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The Godiva moon: This week on the Storyteller's Night Sky

Sky and Telescope


In 1678, the Godiva Procession was instituted in Coventry, England to commemorate and honor Lady Godiva, who rode naked on horseback through the main street to protest her husband’s intent to raise taxes on the poor. Nearly 200 years later, in 1842, Alfred Tennyson found himself waiting on a train in Coventry and penned his iconic poem about it, which we can imagine is being written across the evening sky this week as the moon comes to full phase and sweeps past the outer planets Jupiter, Saturn and Mars. 

Here’s how you can find Tennyson’s poem “Godiva” in the stars this week:

First, the set up: the moon passed Jupiter in the sky Sunday night and will come to full phase on Tuesday, May 29th near the stars Antares in Scorpio. This is like being given an opportunity by Jupiter and then taking it over a threshold. In Godiva’s case, you could say this is when she slips down the stair, and, in the words of the poet, "like a creeping sunbeam, slid from pillar unto pillar, until she reached the gateway."


Credit Sky and Telescope

The Godiva Moon then goes on to meet Saturn on Thursday night, who, as Father Time in all ancient traditions, represents Tennyson’s "powers that wait on noble deeds," who stand guard like the divine powers that test our resolve.

This test will come on Sunday, June 3, when the Godiva moon meets Mars in the morning sky. Mars represents action, and he could be the "low churl, compact of thankless earth, the fatal byword of all years to come" in Tennyson’s poembecause he bores a hole in the wall to peep at the Lady as she rides by but is struck blind by the divine powers before he can transgress. 

All week we can imagine Godiva’s drama building and Tennyson’s poem unfolding as though it were an invitation to assess our own opportunities to stand for others and to be tested in our resolve to act with integrity while we watch her "fleeing to her inmost bower … looking like a summer moon half-dipt in cloud."

Tennyson's poem "Godiva" can be read at this link.

Find some background history to Godiva's story at this link.