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Robert Frost's "The Freedom of the Moon"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Robert Frost, 85th birthday

Robert Frost, 85th birthday

Introduction and Text of "The Freedom of the Moon"

Robert Frost's versanelle, "The Freedom of the Moon," consists of two sestets, each with the rime scheme, ABABCC. The poem dramatizes the phases of the moon and makes a statement about human freedom.

(Note: A versanelle is a short, usually 12 lines or fewer, lyric that comments on human nature or behavior, and may employ any of the usual poetic devices (I coined this term specifically for use in my poetry commentaries.)

The speaker in Frost poem demonstrates the complete freedom of humanity by dramatizing the ability of the human mind to use its physical body paradoxically to relocate the moon's positions. The freedom of the moon heralds the greater freedom of humankind.

(Note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

The Freedom of the Moon

I've tried the new moon tilted in the air
Above a hazy tree-and-farmhouse cluster
As you might try a jewel in your hair.
I've tried it fine with little breadth of luster,
Alone, or in one ornament combining
With one first-water start almost shining.

I put it shining anywhere I please.
By walking slowly on some evening later,
I've pulled it from a crate of crooked trees,
And brought it over glossy water, greater,
And dropped it in, and seen the image wallow,
The color run, all sorts of wonder follow.

Musical rendition of "The Freedom of the Moon"

Commentary

The important possession of free will extends to metaphor making by poets.

First Sestet, First Tercet: Ways of Contemplating the Moon

I've tried the new moon tilted in the air
Above a hazy tree-and-farmhouse cluster
As you might try a jewel in your hair.

Beginning his list of ways he has contemplated the moon, the speaker first asserts that he has "tried the new moon tilted in the air." At that phase, the orb was hanging over a little clump of trees alongside a farmhouse. He compares his consideration of the moon at that point to his lady companion's trying a "jewel in [her] hair."

The oddity about the speaker's claim is that he says he considered the "new moon" which is barely visible. And the moon was tilted in the air. It seems more likely that a crescent phase of the moon would lend itself more accurately to being "tilted."

An explanation for this claim is simply that the particular phase was new to speaker; he had been ignoring the moon and when finally he was motivated to observe it, the newness of it prompts him to call it "the new moon."

First Sestet, Second Tercet: Probing the Nature of the Moon's Freedom

I've tried it fine with little breadth of luster,
Alone, or in one ornament combining
With one first-water start almost shining.

The speaker has furthermore probed the nature of the moon's freedom when it was even in a thinner crescent phase; it was "fine with little breadth of luster." He has mused on that phase when he saw it without stars and also when he has seen it with one star, a configuration from which the Islamic religion takes its icon.

The moon at that phase looked like the first burst of water when one turns on a spigot. It was not exactly shining but only "almost shining." The speaker seems to marvel at the unheavenly ways in which the moon at times may assert its freedom.

Second Sestet, First Tercet: Freeing a Captured Orb

I put it shining anywhere I please.
By walking slowly on some evening later,
I've pulled it from a crate of crooked trees,

The speaker then proclaims that he has placed the moon "anywhere" he pleased, but that placement always occurred while it was bright, allowing him the vitality to work with it. He then cleverly asserts his true theme that he is focusing on human freedom, not moon freedom, when he avers that he was able to place the moon anywhere he wanted because he was able to ambulate.

His ability to walk allowed him the freedom to wander "slowly on some evening later." He was thus able to "pull[ ] [the moon] from a crate of crooked trees." The trees seemed to be containing the moon as a wooden box would hold onions or melons. But the speaker was able to walk from the tree-contained moon thus metaphorically freeing the captured orb from the tree box.

Second Sestet, Second Tercet: Carrying the Orb to a Lake

And brought it over glossy water, greater,
And dropped it in, and seen the image wallow,
The color run, all sorts of wonder follow.

After removing the moon from the tree-crate by simply continuing his evening walk, the speaker metaphorically carried the orb to a lake, in which he metaphorically "dropped it in." He then watched awestruck by the "wallow[ing]" image; he observed that like a piece of cloth losing its dye in water, the colors of the moon ran leaching out into the lake water.

The speaker then commits what is usually a grave poetic error; he makes an open ended statement without a hint of support, "all sorts of wonder follow." But this speaker can get by with the ordinarily unforgivable poetic sin because of the great and wide implications that all of his lines heretofore have gathered.

The speaker, because he has given the moon freedom and has also shown that humankind is blessed with an even more profound freedom, has thus declared that all those "sorts of wonder" that "follow" from the possession of that free will and freedom of expression are indeed blessed with a golden freedom. He has revealed the unmistakeable and eternal free will of humankind.

Robert Frost - Commemorative Stamp

Questions & Answers

Question: Can you give a summary of the poem "The Freedom of the Moon?

Answer: The speaker in Fros'st poem demonstrates the complete freedom of humanity by dramatizing the ability of the human mind to use its physical body paradoxically to relocate the moon's positions. The freedom of the moon heralds the greater freedom of humankind.

Question: What does the speaker in Frost's think about the "new moon"?

Answer: The oddity about the speaker's claim is that he says he considered the "new moon" which is barely visible. And the moon was tilted in the air. It seems more likely that a crescent phase of the moon would lend itself more accurately to being "tilted." An explanation for this claim is simply that the particular phase was new to the speaker; he had been ignoring the moon and when finally he was motivated to observe it, the newness of it prompts him to call it "the new moon."

Question: What motivates Frost's speaker in "The Freedom of the Moon"?

Answer: In "The Freedom of the Moon," the speaker shares his engagement with musing about the nature of human free will.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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