The Mystery Of The Inner Moonlight

Albert Pinkham Ryder – With Sloping Mast And Dipping Prow, c.1883, oil on canvas mounted on fiberboard 12 x 12 in (30.4 x 30.4cm), National Museum of American Art, Washington DC
Type the words “Follow your inner moonlight, don’t hide the madness” (with or without the quotation marks) into the Google search engine and you’ll come up with over (a good deal over) 90,000 results. Here’s the popular site goodreads, here’s a blog that proudly holds it as its title, here… but the phrase is a quite extraordinarily popular one, an internet meme, if you will, which, for some time, it has to be confessed, we here at the Allen Ginsberg Project found, well, more than a little troubling. Allen was always credited with the quote but did he actually say it? And when an assiduous search through his Collected Works turned up only half of it (the “don’t hide the madness” bit – from the poem, “On Burroughs’ Work” – “A naked lunch is natural to us,/we eat reality sandwiches/But allegories are so much lettuce./Don’t hide the madness.” ) we were, understandably, further entrenched in our skepticism, another of those classic well-meant-but-actually-inaccurate attributions?

Stumbling upon remarks on an obscure internet bulletin board (thank you and credit where credit is due, “Ocelot”!, sadly we can no longer link to you), we came across this:

“In 1989, Michael Schumacher wrote a book containing advice for young writers called, “On Being a Writer”, where he asked advice from 31 famous authors. One of.. (those) interviewed for the book was Allen Ginsberg. The quote “Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.” was part of his (Allen’s) advice for aspiring writers, so the context is Ginsberg’s advice on self-expression.”

We got in touch with Michael (Allen’s biographer) and got further clarification (the book is not actually Michael’s but, rather, an anthology, of interviews that first appeared in Writers Digest, edited by Bill Strickland. On page 47, from the reprint of Michael’s interview with Allen, we read, as follows:

“It’s more important to concentrate on what you want to say to yourself and your friends. Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness. Take (William Carlos) Williams: until he was 50 or 60, he was a local nut from Paterson, New Jersey, as far as the literary world was concerned. He went half a century without real recognition except among his friends and peers.

“You say what you want to say when you don’t care who’s listening. If you’re grasping to get your own voice, you’re making a strained attempt to talk, so it’s a matter of just listening to yourself as you sound when you’re talking about something that’s intensely important to you.”

Follow your inner moonlight and here’s a host more useful slogans


  1. Great job guys, thanks for doing the research!

    Google rewarded this article by putting it #1 when we search for the quote.
    I know because that's how I found this piece.

    Thanks again.

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