Under the Harvest Moon

Under the Harvest Moon

By Carl Sandburg

Under the harvest moon,
When the soft silver
Drips shimmering
Over the garden nights,
Death, the gray mocker,
Comes and whispers to you
As a beautiful friend
Who remembers.

Under the summer roses
When the flagrant crimson
Lurks in the dusk
Of the wild red leaves,
Love, with little hands,
Comes and touches you
With a thousand memories,
And asks you
Beautiful, unanswerable questions.

Summary of Under the Harvest Moon

  • Popularity of “Under the Harvest Moon”: Written by Carl Sandburg, ‘Under the Harvest Moon’ first appeared in 1916 when Sandburg published his poetry collection, The Chicago Poems. The poem not only won popularity but also instantly became a textbook piece on account of its presentation of the autumnal landscape and its romantic imagery. Sandburg’s use of simple language and direct tone made the poem popular. The poem is still popular after having a place in numerous anthologies and literature textbooks across the globe.
  • “Under the Harvest Moon” As a Representative of Reality: “Under the Harvest Moon” is a representative of reality due to its depiction of the beauty and simplicity of rural life. The poem paints a clear picture of a scene familiar to the readers. With its imagery of the moon shining on the fields, the smell of apples in the air, and the sound of the cricket, “Under the Harvest Moon” shows how rural life thrives amid nature. To top it all, the use of natural imagery creates a sense of authenticity and realism that captures the essence of rural life. The poem also portrays a real-world connected to the land and the rhythms of nature. In this sense, “Under The Harvest Moon” represents a reality that even common people have experienced. It offers a glimpse into the life that seems to have disappeared now.
  • Major Themes in “Under The Harvest Moon”: The major themes in “Under the Harvest Moon” are death, beauty, the fleeting nature of life, and the power of love and memories. The poem shows life and death through relevant images after personifying them. The harvest moon, on the other hand, represents beauty and tranquility, while death becomes a “gray mocker” who whispers to the reader. This juxtaposition of contradictory ideas is suggestive that even amid beauty and joy, death is a constant presence. Similarly, the second stanza shows the summer roses and the flagrant crimson, symbolizing passion and vitality. However, they are set against dusk and wild red leaves. This hints at the transience of life. Love here seems to be a force that reaches out with “little hands” and touches the reader with a thousand memories. It emphasizes the lasting impact of love and the power of nostalgia. The poem suggests that while death and the passage of time are inevitable, love and memories also provide solace and a sense of meaning in the face of life’s uncertainties.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in Under the Harvest Moon

Carl Sandburg often uses various literary devices to sharpen the impact of his poems. Here are some major literary devices that he has used in this poem.

  1. Alliteration: It is the repetition of initial consonant sounds. For example, “soft silver” (Line 2) shows the repetition of the /s/ sound, creating a smooth and soothing effect mimicking the gentle moonlight.
  2. Assonance: It is the repetition of vowel sounds. For example, “Drips shimmering” (Line 3) shows the repetition of the short /i/ sound in “drips” and “shimmering,” creating a musical quality in the line.
  3. Consonance: It is the repetition of consonant sounds within words. For example, “Comes and whisper to you” (Line 5) shows the repetition of the /s/, creating a harsh and mocking tone.
  4. Enjambment: This is the continuation of a sentence or phrase beyond the end of a line of verse. For example, “Drips shimmering / Over the garden nights,” (Line 4) shows that the verse continues from one line to the next, without pause, creating a sense of flow and continuity.
  5. Hyperbole: It means using exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally. For example, “With a thousand memories” (Line 15) shows the use of “thousand,” exaggerating the intensity and abundance of memories, emphasizing the profound impact of love.
  6. Imagery: It is the use of descriptive language that appeals to the senses. For example: “soft silver” (Line 2), “summer roses” (line 9), and “Lurks in the dusk” (line 11) show clear and vivid imagery of sight and touch.
  7. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech that compares two different things without using “like” or “as.” For example, “Death, the gray mocker” (Line 5) shows death compared to a mocker, suggesting that it taunts and derides people, perhaps implying the fleeting nature of life.
  8. Personification: It gives human qualities to non-human entities. For example, “Love, with little hands” (Line 13) shows love personified as having hands, implying tenderness and gentleness in its touch.
  9. Repetition: It is the recurrence of words or phrases for emphasis. For example: “Under the” (Lines 1 and 9) shows the repetition of “under the” at the beginning of both stanzas, creating a parallel structure, emphasizing the setting, and creating a sense of unity.
  10. Simile: It is a figure of speech that compares two things using “like” or “as.” For example, “As a beautiful friend” (Line 7) shows death compared to a beautiful friend, suggesting a comforting presence and potentially questioning societal views on mortality.
  11. Symbolism: It is the use of symbols to represent ideas or qualities. For example, “Harvest moon” (Line 1) shows the moon symbolizing the passing of seasons, cycles of life and death, and the beauty of nature.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in Under the Harvest Moon

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is an analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Diction: It is the choice and use of words in a literary work. For example, “Death, the gray mocker” (Line 5) shows the use of “gray mocker” as an epithet for death revealing the poet’s deliberate choice of words.
  2. Meter: It is the rhythmic structure of a poem. The poem does not strictly adhere to a specific metrical pattern.
  3. Poem: “Under the Harvest Moon” is a lyric poem as it conveys the speaker’s contemplation of love and death under the moonlight.
  4. Stanza: The poem comprises two stanzas. The first stanza comprises lines 1-8, and the second stanza comprises lines 9-17. The poem is divided into two distinct sections, each presenting different imagery and themes.
  5. Tone: It is the attitude or mood conveyed by the poet. The tone of “Under the Harvest Moon” is contemplative and reflective.

Quotes to be Used

This quote is appropriate to set a romantic or peaceful mood, such as in a wedding or anniversary toast. It could also be used to describe the beauty of a fall evening, for example in a nature-themed essay or article.

Under the harvest moon,
When the soft silver
Drips shimmering
Over the garden nights

(lines 1-4)