In his essay “Myth and Education,” Hughes argues that children’s literature serves an important “therapeutic” function in contemporary society, which tends to overvalue rational and utilitarian ways of seeing the world, often at the expense of imagination. The children’s writer can offer an alternative vision, invigorating young readers’ capacity for wonder, helping them face the irrational forces in themselves and in the world around them. From one point of view, then, the mysterious terrain of Moon-Whales and Other Moon Poems is a place where young readers can visit to confront their own fears. Several poems explicitly suggest such a reading. In many pieces, for example, Hughes adopts a technique that makes the reader an active participant, using the second person “you” to place the reader in the middle of the action. In “A Moon-Lily,” a mysterious crying flower keeps the protagonist-reader awake: “Then come nights of quiet sobbing, and no sleep for you.” In “Moon-Cloud Gripe,” the reader is afflicted with a dreadful disease: “Your eyes begin to blur./ Then you go blue.” These two poems ask the reader, the “you,” to face fearful prospects: death (the sobbing moon-lily is slowly dying) and disease.
“Moon-Shadow Beggars,” one of the best and most frightening poems in the book, more fully illustrates the possibilities of Hughes’s second-person technique and his capacity to explore hidden fears. The...
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