“What Voice at Moth-Hour” is a poem written in first person narrator by Robert Penn Warren, a poem which consists of five four-line stanzas, in which he is principally concerned to explore the origin and nature of a voice, constantly calling him back at “moth-hour” when he finds himself situated in different locations surrounded by nature. Through the first part of the poem, Warren uses a series of repeated questions asking himself “What voice at moth-hour did I hear”, whilst working towards an answer to which he will discover later at the end. Besides, he also makes use of enjambment, rhymes and figurative languages to back up and emphasise certain ideas and themes that he will put forward in the poem.
The poem is structured into two parts; the first is when he asks questions about the voice he once heard and trying to remember what it was, whilst the second, which consists of the last two stanzas, is when he remembers the ‘simple trick’ to hear the voice again and gives the answer to the previous questions.
The poem opens by introducing directly the question carried by the title: ‘What voice at moth-hour did I hear calling’. This gives a direct and explicit entry to the poem, allowing the readers to have a clear understanding of what he is looking for, and bringing more emphasis and attention to the title, as the question mirrors it at the start of the poem. This is the very same question that will be repeatedly set at the start of the first three stanzas.
These continuous questions can, at a certain extent, reveal the poet’s confusion and, at the same time, enhance his longing for an answer. However, it is as if he is questioning himself rather than looking for someone that could possibly help him, he is therefore submerged into a process of deep self-reflection. Moreover, the function of these questions in the poem, other than exposing poet’s confusion in the eyes of the readers, has the purpose of arousing curiosity and interest in people as the incessant questions build up suspense throughout the poem. This keeps the readers concerned and at the same time, makes the readers feel involved, creating a link between the poet and the readers, as if they too, are searching for the very same answer.
As the poem progresses, the speaker finds himself situated at different places in nature: in an orchard, by the stream and in the woods. The tone that Warren uses is quite calm, filled with a bit of melancholy with the use of diction, choosing specific words such as ‘falling’ and ‘last light’ which convey a sense of ending, when everything finishes and fades away. This contributes to the meaning of the whole poem as with these particular words Warren puts forward a sense of lateness, the time when something is about to end, suggesting that ‘moth-hour’ is the approach of evening, the dusk, and it is at that specific moment that he can finally hear the voice.
To a certain point, the speaker remembers and knows how to hear it again ‘by a simple trick’ which is in fact a very simple thing: “close my eyes”. Closing the eyes is a way to focus and concentrate, leaving everything else in the outside world away from you, so that Warren can be peaceful and in complete silence in his own dimension. Only then can he finally ‘hear the voice’: ‘It’s late! Come home.’
It could be argued that this voice can be interpreted in two different ways; one is that he hears someone calling, while the other possibility is that there is a voice inside his head locked inside his memories. Therefore, closing eyes is a way to close one of the person’s six senses and to focus on the other ones, such as on hearing, since the capability and sensitivity of the ears increases when a person can no longer see and has to rely on other weaker senses, and thus be able to hear faint sounds that you could hardly hear when distracted by the various things surrounding you.
However, closing eyes is also a way to stay calm and have control on your state of mind, allowing you to go back in time with memories whilst staying in absolute stillness. This is when he recalls the old times when he was a child and every time that he stayed out late, perhaps playing in the garden or in a park, he would have been called back from his mother, from the very same voice ‘It’s late! Come home’. This could show his nostalgia for his childhood or possibly missing a person who has a close relationship with him, such as his mother that cares for him and reminds him to go home at the end of the day, when everything seems to be ending, falling apart, there is always a place that he could go: home.
Moreover, the poem follows a regular A-B-A-B rhyme scheme throughout, which has the effect of making the poem musical and pleasing to ear and which also contributes to the whole idea that Warren wants to convey to the readers, that the questions about the voice keep arising constantly in the poet’s head and that he is continuously perturbed by it.
The rhythm changes with the progression of the poem. The poem begins with a relatively fast rhythm with the use of long verses when describing the orchard; in fact, Warren makes use of enjambment since there was no punctuation in between the first, second and third verse, which as a result, gave no resting time for the readers to take their breath while reading, speeding up the rhythm, and therefore creating a whole picture of the image the speaker remembers seeing, without being interrupted by any punctuations. This allows him to better portray the image of the orchard, giving the readers a stronger impression of the garden and thus a stronger impression of the nature surrounding him.
However, the rhythm, slows down when getting close to the answer as the verses get interrupted by many commas, giving a sense of ‘ending’. This has also the effect of emphasising each word towards the end, as when the rhythm slows down, the impact and significance of the word increases because readers will read words slowly, one by one, without rushing, taking deeply and absorbing more the meaning of the words and the use of diction by the poet. In fact, this gives the ending: ‘It’s late! Come home’ a much stronger impact on readers as they will focus more on these words, also because it is the answer to all the repetitive questions set earlier in the poem. Furthermore, these words are written in italics, giving further emphasis to them, giving the impression that it’s a voice echoing in the back of his memories that emerges in his mind, calling him and reminding him that it is late, time to go home.
On the whole, the poem is very descriptive, describing the nature surrounding him at different places as nature is the main guide line throughout the poem. Moreover, the poem is very successful in getting hold of readers’ curiosity and interest through the use of the speaker’s effective questioning at the beginning of the poem and the slowing rhythm which adds an atmosphere of composure and peace, which are the two elements that nature usually conveys us, and therefore he uses the rhythm to further enhance the point. Besides, the voice that Warren hears in the end ‘It’s late! Come home’ has also an universal meaning, in other words, it is also a message for everybody, for people that are outside working, a reminder for them to remember and not to forget that they have a family and a home, where they can find peace and comfort when it’s getting darker, when the day vanishes and when they need support, they can return home.