Study Guide

August Moon

by Robert Penn Warren

August Moon Themes

Themes and Meanings (Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Warren’s purpose in “August Moon” is to explain some of the significant concerns of a traveler through life. These include one’s station in and relation to the universe; one’s place in the world in which one lives; the function and effects of time; and the proper perspective one should have as one proceeds into the inexplicable, cosmic darkness of the woods. Answers to all these questions relate to the August moon.

The walker through life is initially alone. One will remain that way if one steps out of line with nature by expressing oneself. (Ironically, this is exactly the function of the poet.) Individuals are like stars in that both possess (and are possessed by) a physical existence. In the face of the August moon, however, individuals can walk on in silence in order to maintain at least a semblance of companionship. One does so under the auspices of omnipotent time; here, the importance of time is simply that it makes one old.

At one point in the poem, Warren asks the question “who/ Wants to live anyway/ Except to be of use to/ Somebody loved?” The question is followed by a single-line stanza that questions the premise of that question: “At least, that’s what they say.” For the poet to suggest that others (“they”) say this shows that he may not fully accept the idea himself. One can best be of service to someone one loves through companionship down the gravel road. A simple act such as holding hands in the pale...

(The entire section is 424 words.)