Laux’s ‘‘Facts About the Moon’ is a clever and moving description of the dynamic between the earth and the moon. The poet uses the moon to represent the pure, caring, ever-watchful mother and the earth, the terror-inducing, murderous child who she can’t help but love. The mood is at times romantic, exacting, and solemn. Laux employs a constantly clear and level tone throughout ‘Facts About the Moon’ so that she might engage the reader in themes of love, connection, and the past/future.
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Summary of Facts About the Moon
The poem takes the reader through a few facts about the moon, as the title suggests, and then into the past and future. Eventually, the speaker reveals, the moon is going to spiral out of its orbit and float free in space. This disconnection inspires pity in the poet’s heart. She uses an extended metaphor that also employs personification to compare the moon to the mother of a murderer and rapist. She loves her son, just as the moon loves the delinquent and undeserving earth.
You can read the full poem here.
‘Facts About the Moon’ by Dorianne Laux is a fifty-five line poem that is contained within one single stanza. The lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme, nor do they conform to a particular metrical pattern. But, that does not mean that they lack rhyme. There are a number of instances of half-rhyme within the poem.
Also known as slant or partial rhyme, half-rhyme is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse. For example, the “a” sound in “past” and “back” in line nine as well as the “o” in “no corona only” in line thirteen. One last example is “hugeness” and “darkness” in lines eleven and fourteen.
Full rhyme is also present in the text. It is also known as perfect or complete rhyme and in this case, is disturbed not only at the end of lines, but within them as well. The most prominent moments are seen through the repetition of the words “moon” and “sun”.
Poetic Techniques in the Poem
Within ‘Facts About the Moon’ the poet makes use of several poetic techniques. These include alliteration, epistrophe, metaphor, personification and enjambment. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, “covered,” “completely,” and “corona” in lines twelve and thirteen as well as “slap” and “sanity” in line forty-nine. Epistrophe is the repetition of the same word, or a phrase, at the end of multiple lines or sentences. For example, “sun” and “moon” are used numerous times throughout the text.
Metaphor, or a comparison between two, unlike things that does not use “like” or “as” is also present in the text. When using this technique a poet is saying that one thing is another thing, they aren’t just similar. There are several examples throughout the poem, one can be found in lines fifteen and sixteen when the moon is said to be the “pupil” in the eye that is the sun. Personification occurs when a poet imbues a non-human creature or object with human characteristics. Immediately in the first lines of ‘Facts About the Moon’, the moon is personified. The speaker describes it as “backing away from us” as if by choice.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. Of the many examples to be found in ‘Facts About the Moon’ a few especially impactful are the transitions between lines two and three as well as thirty-six and thirty-seven.
Analysis of Facts About the Moon
The moon is backing away from us
an inch and a half each year. That means
was a full six feet closer to the earth.
What’s a person supposed to do?
In the first lines of ‘Facts About the Moon,’ the speaker begins by using personification to describe the movements of the moon. They say that it, as if human, has been “backing away from us” a little bit at a time “each year”. These small moments have added up to six feet or so if “you” were born fifty years ago. This description ends with a question, she asks the reader, rhetorically, “What’s a person supposed to do?”
Already in the first lines, the poet has made use of the title, she has provided us with a “fact” about the moon. This fact has been delivered as the prelude to a series of other images that are more emotional and personally meaningful than they are scientific and objective.
I feel the gray cloud of consternation
travel across my face. I begin thinking
so completely there was no corona, only
a darkness we had no word for.
In the next lines of ‘Facts About the Moon,’ the poet continues using the first person narrative perspective and takes the natural imagery and uses it as a metaphor for her own emotional experience. She speaks on a “gray cloud” and how it travels across her face. This is a very evocative way to depict “consternation” or concern and confusion. This period of uncertainty is connected to her memories of the past. She doesn’t speak about a specific personal history but a wider-ranging one.
The speaker looks into the past and describes for the reader what she thinks it would be like to see the moon when it was much close to the earth. It would’ve been “huge” and “breathtaking” in a way it isn’t today.
Laux’s speaker romanticizes this image of the past, enlarging it in her mind to grand proportions just as the moon enlarges in the sky. She imagines how different solar eclipses would’ve been in the prehistoric past. The moon would’ve covered the sun completely, so much so that there was no “corona”. This is a reference to the way that, today when there’s a solar eclipse, there’s always a circle of darkness and a ring of light. There is “no word for” the kind of darkness the world would’ve known in those moments. She marvels over the concept.
And future eclipses will look like this: the moon
a small black pupil in the eye of the sun.
the moon will spiral right out of orbit
and all land-based life will die.
After looking to the past, the speaker turns to look to the future. In comparison, it is minuscule. The facts she relays are basic, “bald,” and simple. Eventually, the moon is going to appear as a “small black pupil in the eye of the sun” during solar eclipses. The tone in these lines is direct and the mood somewhat nostalgic as a reader is asked to feel loss over something they never knew.
At line eighteen of ‘Facts About the Moon,’ the speaker starts a new thought. Through the use of enjambment and the same direct tone, these lines are meant to shock the reader. So far the imagery has been romantic, nostalgic, and tinged with magic, now it becomes much darker. She predicts a future in which one day the “moon will spiral right out of orbit”. This catastrophe will cause the end of “all land-based life”. Without parsing words, she says that it will, without question, all die.
The moon keeps the oceans from swallowing
the shores, keeps the electromagnetic fields
of what will happen to the moon.
Forget us. We don’t deserve the moon.
After reminding the reader of the moon’s importance and our waning closeness to its majesty, she strikes at one’s heart by conveying the fact that eventually, its separation from the earth will spell the end of all land-based life. Now, through the next lines, she provides the reader with a few more facts about the moon. These are meant to amaze, stun, and increase one’s appreciation for this heavenly body.
The first facts describe the way the moon keeps the earth’s oceans in check. The poet uses personification in these lines again, alluding to the otherwise unbridled power of the sea by describing its desire to swallow the shores as if its a monstrous creature. It is only the moon that keeps us all safe from that fate.
On the heels of that powerful image, there is its ability to control the “electromagnetic fields…at the polar ends of the earth”. These lines should inspire wonder in the reader, but at the same time, appreciation.
She explains in the next lines of ‘Facts About the Moon’ how she’s very aware (so please don’t tell her) that the moon won’t leave earth’s orbit for a long time. The speaker declares that she doesn’t care about human life and what happens to us, “Forget us,” she adds. What she’s worried about is the moon and where it goes. The twenty-eighth line is quite important as it hints at what’s to come. It reads “Forget us. We don’t deserve the moon”. For the next section of the poem the speaker is going to go into detail about why, in her eyes, we, humanity, “don’t deserve the moon”.
Maybe we once did but not now
after all we’ve done. These nights
can’t help it, she loves that boy
anyway, and in spite of herself
The speaker, after saying “we” don’t deserve to have the moon taking care of us, says that in the past we might’ve, but not anymore. There are too many horrors playing out on the earth for us to be worthy.
Turning inward temporarily, the speaker tells the reader that nowadays she spends time at night thinking about and pitying the moon. These are emotions she kept to herself, but here she goes into detail about them.
Using personification she describes the moon as it will be once it spirals off from the earth. It’s going to be “rolling / around alone in space”. It, like a mother bereft of her child, will feel lost. In this metaphor, the child is the earth. Even though the child has been bad and greedy she still misses him.
In the next lines, she alludes to the deeds of humanity through the compressed image of a “grown boy / who’s murdered and raped”. Despite these facts, the moon loves the earth and the mother loves the boy, just the same. She loves him “in spite of herself” and in spite of her better judgment.
she misses him, and if you sit beside her
on the padded hospital bench
romanticizing, that she’s conveniently
forgotten the bruises and booze,
The moon is going to miss the earth, the speaker thinks in these lines of ‘Facts About the Moon’. The metaphor is extended into the next lines as the female figure symboling the moon is placed in a scene outside a hospital bench. Here, you would come upon her and take her hand and listen to her story as she weeps. The moon, as a woman, would cry over her son, his beauty, and the goodness that now only she can see. This tired, sad woman would have “conveniently / forgotten the bruises and the booze” that is now intimately tied to her son.
the stolen car, the day he ripped
the phones from the walls, and you want
either, you know love when you see it,
you can feel its lunar strength, its brutal pull.
In the final lines of ‘Facts About the Moon,’ the speaker continues her depiction of the earth as a “bad” child who murders, rapes, and becomes spontaneously violent. She takes the reader into scenes of terror and fear. Then, by using the second person, she describes how you would want to “slap her back to sanity” and remind her of “his,” the earth’s, true nature. He’s really a “little shit” and a “leech”. The boy she knew no longer exists. But, “you” don’t do any of this.
Once you see this woman’s face you feel her love. Her eyes are described as “two craters,” just as the moon would have. The final lines express a purity of love, connection, and adoration that lasts beyond time and action. There is a “lunar strength” like that only the moon can exert controlling the situation. It is a “brutal pull”. It never lets up and it is unforgiving in its emotional ferocity.