use stanzas and the first-person voice.

The speaker of the poem is a man on earth viewing Hubert and trying to help him. The speaker devises a plan: he and his wife will invite the hayward (the legal official) to their house, get him drunk and take the ‘pledge’ (the penalty) in order to free Hubert. But unfortunately, Hubert is unable to hear the speaker of the poem, and the speaker grows increasingly frustrated. This is perhaps designed to make the audience laugh, as the speaker’s attempt to help the man in the moon (and consequent frustration when the plan does not work) seem so ridiculous. It is possible that this was intended as classist ‘humour’, with an upper-class audience invited to laugh at the lower-class characters in the poem.

Let us take the poem stanza by stanza to explore the arc of its narrative. The first stanza gives us a glimpse into the miserable life of the man on the moon. The second shows how the man in the moon is labouring continually. The third stanza describes the man as a worn-out and burdened figure, saying he is leaning on his pitchfork as a ‘grey friar’. ‘Grey friar’ refers to those who were part of the Franciscan order (the Franciscan order refers to a religious group who emphasized poverty and were inspired by St Francis of Assisi). The fourth stanza brings us back to earth, detailing the plan to release the man in the moon. The fifth stanza shows that the communication has failed, as Hubert (the first time we’re given the man in the moon’s name) cannot hear the speaker on Earth. It is notable that the poem shifts between referring to Hubert in the third-person and the second-person (he versus you), which perhaps results in the speaker, and by extension us as the audience, being both close to yet distant from the man in the moon. This apparently simple poem thus tells us something about the expansiveness of the medieval lyric imagination: the lyric imagination allows us to form a complex, shifting connection with the wider cosmos of which we are part.  

This poem is one example of a story from European folklore: the story of a man banished to the moon for committing a theft or other crime. There are various versions of this story in English, German, and Dutch. The nature of the ‘crime’ varies depending on the version. In our English poem, it is for stealing thorns to make hedges. In another version the man is guilty of placing thorns on the way to church to prevent people from going to Sunday Mass. In other versions, the man is guilty of stealing sheep or vegetables. As part of this wider tradition, our poem is one example of how medieval people found ways to connect imaginatively with—even speak to—the moon and its inhabitants. 

—Ayoush Lazikani


The Man in the Moon
(Middle English)


Mon in the mone stond ant strit; 
On is bot-forke is burthen he bereth. 
Hit is muche wonder that he nadoun slyt —  
For doute leste he valle, he shoddreth ant shereth. 
When the forst freseth, muche chele he byd. 
The thornes beth kene, is hattren totereth. 
Nis no wytht in the world that wot wen he syt, 
Ne, bote hit bue the hegge, whet wedes he wereth. 

Whider trowe this mon ha the wey take? 
He hath set is o fot is other toforen; 
For non hithte that he hath, ne sytht me hym ner shake.      
He is the sloweste mon that ever wes yboren! 
Wher he were o the feld pycchynde stake, 
For hope of ys thornes to dutten is doren, 
He mot myd is twybyl other trous make, 
Other al is dayes werk ther were yloren. 

This ilke mon upon heh, when-er he were, 
Wher he were y the mone boren ant yfed, 
He leneth on is forke ase a grey frere —  
This crokede caynard, sore he is adred! 
Hit is mony day go that he was here; 
Ichot of is ernde he nath nout ysped. 
He hath hewe sumwher a burthen of brere; 
Tharefore sum hayward hath taken ys wed. 

Yef thy wed ys ytake, bring hom the trous! 
Sete forth thyn other fot! Stryd over sty! 
We shule preye the haywart hom to ur hous, 
Ant maken hym at heyse, for the maystry, 
Drynke to hym deorly of fol god bous, 
Ant oure dame douse shal sitten hym by. 
When that he is dronke ase a dreynt mous, 
Thenne we schule borewe the wed ate bayly. 

This mon hereth me nout, thah Ich to hym crye! 
Ichot the cherl is def! The Del hym todrawe! 
Thah Ich yeye upon heth, nulle nout hye; 
The lostlase ladde con nout o lawe. 
Hupe forth, Hubert, hosede pye! 
Ichot thart amarscled into the mawe! 
Thah me teone with hym that myn teh mye, 
The cherld nul nout adoun er the day dawe! 


Original poem quoted from the following edition: The Complete Harley 2253 Manuscript, Volume 3, ed. Susanna Greer Fein and trans. David Raybin and Jan Ziolkowski (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2015), Online:  

The Man in the Moon (Translation)


The man in the moon stands and strides;  
on his forked stick he bears his burden [of thorns].  
It’s a great wonder that he doesn’t fall—  
For fear lest he fall, he shudders and meanders.  
When the frost freezes, he endures much chill.  
The thorns are sharp; they tear his clothes.  
There is nobody in the world who knows where he sits,  
Nor (unless it be the hedge) what clothes he wears. 

Which way do you think this man has taken his path?  
He has set one foot in front of the other;  
for whatever effort one takes, one never sees him move.  
He is the slowest man that was ever born!  
Where he is in the field driving in stakes,  
For hope of closing his doors with thorns,  
he must with his twibill [two-edged axe] make a bundle [of brushwood],  
or all his day’s work there is lost.    

This same man on high, whenever he appears,  
there on the moon where he was born and raised,  
he leans on his fork like a grey friar—  
This hunched idler, he is sorely frightened!  
It’s many days ago that he was here;  
I know he’s not succeeded in his errand.  
He’s hewn somewhere a burden of briars;  
therefore some hayward has taken his pledge.    

If your pledge is taken, bring home the brushwood!  
Set forth your other foot! Stride over the path!  
We shall ask the hayward home to our house,  
And put him at ease, most comfortably,  
Drink to him affectionately with a very stiff drink,  
and our sweet wife shall sit by him.  
When he is as drunk as a drowned mouse,  
then we shall take the pledge from the bailiff.    

This man hears me not, though I cry out to him!  
I think the churl is deaf! The devil tear him apart!  
Though I shout up high, he will not hurry;  
The spiritless lad knows nothing of the law.  
Hop forth, Hubert, magpie in stockings!  
I think you are bewildered into the maw.*  
Though I am so angry with him that my teeth grind,  
the churl won’t come down before the day dawns!  

Translation by Ayoush Lazikani  


*There has been a lot of disagreement among scholars about how this line should be translated. If we translate it as ‘bewildered into the maw’, perhaps it means that the man in the moon is swallowed by the dark parts of the moon. But this is only one possibility!    



Some themes and questions to consider 

  • Pronouns. Throughout the poem, the speaker shifts between referring to Hubert in the third-person and the second-person (he versus you). Why do you think this might this be?

  • Humour. How does the poem encourage the audience to laugh, and perhaps to make fun of the characters in the poem?    

  • Connecting with the moon. In this poem, there is an attempt by an earth-bound person to connect with a man on the moon, but the communication fails. How do you think the poem encourages a feeling of both closeness to, and distance from, the moon?

The edition of the poem, along with another translation and the full collection of Harley Lyrics is available via TEAMS online editions.

A short introduction to the poem

The above edition gives a brief introduction to the poem in its historical context.

About the Harley manuscript (Harley 2253)

A British Library resource introduces the medieval manuscript in which this lyric can be found. 

Travelling to the Moon in the Middle Ages

The moon in the medieval imagining, including this poem, is discussed in this article for The Conversation

Medieval Ideas of The Moon

More on medieval understandings of the lunar, including in scientific thought or natural philosophy, in this article at