‘Ah, Moon–and Star!’ by Emily Dickinson is a short, touching love poem that uses the universe to describe the separation of two lovers.
The poem compares the distance between the speaker and a moon and star to the distance between her and her lover. The latter is much greater. If it wasn’t, she might be able to cross the “firmament” or sky/heavens, to reach him. But, she concedes at the end of the poem, this is not the case. They are separated and there’s nothing she can do to reach him.
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Structure of Ah, Moon–and Star!
‘Ah, Moon–and Star!’ by Emily Dickinson is a three-stanza poem that’s separated into uneven sets of lines. The first stanza contains seven lines and the second and third: five. These lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme but there are examples of half and full rhyme in the text. In regards to the latter, a reader can look to the endings of lines one and two of the first stanza and the words “Star” and “far”. This same pair of rhyming words appear in the last stanza, in lines one and two, as well.
Half-rhyme, also known as slant or partial 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, “Moon” and “you” in the first stanza and “Firmament’ and “cubit” in that same stanza. Later on in the poem, a reader can find an example in the phrase “more than a firmament—from Me” with the repetition of the “m” consonant sound.
Dickinson’s Dashes and Capitalization
Scholars are divided over what this intermittent punctuation could mean. But in this case, the dashes are easily read as moments in which the speaker was overwhelmed or thinking hard before proceeding. The pauses represent a desire to create drama and tension in the text. It is also a way for the reader, speaker, and even Dickinson herself, to gather thoughts together before moving on to the next line.
One should also consider the use of capitalization in these lines. This is another technique that Dickinson is known for, and which causes confusion among students and scholars alike. There is no single definitive reason why Dickinson capitalized on the words she did. Often, the words she chose were the most prominent of the lines, the ones that were the most evocative and meaningful. This appears to be the case in ‘Ah, Moon–and Star’ as well.
Poetic Techniques in Ah, Moon–and Star!
Dickinson makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Ah, Moon—and Star!’. These include but are not limited to, alliteration, enjambment, accumulation, and apostrophe. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “borrow” and “Bonnet” in the first line of stanza two and “farther” and “firmament” in stanza three.
Accumulation is a literary device that relates to a list of words or phrases that have similar, if not the same, meanings. In a poem, story, or novel, these words are grouped together or appear scattered throughout a work. They collect or pile up, and a theme, image, sensation, or deeper meaning is revealed. The second stanza is a great example of this technique.
Apostrophe is an arrangement of words addressing someone who does not exist or is not present, in the poem’s immediate setting. The exclamation, “Oh,” is often used at the beginning of the phrase. The person is spoken to as though they can hear and understand the speaker’s words. In the first and third stanzas, a reader can find an example of this technique when the speaker addresses the “Moon” and “Star”.
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. Examples can be found throughout ‘Ah, Moon–and Star!’. For instance, in the transition between lines three and four of the first stanza.
Analysis of Ah, Moon–and Star!
Ah, Moon—and Star!
You are very far—
But were no one
Farther than you—
Do you think I’d stop
For a Firmament—
Or a Cubit—or so?
In the first stanza of ‘Ah, Moon–and Star!’ Dickinson begins by making use of the line that later came to be used as the title of the poem. She is looking up into the sky and mourning the distance that a moon and star are from earth. They are “very far” she says in the second line. It is likely that in these lines she was referring to Earth’s moon and the planet Venus, which appears like a bright star in the sky.
The next lines suggest that despite the distance these celestial bodies are from her, there is something even farther away. There is someone, an unnamed “you” who she would like to reach. If they were closer she would not be stopped by a “Firmament,” the sky or heavens. A “cubit,” or one ancient way of measuring distance, would not stop her either.
I could borrow a Bonnet
Of the Lark—
And a Chamois’ Silver Boot—
And a stirrup of an Antelope—
And be with you—Tonight!
In the second stanza of ‘Ah, Moon–and Star!’, she uses the technique accumulation to list out all the different ways she’d travel to “you” if her lover were but a little closer. She could borrow a lark’s wings or an antelope and be by this person’s side “Tonight!” If only, she mourns, this were the case.
But, Moon, and Star,
Though you’re very far—
There is one—farther than you—
He—is more than a firmament—from Me—
So I can never go!
In the final five lines of ‘Ah, Moon–and Star!’ she reiterates that which she alluded to in the first stanza. She speaks to the moon and star, a technique known as apostrophe. The speaker tells them that “Though” they are “very far” there is one person “farther than you”. This is a “He,” someone who she can never reach. She can’t travel through the sky and heavens to reach this person. There is more than a “firmament” separating them.