On ‘The Moon in Your Hands’

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a close reading of a poem, and with the majority of my traffic aimed at my blogs on teaching poetry, I figure I’m long overdue to discuss a poem. So with ambiguity fresh on my mind, I came across this poem by H.D.:

The Moon in Your Hands

If you take the moon in your hands
and turn it around
(heavy, slightly tarnished platter)
your’re there;

if you pull dry sea-weed from the sand
and turn it round
and wonder at the underside’s bright amber,
your eyes

look out as they did here,
(you don’t remember)
when my soul turned round,

perceiving the other-side of everything,
mullein-leaf, dogwood-leaf, moth-wing
and dandelion-seed under the ground.

The poem begins with the impossible. Mankind views simply traveling to the moon as an epic achievement, much less grasping and manipulating the moon. So when we get to the end of the first stanza, we are forced to ask what or where ‘there’ is. At this point in the poem, we don’t know, but we know the ‘you’ (is it me the reader or a specific person in the mind of the poet? Ah…our first ambiguity) is capable of much more, is bigger than life, is in a condition that can be supernatural, unknown, spiritual, imaginal, enlightened, etc.

The second stanza is much more down to earth (ha!). We get the same image of turning around, of manipulating, of turning over, but in a way that is possible and applicable to humans. Added to the ability to turn is the ability to wonder. And not just to wonder, but to wonder about something so simply complex. Dry sea-weed is most likely dead, and yet there is a brightness found when digging beneath the surface. The form of the first two stanzas also unites ‘there’ with ‘eyes’ suggesting not just a place, but a condition where wonder and the cosmos go hand in hand.

The third stanza provides us with a shift in form and image. Stanzas 1 and 2 are very concrete, and then we get this abstract connection between the speaker, the ‘you’ and the actual turn in the existence of the speaker. And at this moment we have a moment of memory, of salvation, of understanding more important to the speaker than anybody else. We remember those moments in our lives when we perceive something beyond the physical and emotional, when the microscopic magnifies for just a minute and we see with our innermost being.

The fourth stanza then is an expansion on the soul’s turn-around, a magnification of the small impossible things (in opposition to the cosmic impossible at the beginning of the poem). But we’ve moved beyond just looking at the underside of leaves and are moved to include the underside of moth wings–something so minute and intricate and fragile that to observe them would be to kill. The final image of “dandelion-seed under the ground” adds more ambiguity for the reader. “Under the ground” suggests burial and death alongside a dandelion seed, which only comes when the dandelion dies (I know this. Just ask my yard). Yet a seed buried in the ground suggests germination, growth, rebirth.

We’re forced then to face the “there” presented in the first stanza. Maybe it’s death–not the ultimate final kind but of the ego, of pride, of self. But there is too much life in the poem for it to represent the end of everything. But it seems, in my life anyways, that any time I experience a soul turn of sorts, that something is laid to rest in my own personal rebirth. Is it as simple as the tragic Greek journey moving from hubris to catharsis? Is it as simple as a moment when we realize some truth? Is it a complete life change? Ah, the joys of ambiguity.


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