The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Composed of twelve ten-syllable lines, “Moonlight” is divided into three stanzas, each of which possesses its own regularly alternating rhyme scheme (abab, cdcd, efef). The title of the collection in which the poem originally appeared, Fêtes galantes, bears considerable importance on a visual level to the interpretation of this piece. Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) was renowned as the painter of “fêtes galantes,” jewel-like renderings of men and women dressed in satins, lounging gracefully in nature’s lushness. In the same way that Watteau, in A Pilgrimage to Cythera, invites the eye to take in the golden splendor of love in paradise, Paul Verlaine invites the reader to discover a world colored by moonlight and enlightened by strolling musicians.

In the first stanza, Verlaine compares the soul of an unknown person—“your soul”—to a landscape, which is personified as being gladdened by masked musicians, who play the flute and dance, dressed in gaudy colors. Contrasting with the happy countryside, the musicians exhibit traits of sadness, scarcely concealed by their colorful disguises.

The second stanza focuses on the musicians, now singing huskily of love that conquers and the fullness of life. Seemingly doubtful of the happiness that they depict in song, they offer music that blends with the softness of the moon’s rays. The personification of the landscape in the first stanza...

(The entire section is 525 words.)