Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 424

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.

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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 moonlight under the treetops is what counts—not the counting of years. Older persons, perhaps, have little reason to count years, which already exist as an accomplishment. Rather, they count the importance of a single companion.

The world of words, as the poet shows, will not permit the deciphering of the night of one’s life as it “Hardens into its infinite being.” In this regard, finally, the poem is about how an older person prepares for an approaching death. Under the August moon, birthdays will no longer be counted because the counters will be gone, willfully having walked through life and on into the silence of the universe at some point on the white gravel path. The moon will become “lost in tree-darkness”; only stars will be visible. The poet will take his place in a universe of stars after walking through the life of this world governed by the moon. In making this passage, hand-holding and silence are the best for which he can hope.

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