The role of the moon in literature

The little-known role of the moon in literature

While the moon has always held intense symbolism in it, one of the moon’s universal symbols in literature is simply: love or lovesickness.

However, generally, the moon holds feminine characteristics in literature.  It stands to serve as a comparison or metaphor or some sort of description of women in all types and forms. From the glow in a woman’s face to the round shape of her eyes to the gleam in her smile, all have been scribbled in poetry. The irony is that despite a woman never having stepped foot onto the moon itself, we have forever been inked as being part of the celestial surface.

The moon is also portrayed as a feminine identity itself. For example: in the poem titled “The Moon” by Emily Dickinson:

"The moon was but a chin of gold
A night or two ago,
And now she turns her perfect face
Upon the world below.

Her forehead is of amplest blond;
Her cheek like beryl stone;
Her eye unto the summer dew
The likest I have known."

If studied more in-depth, the moon can also portray inner knowledge in literature. We also know that in reality, the moon controls the tides, water, rain and season, and thus it could symbolise the phases of a person’s life in this world.

My personal favourite symbolism of the moon is that of it being in between the light of the sun and the darkness of the night.  Therefore, it represents the world between dark and light, consciousness and unconscious, good and bad. It can be seen as the perfect balance between two contrasting things, the grey line, the centre of attention.

It can also be seen as the light at the end of the tunnel or a victory after a long dark road, or the destination of peace. This can be seen in the poem titled “Moonrise” by Bliss Carman:

"At the end of the road through the wood
I see the great moonrise.
The fields are flooded with shine,
And my soul with surmise.

What if that mystic orb
With her shadowy beams,
Should be the revealer at last
Of my darkest dreams!"

As writers and readers, we are well familiar with the imagery of a lighthouse in literature.  Towards the end of the ocean, upon the shore, it stands tall and bright upon the shore and guides those at sea towards the light.

Likewise, the moon can be portrayed in literature as the light that guides us, our souls, our paths and our minds towards our destinations. It can be seen as a guide to the ocean, the waters and the waves. This is noticeable in the poem called “The poem is distant from the sea” yet again by Emily Dickinson:

"The moon is distant from the sea,
And yet with amber hands
She leads him, docile as a boy,
Along appointed sands."

It is also visible in a poem called “Sailing To-Night” by an unknown poet:

"There’s a ship on the sea. It is sailing to-night—
Sailing to-night;—
And father’s aboard, and the moon is all bright—
Shining and bright.
Dear Moon, he’ll be sailing for many a night—
Sailing from mother and me;
Oh, follow the ship with your silvery light,
As father sails over the sea!"

As the Lion is deemed to be the King of the jungle, the Moon can be portrayed as the Queen of the night. This can be seen in a poem by Terry Webb Harshman called “Queen of the night”

I am the moon, Queen of Night,
riddle wrapped in borrowed light,

a silver spool where dreams unwind,
ancient orb as old as time.

I masquerade; I wax and wane . . .
forever changing yet the same;

I stir the tides with unseen hands;
they ebb and flow from sea to sand.

Father Sun may keep the day;
I ride along the Milky Way . . .

holding court with owls and bats,
moles and voles and backstreet cats.

Within my tent the weary rest;
puppies doze and sparrows nest.

Children dream beneath my light . . .
I am the moon, Queen of Night."

Alas, as this has already been understood and explained before, I would like to emphasise my personal analysis of what role the moon can play in literature.

As a lover of the night and observer of the moon, I have spent a myriad of nights under the dark sky gazing towards the moon and the millions of stars.

To me, it has made me realise how far I am from the rest of the universe and how utterly impossible it seems to reach out to the celestial surface.

Thus, it has brought to mind the comparison between the moon and a lover that one cannot attain or reach. Someone so far beyond our control and ourselves that we cannot seem to even fathom how we’d ever be able to touch them, whether that is physically or emotionally.

I have written a piece to explain this feeling and this metaphor as accurately as possible and hope to have done so effectively in the poem titled “Moon boy, lover boy.”

"My darling, you are there beyond my sight
And yet embedded into my eyes like the dazzling teeth of the night sky
You are silver in sound
Like a siren sitting above the stars
You are the Moon
Moon boy, you are far from my touch
But my fingers are your lovers
I see your smile blinding the northen lights
And the sun that peaks from afar
You are here,
Not here but your beating-drum hums the alphabets to my name
You spell me out like a song and the music still never plays
Moon boy,
I am near you and yet the thought of holding you is like the shriek of a drowning ship
I am the wolf howling towards you, with a splinter on my soul, I'm dying to meet your spirit
The world would never accept the aching of my heart and the tongue that echoes the light of your eyes
You belong to the entire sky
The one we both share
Only I can simply stare
While the maidens toss a coin and bet on whose you'd be by the morning time."

The article has sufficiently touched on a variety of different symbolisms that the moon holds in literature. However, each to his own, especially in poetry. A poet’s ink is a renegade, no explanation, no analysis and no ruling can hold it captive. The moon can portray whatever the heart of the poet desires.

For more poetry conversation, find out why you need a poetry journal today, or these  60 beautiful quotes about life and death.

About The Author

Bio: Muskaan Ayesha is a South African author, poet, editor and radio presenter. She’s a strong willed woman with a love for trying new things and living life through all her gathered knowledge.