Richard Murphy

Moonshine by Richard Murphy

In ‘Moonshine’ Murphy explores themes of love, relationships, and loneliness. The speaker goes back in forth in this poem between his desire to be alone and his desire to be in love with the intended listener. This feature of his relationships is stated simply as if it is just a fact of life. He is dealing with it all the time and put it into words in ‘Moonshine’. 

Moonshine by Richard Murphy


Summary of Moonshine

Moonshine’ by Richard Murphy is a direct and poignant poem that discusses the implications of being in love and being alone.

Throughout the four simple stanzas of the poem, the speaker explores two different, contrasting, ways of being. One can either be alone or they can be together with another person. The speaker makes it clear throughout the following lines that when he’s alone he’d rather be with the person he loves and when he’s with that person he’d rather be alone.

You can read the full poem here.


Structure of Moonshine

Moonshine’ by Richard Murphy is a four stanza poem that is serrated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. But, that doesn’t mean they are without either. There are examples of half-rhyme and exact rhyme in the four stanzas. The latter is see-through the use of the same word at the end of multiple lines. For example, “you” and “you” at the ends of lines one and three of the second stanza or “alone” at the ends of line two fo the first stanza and line two of the second stanza. “Love” is another example as is together. 

Half-rhyme also is 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, “loving” and “thinking” in stanza three. 


Literary Devices in Moonshine

Murphy makes use of several literary devices in ‘Moonshine’. These include but are not limited to epistrophe, anaphora, and enjambment. The first of these, epistrophe, is the repetition of the same word, or a phrase, at the end of multiple lines or sentences. For example, the use of words like “alone,” “together,” and “you” at the ends of multiple lines. 

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. There are numerous examples of this technique in ‘Moonshine’. These include the transitions between lines one and two of stanza one as well as lines two and three of stanza two.

Murphy also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation. For example, the use of words like “I,” “To,” and “When” at the beginning of multiple lines. 


Analysis of Moonshine

Stanza One

To think 


We must be together. 

In the first stanza of ‘Moonshine,’ the speaker begins by making a simple statement. The entire stanza is made up of four short lines that form one sentence. They juxtapose two different states, that of being alone and that of being “together” and in love with one another.

The first two lines of this stanza and the third and fourth lines mirror each other in their form. They both suggest two ways of living in the world and the ways that these two states contrast. It appears to the speaker, or the poet, at the beginning of the poem that there is no way to be in both places at once.


Stanza Two 

I think I love you 

When I’m alone 


In the second stanza, the speaker makes more simple statements about loving, being alone, and being together. He directs his words to an intended listener, the person he’s in love with. This person goes without a name or a gender. They are only referred to as “you”. He tells the person that his emotional connection to them varies depending on whether he’s alone or if he’s together with this person.

When he is “alone,” he says that he thinks more about their relationships than when they’re together. This says something about what it does to the human mind to be alone versus being in someone’s company. The longing, loneliness, and desire end up building up when one is unable to see the person that they love. A reader should also take note of the use of repetition in these lines. Words like “alone“ as well as “love“ are used repetitively.


Stanza Three 

I cannot think 


Without thinking.

The third stanza of ‘Moonshine’ is another standalone sentence. Here, the poet explores how thinking and loving are intertwined. He cannot “think“ without loving. One needs the other. It is quite evident by this point in the poem that Murphy is interested in speaking about these topics in a very clear and linguistically simple way. The words that he uses are not complex. They’re all short and easily understandable. By making this choice, he is allowing this poem to be accessible to a wide variety of readers. Anyone who reads this poem should be, in some way, able to connect to the sentiments that he is expanding on.


Stanza Four 

Alone I love 

To think of us together: 


In the final stanza of ‘Moonshine,’ his considerations of loneliness and togetherness come to a head. He tells this person that when he’s with them he’d rather be alone but when he’s alone he’d rather be together. There is no further explanation for why this is the case. It does not seem to be a result of any weakness in the relationship. Rather, it is a part of being alive. Always searching for what is going to make one the happiest, with this changing every day. 

A reader should also consider the title of the poem, “Moonshine,” and how it might relate to the sentiments within the text. The word evokes something beautiful and majestic, something perhaps mysterious. It is also used to refer to illicitly distilled or homemade. 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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