The circadian (∼24 h) clock is continuously entrained (reset) by ambient light so that endogenous rhythms are synchronized with daily changes in the environment. Light-induced gene expression is thought to be the molecular mechanism underlying clock entrainment. mRNA translation is a key step of gene expression, but the manner in which clock entrainment is controlled at the level of mRNA translation is not well understood. We found that a light- and circadian clock-regulated MAPK/MNK pathway led to phosphorylation of the cap-binding protein eIF4E in the mouse suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus, the locus of the master circadian clock in mammals. Phosphorylation of eIF4E specifically promoted translation of Period 1 (Per1) and Period 2 (Per2) mRNAs and increased the abundance of basal and inducible PER proteins, which facilitated circadian clock resetting and precise timekeeping. Together, these results highlight a critical role for light-regulated translational control in the physiology of the circadian clock.