• By Terry Norton

The Monkeys and the Moon


(adapted from a Tibetan folktale)


In times long-past, there lived a band

Of monkeys in a forestland,

And as they rambled roundabout,

They saw (and seeing had no doubt)

The moon had fallen in a well,

Not realizing, truth to tell,

It merely was reflected there.


Their leader said, “Oh, friends, take care.

The world has lost its silver shield.”

He then to his small band appealed,

“Should not we rescue this kind light

That guides our wanderings in the night?”

And without any argument,

The monkeys chattered their assent.


And since they’d given strong espousal,

At once the monkeys went to council,

Thus to determine by debate

How they the moon could extricate.

At last some formed a likely plan.

“To liberate the moon, we can

Conjoin ourselves in one long train,

Our arms and tails a monkey chain.”


And so they climbed into a tree

Above the well to better see

And found a limb that seemed quite firm

And that they linked their bodies from.

With grasping hand, the first one hung

As to his tail the next one clung.

And in this way, each formed a link

Until the limb began to sink.


This movement made the water ripple

So that the moon began to stipple

Until its mottled image died.

The branch then broke at last. Inside

The well the primates fell. A few

Were hurt, but in that wild to-do

So many in the water perished

The troop of simians all but vanished.


A bodhisattva* – still, serene –

Beheld unfold the tragic scene,

And from his lips came forth a verse,

Not quite but something like a curse.

“As with the monkeys that believed

A mirrored moon they could retrieve,

When fools are by the foolish led

Destruction over them will tread.”


*A bodhisattva is one who can achieve Buddhahood but who delays it to help those who are still on the path to enlightenment.


Terry L. Norton is professor emeritus of literacy acquisition at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina. He is the author of Cherokee Myths and Legends: Thirty Tales Retold as well as academic articles on literacy and literature for children and young adults. His poetry has appeared in Ekphrastic Review, Kakalak Review, and The Society for Classical Poetry. His renditions of the first century Latin poet Phaedrus received second place in the 2020 translation competition sponsored by The Society.