The speaker in ‘‘Two Eclipses’’ begins by addressing an unseen friend who appears to still be sleeping in the morning. He urges the friend to wake up, to wake up the dawn, and to look at the sky, which has the mottled appearance of the skin of a leopard. He notes that the moon is supposed to be full but that it is going dark, and he compares it to a kiln, a kettle, and a girl’s face, part of which is blushing. He notes that half of the moon is darkened, as if in shadow. The speaker then draws the friend’s attention to the sun, which later in the month became dim. He describes a full solar eclipse, where the sun is darkened but a rim of light filters out around the edges. He compares the sight of the sun in eclipse to a crown on the head of a princess from Libya (a nation in North Africa). The result is that the sun has set, casting a reddish glow. He compares the effect to the earth being in tears.
In stanza 2, the speaker notes that both of these sources of light, which he compares to beacons, were darkened in the same month. He does not use the word ‘‘God,’’ but he makes it clear that God, a source of power, majesty, and brilliance, was the source of the two eclipses. In one case God used the earth to cover the moon; in the other he used the moon to cover the sun. The speaker concludes the stanza by noting that the two eclipses were the work of God and that God plays with the worlds he created.
The speaker begins stanza 3 by noting that the moon was made with darker portions but that the sun was made entirely clear and uniform. This prompts the speaker to draw a comparison between the dimmed sun and moon on the one hand and grieving women on the other. One of the women has a face that appears to be bruised, presumably like the sun; the other woman’s face is both bruised and injured, presumably like the moon. The speaker then notes that the sun provides daytime light but that the day has gone dim. Similarly, the moon is a source of light at night, but it too has been darkened in the evening, just at the time that guards begin to watch over the city. In a new sentence, the speaker compares God to a king. Just as an earthly king might become angered and direct his wrath against lords who rule territories within the kingdom, so God, the heavenly king, turns his anger against day and night. With a lunar eclipse, he strikes a blow against the night’s source of light, then with a solar eclipse he blots out the daylight. The speaker then compares God’s actions to those of a king who gives poison first to his mistress, then to his wife, the queen. The speaker then urges the listener to see what happened, to examine the phenomena closely, and to read the lines that follow. The stanza ends with a colon rather than a period, suggesting a change in the poem.
With stanza 4, the speaker is no longer addressing the friend. He is now addressing God, and it is these lines that the speaker urges his friend to read at the end of the preceding stanza. Accordingly, the stanzas that follow are written in the second person, with ‘‘you’’ and ‘‘your’’ referring to God. He begins by noting that God’s greatness enabled him to create light, but it is that same greatness that enables him to darken the moon at the middle of its cycle. He then compares the darkened moon to a trapped rabbit. The speaker then notes that five months later there will be another lunar eclipse—which in fact turned out to be true; on May 3, 1045, a lunar eclipse occurred from 7:00 to 10:00 in the morning. God then will look at the world he created and cause it to become dizzy as though drunk. At this point, the speaker becomes slightly obscure. He makes reference to a moth, but this is an alternative meaning for the word Ash, which is the name of a star mentioned in the biblical book of Job. The star/moth is then said to consume star constellations called the Bear (Ursa Major, the constellation that includes the Big Dipper) and Orion (a prominent constellation named for the hunter by the same name in Greek mythology). Within the star constellations God created the earth, where living things could exist. The speaker concludes the stanza by acknowledging the power of God, who can tread upon all of his creation. In the same way, people tread upon grapes in a winepress in the process of making wine. When they do so, they shout, perhaps in triumph and joy. When God treads on his creation, there will be no shouting.
In stanza 5 the speaker continues to pay tribute to the glory of God. He says that this glory belongs entirely to God and that it is recognized by every horse and chariot that has been houghed. This word refers to the severing of tendons on the back legs of captured horses in ancient times. It is possible that the speaker’s references to horses and chariots are references to constellations of stars. ‘‘Horse’’ would possibly refer to Pegasus, named after a winged horse in Greek mythology, while ‘‘chariot’’ would possibly refer to Auriga, the Horse Driver, a constellation named after the mythological figure who invented the chariot because his feet were deformed and he was lame. The speaker goes on to note that God can turn the weather hot in winter and cold in summer. God can also turn the oceans upside down and bring turmoil to the seas, which he compares to a woman in the pains of giving birth. Ultimately, God can cause all living things to die, throwing death at them in the same way that an arrow finds its target. The speaker says that on Judgment Day God will awaken him—just as the speaker awakened his friend at the beginning of the poem—and will pass judgment on everyone who has broken God’s commandments and Jewish law. The repetition of awakening suggests that the eclipses are a form of God’s judgment, prefiguring the greater judgment that will take place when a person dies.
The penultimate stanza continues with the theme of judgment. The speaker says that God will weigh his actions, and he expresses hope that the evil side of the scale will be lighter and will therefore rise under the heavier weight of the side of the scale filled with good; the scale the poet envisions is a beam scale with pans hanging on each side. The speaker goes on to say that on that day God will raise his soul from the dust of his body but that the speaker will attempt to flee because he fears God’s anger. He expresses hope, though, that God will offer him peace and comfort and will urge him not to feel fear.
The final stanza of the poem consists of just two lines. The speaker acknowledges the possibility that on the Day of Judgment, God will find no righteousness in his soul. He hopes, then, that God will show mercy toward him; God’s mercy at the end of the poem is thus a counterpoint to his anger.
Sara Constantakis (Editor), Poetry for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Poetry, Shmuel Hanagid, Volume 33, published by Gale-Cengage Learning, 2010.