‘The Harvest Moon’ by Ted Hughes presents the beauty of the “flame-red” harvest moon that occurs after or before the autumnal equinox. The poet especially highlights the natural scene when the harvest moon reigns like a monarch in the sky. It eventuates a mood of celebration in nature as well as in the farmer’s hearts. However, the use of vibrant imagery filled with colors and sounds creates an awe-inspiring image of the moon in a reader’s mind. Moreover, the use of literary devices in the poem makes the poem more interesting and picturesque.
Summary of The Harvest Moon
‘The Harvest Moon’ by Ted Hughes describes the appearance of the harvest moon in the sky as a “flame-red” object. Thereafter, the poet captures its movement across the sky and uses different literary devices to compare its changing beauty. He uses the images of “balloon” and “doubloon” for this purpose. The instruments mentioned in the first stanza of the poem captures the sound present in nature. After that, there is a reference to the people’s activity during the harvest moon. They are pious about the autumnal full moon. Moreover, the third stanza, presents how the cows and sheep react while watching the moon. In the last stanza, the poet presents the main idea of the poem by personifying the “gold fields”.
You can read the full poem The Harvest Moon here.
Structure of The Harvest Moon
‘The Harvest Moon’ by Ted Hughes consists of four stanzas. The first stanza contains eight lines. Whereas, the following two stanzas contain four lines each. And the last stanza has only three lines in it. The first stanza is comparably long as it gives focus to the moon. It is also a reference to the importance of the moon in the farmer’s almanac. However, the poet doesn’t use a specific rhyme scheme in the poem. But, there are some instances of rhyming in the poem. As an example, “moon”, “balloon”, “doubloon”, and “bassoon” rhyme together. Whereas, “come” and “drum” also rhyme in the first stanza. In the second stanza, the first two lines only rhyme collectively.
The metrical scheme of the poem is interesting. The poet presents a mixed-use of meters in the poem. There are both the trochaic meter and the iambic meter in the poem. In some lines, the poet also uses spondee for stressing both of the syllables in a specific foot. Apart from that, the majority of the feet of the poem are composed of the iambic meter. The poet uses this meter that contains a rising rhythm for creating an elevating mood in the poem.
Literary Devices in The Harvest Moon
‘The Harvest Moon’ by Ted Hughes presents several literary devices that are important concerning the overall idea of the poem. Likewise, in the first stanza, the poet uses a metaphor for describing the color of the harvest moon. Thereafter, he makes use of personification for capturing the moon’s movement in the sky. The apparent movement of the moon appears to the poet as “a vas balloon” is moving upwards slowly. Here, the poet uses a synecdoche for associating the quality of the balloon to the moon. Moreover, there is a simile in the comparison between the moon to a gold doubloon. There is another simile in the reference to the “bassoon”. Apart from that, the line containing “bassoon” presents onomatopoeia as well. In the last line, the poet personifies the night and uses the image of a drum by using a simile.
Moreover, the repetition of the “b” sound in the first stanza also creates an internal rhythm in between the lines. There is also alliteration in the phrase “deep drum”. However, in the second stanza, there is anaphora in the first two lines. The poet also uses personal metaphors in the third line. And, the last contains personification. Thereafter, in the third stanza, the “moonlit cows” contain a metonymy. Here, the effect refers to the cause of it. In the last line of this stanza, the poet uses a palilogy in using the word “closer” twice. Whereas, in the last stanza the poet personifies the field and the river innovatively.
Analysis of The Harvest Moon
The flame-red moon, the harvest moon,
Rolls along the hills, gently bouncing,
Booming softly through heaven, like a bassoon.
And the earth replies all night, like a deep drum.
‘The Harvest Moon’ by Ted Hughes depicts the harvest moon in the first stanza. The “flame-red” color of the moon creates a sensation of reverence and mystery in the poem. However, the movement of the moon throughout the sky appears to the poet like a vast balloon is moving across the sky. On the last day, when the harvest moon last appears in the sky, it lies on the bottom of the sky. During this time, the color of the moon resembles that of a “gold doubloon”, a Spanish gold coin. The rich golden color of the poem strikes the poet the most as the reference contains the value associated with it.
Apart from that, in the last three lines, the poet creates a celebratory mood in the poem as the appearance of the harvest moon brings luck for the farmers. Moreover, the poet uses two auditory images of the “bassoon” and the “drum” in this section for referring to the celebration of farmers.
So people can’t sleep,
The harvest moon has come!
In the second stanza of ‘The Harvest Moon’, Ted Hughes presents what people do during the harvest moon. There is a pious sensation in their hearts as they look at the red harvest moon. It appears as if they are visualizing a manifestation of God. They sit under the elms and oak trees and keep a watch on it. Here the poet uses personification in the second and third lines. Moreover, “kneeling vigil” contains a personal metaphor. The trees appear to the poet as kneeling and praying to the moon while keeping a fixed watch at its glorious look.
Apart from that, the poet uses the epithets “kneeling” and “religious” for associating the ideas with the people. Hence, it is an instance of transferred epithet or hypallage too. Moreover, the last line gets repeated twice in the poem like an announcement of a monarch’s arrival in the kingdom.
And all the moonlit cows and all the sheep
Closer and closer like the end of the world.
In the third stanza of ‘The Harvest Moon’, Ted Hughes captures the reaction of other creatures apart from men. Here, the poet refers to images of cows and sheep that are normally associated with the farmers. So, the overall poem presents a rural setting. However, the “moonlit cows” and sheep stare up at that red thing in the sky. Being habituated with the white moon, the color of the harvest moon makes them petrified.
After that, the poet describes how the moon grows in size and fills the sky with its light. Here, the poet uses a simile and compares the moonlight to the radiance of hot iron. Apart from that, the sky appears as an ocean where the moon is sailing. Moreover, the growing size of the moon seems to the poet as if it is “the end of the world”. The use of hyperbole in this line refers to the mental state of the poet after seeing the harvest moon.
Till the gold fields of stiff wheat
Sweat from the melting hills.
‘The Harvest Moon’ by Ted Hughes presents the image of a field filled with ripe wheat and captures the river’s movement that is coming down from the hills. At first, the wheat field represents the idea with which the moon is closely associated with. It is the harvest season, a joyous time for the farmers. But, the use of the word “reap” and “sweat” in this section creates a paradoxical mood. It appears as if the harvest moon is a formidable and mighty creature and the whole creation is afraid of it. Moreover, the metaphorical use of “sweat” to refer to melting ice is interesting. And, in “melting hills” the poet uses a metonymy.
Historical Context of The Harvest Moon
‘The Harvest Moon’ by Ted Hughes talks about the features of the full moon that appears after or before the autumnal equinox (22 or 23 September). It occurs anytime within two weeks before or after the equinox. The harvest moon is followed by the hunter’s moon. However, at this time, the full moon looks orange or red in color and becomes bigger than the full moons at normal times. For this reason, the moonlight helps the farmers to reap their harvest throughout the day and night. In this poem, the poet captures the farmers’ reactions during the harvest moon as well as other creatures of nature.
Like ‘The Harvest Moon’ by Ted Hughes, the following poems also talk about the harvest moon and people’s reaction during that time.
- Under the Harvest Moon by Carl Sandburg – In this poem, Carl Sandburg presents the image of the harvest moon as a symbol of “Death”.
- The Harvest Bow by Seamus Heaney – Here, Seamus Heaney looks back in the past and reflects on the harvest season.
- Harvest and Consecration by Elizabeth Jennings – Here, Elizabeth Jennings discusses the end of the harvest season and its resemblance with religion.
- Hurrahing in Harvest by Gerard Manley Hopkins – In this poem, Gerard Manley Hopkins describes the natural landscape during the harvest.