This song is based on the poem "The New Moon", which you can read in the notes below.

How Pretty the Moon Looks Tonight - American Children's Songs - The USA - Mama Lisa's World: Children's Songs and Rhymes from Around the World  - Intro Image

Notes

The poem this song is based on is called The New Moon. The poem was first printed in 1832 in a book by Eliza Lee Follen called Little Songs. It was either written by Eliza Lee Follen, or it was traditional at the time she published it. She also printed The Three Little Kittens in the same book (another nursery rhyme which many people attribute to her). It may also simply have been traditional at the time.

Here's the version of The New Moon from Follen's book Little Songs:

THE NEW MOON

Dear mother, how pretty
The moon looks to-night!
She was never so cunning before;
Her two little horns
Are so sharp and so bright,
I hope she'll not grow any more.

If I were up there
With you and my friends,
I'd rock in it nicely you see;
I'd sit in the middle
And hold by both ends;
O, what a bright cradle 'twould be!

I would call to the stars
To keep out of the way,
Lest we should rock over their toes,
And there I would rock
Till the dawn of the day,
And see where the pretty moon goes.

And there we would stay
In the beautiful skies,
And through the bright clouds we would roam;
We would see the sun set,
And see the sun rise,
And on the next rainbow come home.

People eventually started singing the poem as a song in the southern United States.

Feel free to join a discussion about How Pretty the Moon Looks Tonight on Mama Lisa's World Blog.

Listen

Chaz James sent me this recording below with a note about this song: "It's an odd tune. I believe it to be from East KY, VA, somewhere thereabouts… I learned it as a child in Iowa."

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Thanks to Chaz James for sending both recordings!

Below is another version of this song sent by Chaz James with the following note with the lyrics:
"Well-a-day! Here is another version in all its tone-deaf glory, and here are the words. The variations are noted in parentheses:

'Mother, how Bright the Moon Shines Tonight', as sung by the Stormfield Four-Transcribed from a cassette tape recorded on October, 2004, at Canaan's Land Autumn dinner, Cunningham Farm, near Emmetsburg, Iowa.

Where once we strolled by the light of the moon, the ways are so silent and lone
The lanes I once loved hold no beauty to me, and they'll never, until (s)he comes home.

Chorus: Mother how bright, the moon is (shines) tonight, she was never so pretty before
With her own two horns, so cutting and sharp-Oh! (and) I hope she'll not grow anymore!

With each new dawn I can carry on, as long as the the sun's in the sky,
But when each sun goes down and (s)he isn't around, All alone, in the moonlight I cry.

Alone and forlorn, I walk in the night; and the stars and the heavens above
And the same moon that shines on my pitiful hide (plight), shines down on the one I love.

If happens as (and) it may, (s)he never returns, And leaves me to mourn and weep
I give charge to the moon, as she shines on me now, to shine (down) on the place where I sleep."

Download

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Many thanks to Cher & Gene Klosner for sharing their wonderful recording (the 3rd one on this song page) of How Pretty the Moon! It's from their CD of lullabies called Stardust.

Thanks and Acknowledgements

Thanks to Lila for the illustration!

Thanks so much!

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