What is the diction, imagery, and figurative language in the poem "Full Moon" by Robert Hayden?

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droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This poem is an exploration of the endurance of the moon, itself unchanging while it endures through humanity's changing beliefs, experiences, and ambitions. It is dense with imagery and figurative language, so this can form the core of your writing about it.

The first stanza depicts the moon as it is imagined by children—"a bubble house of childhood's tumbling Mother Goose man"—and packages this alongside the image of that same moon as "the throne to a goddess to which we pray." Many cultures across history have prayed to a moon goddess, such as the Greek Selene (Roman Luna). These beliefs about the moon, as a figurative "bubble house" or "throne," the poet says, are "no longer." In these instances, the poet's figurative language—the moon is not literally a throne or bubble house, nor has it ever been—serve to establish vivid imagery of the moon as a castle in the sky, the seat of long-ago daydreams.

The following stanza describes the moon in terms of, by contrast, the concrete issues it provides for scientists: the "challenger" encouraging them to reach it and the "white hope of communications experts." There is a degree of figurative language here, as the moon does not have the agency to set itself up as a challenger, but by contrast to the first stanza, this one lacks imagery or fanciful language, underlying its description of science rather than fantasy. The moon, instead, is "emphatic," steadfast in its purpose, enduring.

The following two stanzas, however, revisit the imagery and lush language of the fanciful, as the poet describes what the moon has meant to his family. The imagery here calls to mind travelers, or other country people, believing that certain elements of their lives depended upon the moon as it "waxed and waned—the times at which they "planted seeds, trimmed their hair," pierced their ears for "gold earrings," which the language of the poem almost invites us to imagine glinting under the moon. The poet, however, undercuts this imagery harshly: "the moon shines tonight upon their graves," outlasting with its unchanging nature all their beliefs and acts of service to it.

Stanzas five and six revisit the familiar imagery of Gethsemane, underlining the length of time for which the moon has accompanied humanity through its most significant events. Here it "burned in the garden," and the poet emphasises with repetition that its light was "made holy." The moon's light catches in Christ's "dazzling" tears and lights his path "with radiance." The imagery is vivid and the language elevated: "The Glorious One," "His Holiness."

In the final stanza, again, then, the poet repeats his tactic of contrasting this rich imagery with the scientific, but in this case, the moon-as-challenger, too, is described evocatively. "A mooted goal" now that it has been conquered, the poet muses darkly that it may perhaps next be "an arms base, a livid sector." For now, though, the moon outlasts all human meddling and "dominates the dark."

Read the study guide:
Robert Hayden

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