The Poem

“August Moon” is a poem of forty-seven lines dispersed among thirteen stanzas varying in length: The shortest stanza has only one line; the longest has eight. It is written entirely in free verse and is, therefore, typical of most of Robert Penn Warren’s poetry in that imagery and metaphor are always the dominant vehicle of expression.

The title, though ostensibly a simple one, is highly suggestive both as a metaphor and as an image in itself. Literally, it is readily discoverable that the moon is bright and half-full, shining on a clear August night when literal heat and the clearness of the sky are at their zeniths. Metaphorically, such a moon represents the emotional intensity the poet feels for his beloved. As an image, it is indicative of the intellectual passion the poet experiences, not in the heat of the moment, but in the heat of his life.

The poem is written in the first person, both singular and plural. The use of “we” is not as a plural voice; rather, “we” is undoubtedly intended as a way to personalize the experience and to involve the poem’s readers. Warren uses the second-person “you” in three instances. He does so not to suggest that he is addressing a second person, even the lover or the reader, but to talk to some component of his self.

The first stanza of the poem contains two metaphorical images: The August moon of the title is “Gold like a half-slice of orange/ Fished from a stiff...

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Forms and Devices

As is typical of Warren’s poetry, imagery and metaphor dominate; the poem is devoid of standard poetic devices such as rhyme or alliteration. He conveys his message through a series of images, many of which are embedded in metaphors. The August moon itself is used to establish a mood of contemplation and a setting of quiet emotional intensity. The moon is set in the universe among the stars in the same way that the poet as an individual, his lover as another separate individual, and readers as yet another entity of individuals are set in the world to walk their respective paths through pale moonlight among darkened treetops. It is hopeless, the poet realizes, for these stars to attempt communication; so it is with all humans who “walk down the woods-lane.” The stars attempt no communication, and neither should the individuals who are the “we” of the poem; the difference is that the individuals of this “we” can hold hands.

Initially, the moon is compared to the gold “half-slice of orange” in a drink and to a brass button on a blue blazer. It is a part of the physical universe, the most prominent, visible feature in the heavens (the “Eczema of glory”); yet it is entirely personalized in something so common, even mundane, as a button. The moon provides the setting both for the universe and for the people on earth who walk under it; the moon itself is set in the universe in time “By the tick of the watch.” Children most successfully...

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