‘Daylight and Moonlight’ is a fairly simple poem in which Longfellow uses direct language and thought-provoking images to describe a speaker’s experiences of day and night. He explores the two different lights of light, daylight, and moonlight, and how they create different atmospheres.
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Summary of Daylight and Moonlight
In eh first two stanzas of the poem, the poet spends time talking about the day. He depicts the moon, faint and kite-like in the sky at noon and his time spent reading poetry in the light “yesterday.” In the third stanza, the poem starts to transition into nighttime. There, the moon rises once more and fills the sky with light the poet admires. It’s proud and glorious. The night is also far more serene than the day. It brings with it a different kind of peace that’s also represented by the poet’s song.
In ‘Daylight and Moonlight,’ Longfellow engages with themes of the day, night, and poetry. The latter features in the second and fifth stanzas, as well as more broadly in the crafting of a poem about day and night. The speaker describes reading poetry at night and during the day and being moved by the images the poet created. This is mimicked by the fact that a reader is in the middle of a poem as well. Day and night have their own parts of the poem as well. The daylight features the moon, and the night features light, as is given off by the moon.
Structure and Form
‘Daylight and Moonlight’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is a five-stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a very straightforward rhyme scheme of AABB CCDD, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. The lines also, unusually, almost all contain seven syllables, with only a few exceptions. From the first two lines of the first stanza, it’s clear that Longfellow was not interested in maintaining a specific arrangement of stresses in these lines.
Longfellow makes use of several literary devices in ‘Daylight and Moonlight.’ These include but are not limited to enjambment, caesura, and similes. The latter is a comparison between two things using “like” or “as.” For example, in the first stanza, the poet says that they say the moon “Sailing high, but faint and white, / As a schoolboy’s paper kite.” The moon is compared to a kite, faintly visible, high in the sky. There are several other examples, such as at the end of the second stanza.
Enjambment is a common formal device that’s used when a poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines two and three of the first stanza as well as lines three and four of the second stanza. Readers have to jump down to the following lines in order to find out what happens next.
Caesurae are pauses in the middle of the lines. These are created through either punctuation or a natural pause in the meter. For example, line one of the fourth stanza, which reads: “Then the moon, in all her pride,” or line two of the first stanza, which reads: “Sailing high, but faint and white.”
Analysis of Daylight and Moonlight
Stanzas One and Two
In broad daylight, and at noon,
Yesterday I saw the moon
Sailing high, but faint and white,
As a school-boy’s paper kite.
In broad daylight, yesterday,
I read a Poet’s mystic lay;
And it seemed to me at most
As a phantom, or a ghost.
In the first stanza of ‘Daylight and Moonlight,’ the speaker begins by describing what he says in “broad daylight” at noon. It was, unusually, the moon. It was “high,” “faint and white.” He uses a simile at the end of this stanza to describe the moon like a child’s kite. It’s distant yet still recognizable.
Longfellow’s language is quite simple in these lines, making the images clear and easy to imagine. The second stanza begins with these same words as the first, an example of anaphora. He describes how yesterday he laid out in broad daylight and read a “mystic” poem. At that moment, it seemed to him, “As a phantom, or a ghost.” The poet brought him to another world, one of the past that allowed the poem to feel real, or as real as a ghost or phantom.
Stanzas Three and Four
But at length the feverish day
Like a passion died away,
And the night, serene and still,
Fell on village, vale, and hill.
Then the moon, in all her pride,
Like a spirit glorified,
Filled and overflowed the night
With revelations of her light.
In the third stanza of ‘Daylight and Moonlight,’ the speaker transitions from the daylight to the evening. Eventually, the “feverish day,” warm and filled with emotion, passed away like passion “die[s] away.” Night comes over the town. It’s cooler, more serene, and “Fell” on the “village, vale, and hill.” It’s a new experience, one that’s juxtaposed against the feverish day.
The prideful personified moon comes out, “Like a spirit glorified.” (Another example of a simile.) The moonlit up the night sky with “revelations.” The perfect rhymes in these lines help create and maintain the peaceful feeling that Longfellow is looking for.
And the Poet’s song again
Passed like music through my brain;
Night interpreted to me
All its grace and mystery.
In the final four lines of ‘Daylight and Moonlight,’ the speaker brings the reader back to the “Poet’s song,” or “lay,” from the second stanza. It “passed” through his brain “like music.” It was at that moment, “Night interpreted.” The lines of poetry, like the lines of this poem, interpret and relay night in an emotional and impactful way. It is filled with “grace and mystery,” something that that poem, and this poem, depict.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Daylight and Moonlight’ should also consider reading some of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s other best-known poems. For example:
- ‘It is Not Always May’ – addresses the importance of moving forward and not looking towards the past.
- ‘The Witnesses’ – is written from Longfellow’s perspective bring the American Civil War in regard to abolitionism.
- ‘A Gleam of Sunshine’ – explores a variety of philosophical concepts through the use of familiar images like shadows, nature, and light.
- ‘A Psalm of Life’ – speaks on the purpose of life and how struggles and sorrows should be handled as they appear along the way. Everyone has to face life and make the best of it every day, the speaker concludes.