No, this is a matter of happenstance and good fortune. It also has something to do with, say, everything that has happened to you in your life up until the day you encounter a poem for the first time. Oh, yes, and the season. We mustn't forget the season.
At the top of the house the apples are laid in rows,
And the skylight lets the moonlight in, and those
Apples are deep-sea apples of green. There goes
A cloud on the moon in the autumn night.
A mouse in the wainscot scratches, and scratches, and then
There is no sound at the top of the house of men
Or mice; and the cloud is blown, and the moon again
Dapples the apples with deep-sea light.
They are lying in rows there, under the gloomy beams;
On the sagging floor; they gather the silver streams
Out of the moon, those moonlit apples of dreams,
And quiet is the steep stair under.
In the corridors under there is nothing but sleep.
And stiller than ever on orchard boughs they keep
Tryst with the moon, and deep is the silence, deep
On moon-washed apples of wonder.
John Drinkwater, Tides (1917).
I cannot recall when I first came across "Moonlit Apples." Twenty years ago? Thirty? (I had best stop there, lest I disappear down a narrowing, darkening tunnel.) I suspect that I found it in Georgian Poetry: 1918-1919. I have a copy of that volume beside me as I write this, and there it is at page 50. But I may have happened upon it in another anthology. I'm not certain. However, I do remember my mounting wonderment and excitement as I read it for the first time. And I am humbled, and grateful, to say that those feelings have never left me.
Albert Goodwin (1845-1932), "Florence, Evening" (1896)
I have intentionally sought not to pick apart what makes "Moonlit Apples" -- at least for me -- beautiful. As long-time (and much-appreciated!) readers know, my oft-stated basic principle is this: Explanation and explication are the death of poetry. Yet here I am writing about poems. And I will no doubt violate my principle by suggesting that the following poem has something to do with what makes "Moonlit Apples" -- or any other poem or work of art -- beautiful.
Note on Moonlight
The one moonlight, in the simple-colored night,
Like a plain poet revolving in his mind
The sameness of his various universe,
Shines on the mere objectiveness of things.
It is as if being was to be observed,
As if, among the possible purposes
Of what one sees, the purpose that comes first,
The surface, is the purpose to be seen,
The property of the moon, what it evokes.
It is to disclose the essential presence, say,
Of a mountain, expanded and elevated almost
Into a sense, an object the less; or else
To disclose in the figure waiting on the road
An object the more, an undetermined form
Between the slouchings of a gunman and a lover,
A gesture in the dark, a fear one feels
In the great vistas of night air, that takes this form,
In the arbors that are as if of Saturn-star.
So, then, this warm, wide, weatherless quietude
Is active with a power, an inherent life,
In spite of the mere objectiveness of things,
Like a cloud-cap in the corner of a looking-glass,
A change of color in the plain poet's mind,
Night and silence disturbed by an interior sound,
The one moonlight, the various universe, intended
So much just to be seen -- a purpose, empty
Perhaps, absurd perhaps, but at least a purpose,
Certain and ever more fresh. Ah! Certain, for sure . . .
Wallace Stevens, The Rock (1954).
As I have noted in previous posts, the poetry of Wallace Stevens' final years displays an acceptance of -- and love for -- the World as it is, with less of an insistence on asserting the primacy of the Imagination over Reality. Of course, he never surrendered entirely. After all, writing poetry was for him the quintessential activity of the Imagination. One can see this tug-of-war take place in "Note on Moonlight," which was published less than a year prior to his death at the age of 75.
The final stanza is, I think, one of the most moving things that Stevens ever wrote. "Intended so much just to be seen" is wonderful. And how about that last line?
Harold Speed, "The Alcantara, Toledo, by Moonlight" (1894)
The following poem appears on the page facing "Moonlit Apples" in John Drinkwater's 1917 collection Tides. They make a lovely pair.
Out of the Moon
Merely the moonlight
Piercing the boughs of my may-tree,
Falling upon my ferns;
Only the night
Touching my ferns with silver bloom
Of sea-flowers here in the sleeping city --
And suddenly the imagination burns
With knowledge of many a dark significant doom
Out of antiquity,
Sung to hushed halls by troubadours
Who knew the ways of the heart because they had seen
The moonlight washing the garden's deeper green
To silver flowers,
Falling with tidings out of the moon, as now
It falls on the ferns under my may-tree bough.
John Drinkwater, Tides (1917).
Terrick Williams, "Quiet Twilight, Honfleur" (c. 1922)
As I have noted on more than one occasion, Japanese and Chinese poems often help to put our longer-winded English lyrical apostrophes into perspective.
Autumn's bright moon,
However far I walked, still afar off
In an unknown sky.
Chiyo-ni (1703-1775) (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 3: Summer-Autumn (Hokuseido 1952), page 388.
Down from the mountain,
And when I opened the gate,
The moon too entered.
Kotomichi (1798-1868) (translated by R. H. Blyth), Ibid, page 388.
Albert Goodwin, "Salisbury"