Moana and Emily Dickinson

When reading “I taste a liquor never brewed”, one of the main themes that we noticed was the speaker’s fascination for nature and apparent lack of interest in more mundane, anthropocentric parts of life. The speaker likens being out in nature to being incredibly, and happily drunk, as if the emotional revelation or fulfillment to be found in nature is greater than any human construction. 

A song that is a bit different in context, but that I thought actually pulled on a lot of the same strings is “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana, performed by Auliʻi Cravalho and written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. (

This song represents a key transition point in the movie, where Moana officially declares her desire to explore the sea beyond her island home. Throughout the beginning of the movie, Moana is constantly reminded that the sea is dangerous, and that there is no need to venture beyond her home island because the island provides everything the people need. Moana feels like an outsider because her father insists that she stay safe on their island and not risk traveling on the sea. However, Moana is inexplicably drawn to the water, and the island seems to be less productive than normal, prompting Moana to want to leave to find a solution.

During this song, Moana decides to completely embrace the romantic inside of herself. Moana’s desires here are indicative of many of the desires that seem to be embraced by the narrator of “I taste a liquor never brewed”. Both focus on the grandeur and splendor of nature; Moana remarking on the “light as it shines on the sea” and the “water”, in general. Similarly, the narrator remarks on “molten blue” and generally uses a metaphor of alcohol to describe the feelings they have in nature. The motifs of alcohol and water are used to show the fascination that the narrator and Moana have with nature, respectfully. The narrator frames their assessment of nature within the lens of being so happily drunk that the grandeur of nature is ever apparent, and the “saints” and angels, representing status-quo society, fade into the background. Similarly, Moana uses the water to frame her infatuation with nature. She keeps coming back to the “edge of the water”, and she literally juxtaposes her experience on the island with her feelings by the sea, clearly reasoning that a life of adventure and nature would be more profound than just living on the island her entire life. In the actual movie, this is even more apparent as she spends a lot of the song walking around her island home, only to end the scene by leaving. 

Ultimately, Moana and the narrator share a lot here in terms of their beliefs in nature and their framing of nature as more important or grander than a more traditional societal existence. Both characters realize that an existence out in nature is more stimulating, and they address that through poetry/song. By analyzing both of these characters within these literary works, we can learn more about what each one fears and each one seeks.

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