The poem uses abstract language and thoughtful imagery to depict the speaker’s experience in the world. There are likely to be several different interpretations of this poem, considering the wide array of ways that the lines can be read and experienced. But, it’s clear that the speaker is having a moving series of moments and thoughts outside, under the clear night.
Explore Clear Night
‘Clear Night’ by Charles Wright is a beautiful poem about a speaker’s experience under a clear night sky and his desire for a particular kind of life.
In the first lines of ‘Clear Night,’ the speaker begins by describing the night and the natural imagery around him. It’s clear that he’s in a thoughtful frame of mind, one that’s inspired him to spend time talking about the moon, birds, and the general light/dark contrast. He goes on, using repetition to emphasize how he wants to live and the way he wants to be changed by his experiences. He wants life to be something that’s full and impactful. The poem concludes with a stanza of four more statements that suggest his world is moving forward as the stars move through the sky at night.
You can read the full poem here.
Clear night, thumb-top of a moon, a back-lit sky.
Bird hush and bird song. A cassia flower falls.
In the first stanza of ‘Clear Night,’ the speaker begins by describing the natural imagery around him. It’s a clear night, and he can see the moon up in the sky. It’s lit by the moon’s light with “moon-fingers” or streaks of moonlight coming down from the sky. He brings attention to the juxtaposition of the light and dark in this stanza well. There is the “Bird hush and bird song,” another great example of contrasting imagery. The night appears to be inspiring him to consider life’s ups and downs, life and death, and his place within it all.
I want to be bruised by God.
I want to be entered and picked clean.
In the second stanza, the poet makes use of anaphora. It is seen through the repetition of the same phrase at the beginning of all four lines. He speaks several things he wants to be. The first is “bruised by God.” This surprising and thoughtful statement suggests that he wants to be so moved and inspired by God that it’s almost painful. God will make an imprint on his body and change him in some way.
He wants, he goes on, to be “strung up in strong light and singled out.” This is an admission of passion for the moment and experiences he’s looking for in the future. He’s trying to get as much from life as possible, as the third like suggests as well. When considering all four lines together, it’s clear the speaker is talking broadly, although abstractly, about his experiences in the world and his desire to live fully. To be “entered and picked clean” is another great example. He wants to be used in an existential way.
And the wind says “What?” to me.
And the gears notch and the engines wheel.
In the lines of stanza three, the speaker goes on to use anaphora again. He begins each of these lines with “And the.” These statements are also an example of accumulation. They help the reader gain a fuller understanding of the speaker’s interpretation of the world. He sees things in a certain way. Under the clear night sky, he is communing with nature and imagining it speaking back.
He depicts the stars moving and the gears of life turning and moving forward. This was just one moment, and now, as the poem concludes, the speaker suggests that he’s moving beyond it and hopefully into a kind of life that he depicted within its lines.
Structure and Form
‘Clear Night’ by Charles Wright is a three-stanza poem that is divided into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains are written in free verse. This means that they do not conform to a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. But, it doesn’t mean that they are entirely without rhyme. For example, the half-rhyme between “routine” and “keys” in stanza one and the exact rhyme of “me” and “me” at the ends of lines one and two of stanza three.
Throughout ‘Clear Night,’ Wright makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Anaphora: occurs when the poet repeats the same word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “I want to be” which starts all four lines of the second stanza.
- Personification: can be seen when the poet imbues non-human things with human characteristics. For example, “moon-fingers” in the first stanza and the wind saying “what” in the final stanza.
- Alliteration: can be seen when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “black,” “Bird,” and “bird” in lines three and four of the first stanza and “strung,” “strong,” “singled” in line two of the second stanza.
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines two and three of the first stanza.
The purpose is the explore a speaker’s thoughts under a clear night sky. Specifically, to explore his desire to experience the world fully and powerfully.
The themes are nature, God, and the purpose of life. The speaker spends the lines weaving these three themes together in such a way that a reader may find themselves inspired and moved by his verse.
The tone is passionate. The speaker is very clear-minded about the type of life he wants to live and tries to depict that through the lines of the poem. Although the language is somewhat abstract, it’s clear that he feels emotionally invested in what he’s saying.
The mood is contemplative and inspired. The reader is meant to walk away from this piece, moved and interested in what the speaker had to say and perhaps inspired to pursue the same kind of relationship with the world that the speaker is.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Clear Night’ should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘To Night’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley – expresses a speaker’s desire for a personified version of Night.
- ‘God’s World’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay – describes the wonders of nature and the value a speaker places on the sights she observes in God’s world.
- ‘Night Garden of the Asylum’ by Elizabeth Jennings – speaks about night in a mental health institution and was inspired by the poet’s own experiences.