Summary and Analysis

The Moon cover image

In “The Moon,” by the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), the speaker compares the rising moon to a “dying lady” (1) who “totters forth” (2) and is “insane” (3), apparently led by the “feeble wanderings of her fading brain” (4). In the second stanza, the speaker asks the moon if she is “pale” because of “weariness” (7) or from “climbing heaven and gazing on the earth” (8). He suggests that she wanders without a companion (9), alienated from the stars (10) and shifting her gaze continually (11) because she finds nothing worth her constant attention (12).

Shelley is one of the most important of the English Romantic poets, and this poem might be called a typically “Romantic” work for a number of reasons. First, it focuses (like many Romantic poems) on an aspect of physical nature. The Romantics emphasized nature partly because they believed that the natural world could often serve as a source of beauty, consolation, and meaning in a universe in which God no longer seemed as important as in the past (if, that is, he even existed at all). Secondly, this poem seems typically Romantic because it personifies part of nature, treating the moon as if it were a living being with a fully developed personality. (This attribution of human emotions to natural objects is often called “the pathetic fallacy.”) Finally, the poem is a standard piece of Romantic writing because it raises questions rather than clearly answering them, creating a sense of mystery rather than offering any traditional, conventional answers.

The poem begins by jumping in medias res (into the middle of events). The first word is “And,” technically making the entire first stanza a sentence fragment. By beginning this way, the speaker abruptly inserts us into what seems to be an on-going narrative, catching us by surprise and thus creating immediate interest. Our curiosity is further aroused, and a certain suspense is created, because we do not learn for certain until line 5 that it is the moon that is being compared to “a dying lady” (5). We might suppose, from the poem’s title, that this comparison is being made, but we cannot be absolutely sure...

(The entire section is 895 words.)