Summary, analysis and interpretation
The poem “Mondnacht“ by Joseph von Eichendorff was published in 1837. As typical for poems of the period of Romanticism its main motif is desire. In this specific poem it is the longing for resurrection as a kind of salvation in Christianity. Numerous mythical and religious allusions as well as the poem’s artificial form stress this.
The poem consists of three stanzas; each stanza is composed of four lines. The poem can be divided into two external stanzas and one internal stanza. However, all three stanzas are written in crossed rhyming (ABAB). The poem is made up of iambic trimeters. Moreover, each stanza forms a sentence.
When analysing the poem, it is best to do so by taking a closer look, firstly, at the external stanzas, and then, at the internal stanza. Common features of the two external stanzas are the following: both stanzas have an enjambment in line one and two. In stanza one an enjambment also appears in line three and four. In addition to that, stanza one and three show assonances1. The first line of the first stanza as well as the fourth line in the third stanza are formed identically: both make use of the conjunctive (“hätt”, “müsst”, “flöge”) and comparisons (“als flöge sie nach Haus” line 12). Hence, it can be said that the external stanzas are built mirror-symmetrically. Only the enjambment in line two of the first stanza does not fit.
In the first stanza there is a fusion between heaven and earth – something earthly with something supernatural. This fusion is an allusion to the antique myth of the marriage between Uranus – heaven – and Gaia – earth, whose liaison created the Titans (such as Prometheus). It has to be noticed that in German heaven is male, while earth is female. The description “still geküßt” (line 2) suggests a soft touch but it might also just refer to the idea of touching as the following line implies: “dass sie im Blütenschimmer/Von ihm nur träumen müsst” (line 3f.). The touch is illustrated by the shining of blossoms that reflect the sunlight. The conjunctive in line four “träumen müßt’” puts emphasis on the fact that all this might happen but not necessarily has to – it is simply a dream that may become true.
The allusion to the Uranus-myth links the first stanza to the third stanza and its idea of the Christian myth. This link can be seen on the structural level, too. The neologism2 “Blütenschimmer” (line 3) can be interpreted as a hint to the Christian myth as Maria is often depicted in association with blossoms. Stanza three introduces the concept of the Christian myth and resurrection by using the conjunction “und” (line 3). Here the picture of flying souls returning to the place where they belong to – paradise – appears. Not only on a formal level can the connection between stanza one and three be seen, but there is also a content-based connection: the last word of the first stanza “Himmel” and the last word of the final stanza “Haus” belong to each other. While heaven moves downwards, the soul moves upwards. As a consequence, heaven is the soul’s home, in other words: the Christian paradise.
The internal stanza can be seen as a link between the two external ones. It is composed of four lines, each one forming a main clause. Hence, the stanza is paratactic and without enjambments3. In line seven and eight one can find inversions4. Moreover, the stanza is written only in indicative. The first three lines describe movements, whereas in the final line of this stanza there is stagnation. This movement can be seen in the verbs that are used as well as in den sound that is influenced by the metre, the rhythm and the vowel quality. At first, due to the iambic trimeters, the rhythm seems to be quite regular and harmonic. However, in line four the rhythm is changing as already implied by the inversions. Due to the long and dark vowel ‘o’ in “So” (line 8) the rhythm changes. The following adjective “sternklar” (line 8) also changes the stanza’s rhythm: the vowel ‘a’ in “klar” is short because of the following ‘r’. In the word “Nacht” (line 8) the ‘a’ becomes short, too, due to the following consonants. As a consequence, the previous rhythm gets interrupted. Another hint that implies the sudden stagnation is the word “sacht” (line 6), also the expression “leis’” (line 7) suggests stagnation - due to the omission of the -e (leise).
The changing rhythm corresponds with the content-based movement of the second stanza. While line one refers to the tactile sense, in line two appears the visual sense and in line three the acoustic one. The final line forms a conclusion. Hence, it can be said that the second stanza makes use of synaesthesia5 – a rhetorical device that is typical for this literary period. This synaesthesia is a link to the flying souls in stanza three.
The first line of the second stanza has a deeper meaning as well. The expression “Luft” is ambiguous: it has its origins in the Greek word “pneuma”, which means air as well as spirit. Hence, not the air itself is meant but rather “Luft” as a mythical-religious allusion. It is interesting to note that in former versions this line started with the words ‘Von weitem’ (‘from far away’). As heaven is mentioned in this context, it can be suggested that this ‘far away’ refers to heaven. It can be said that this internal stanza makes use of conventional imagery to relate to mythical and religious concepts.
To sum up: the internal stanza can be seen as an axis around which the external stanzas are built up symmetrically. The external stanzas, in return, can be described as a frame. The movements in stanza one suggest a connection between the mythical-religious concepts and the old Uranus-myth. These movements continue in stanza two, in which descriptions of nature serve as a link between the Uranus-myth and the more modern Christian myth. Moreover, the descriptions of nature have a deeper meaning: the allusion to ‘pneuma’ form a link to the following stanza. The subject of stanza three is the myth around resurrection as a form of salvation in Christianity. However, this resurrection does not occur as it is referred to in the conjunctive mood („als flöge“ line 12). It is rather about the longing for a heavenly paradisiac place – a motif typical for Eichendorff, giving evidence to his deep religious beliefs.
The moon in other literary periods
Romanticism regards the moon as a motif for desire and longing for something inaccessible. It is a symbol for, for example, unfulfilled love as in Der Spinnerin Nachtlied by Clemens Brentano, or for wanderlust.
The Sturm und Drang personifies6 the moon and refers to it as a companion of the narrator. The narrator in An den Mond by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe sees a friend in the moon, which appears as a counterpart to society, which the narrator has turned away from. Thanks to this ‘relationship’ the narrator gains new energy.
In Expressionism the moon is referred to as a threat. In Die Irren by Georg Heym invalids living in a mental home are distracted by its yellow light. In Grodek by Georg Trakl the moon appears as a companion of Mars, who symbolises the god of war. The moon is here associated with coldness and the silence after death. In contrast, Der Krieg by Georg Heym refers to the moon as a symbol of hope (the final light in the darkness), which, however, is destroyed by the god of war.