Original Criticism

Debojoy Chanda: On "The Waste Land"

Classicism in T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”

Ever since T. S. Eliot described himself as “[c]lassicist in literature, royalist in politics, and anglo-catholic in religion” in his 1928 preface to “For Lancelot Andrewes” (qtd. in Deane 31), a great deal of scholarship began to be expended in interpreting his magnum opus “The Waste Land” (1922) in light of his concept of ‘classicism.’ Most scholars adopted one of two approaches: they either asserted that Eliot’s classicism was associated in some way with Augustan neoclassicism, or misread Eliot’s essay “Ulysses, Order, and Myth” to subsequently view his classicism as consisting in an advocacy of classical myths used a la James Joyce’s Ulysses to represent the “the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history” (Eliot, “Ulysses” 270).

Eliot did indeed base his version of classicism on Augustan neoclassical influences. Nevertheless I would argue that in the final reckoning his classicism did not have much to do with them. Consequently, attempts to view “The Waste Land” as a work that is ‘classical’ by virtue of the presence of neoclassical features in it are riddled with problems. As for the approach centering on Eliot’s interpretation of Joyce’s “mythical method” (Eliot, “Ulysses” 271), while myths do indeed feature very prominently in “The Waste Land,” the implications of myth for Eliot are not as straightforward as proponents of this approach would have us believe. I will attempt to reassess Eliot’s concept of classicism in order to reveal what I believe it connotes. In light of this reassessment, I will also posit a reconsideration of “The Waste Land”’s classicism.

Eliot adopted his concept of classicism from Charles Maurras and the long tradition of French reactionary thought. After the French Revolution, Classicism as an aesthetic principle in France was defined in opposition to Romanticism which, as a literary and philosophical movement, was believed to have been responsible for spawning the Revolution and its excesses (Vaughan 320). In light of this opposition to Romanticism and the Revolution, classicism was constructed as an aesthetic involving allegiance towards the Latin tradition in literature, as well as towards royalism, Catholicism, and a rigidly hierarchical social structure. Maurras’ twentieth-century version of classicism was largely an adaptation of this aesthetic (Asher 8).

Eliot had been considerably influenced by Maurras’ thought. He saw Maurras’ version of French classicism as the outcome of a general propensity towards the ideals of seventeenth-century French neoclassicism that had characterized the early part of the twentieth century. This propensity, according to Eliot, was accompanied by a corresponding allegiance to the monarchical form of government, and to the Catholic Church, these having been the mainstays of sociopolitical life in seventeenth-century France (Asher 38; Kimmel 40).

Irving Babbitt, who had also wielded influence upon Eliot’s intellectual development, framed his own version of classicism drawing upon Maurras’ French neoclassical predilections. Babbitt, who had been a professor of French and Comparative Literature at Harvard, had taught Eliot, and had facilitated his first encounter with Maurras’ thought. Babbitt’s classicism viewed the Romantic tradition of Rousseau as the “glorification of impulse,” and asserted that this preponderance of impulse could be checked by a thorough grounding in the ancients. Babbitt believed that a classical education would make true virtue one’s second nature.

While absorbing influences from Maurras’ and Babbitt’s conceptions of classicism, Eliot almost completely reconfigured them to formulate his own version. He retained Maurras’ and Babbitt’s thought only insofar as he defined his classicism against Romanticism, stating in his essay “The Function of Criticism” (1923) that classicism is “complete,” “adult,” and “orderly” as opposed to the “fragmentary,” “immature,” and “chaotic” character of Romanticism. Eliot opposed Maurras’ classicism because he considered its alliance with royalism and Catholicism problematic—he felt that to generalize about a “classicist in art and literature” being likely to adhere to a monarchical form of government and to the Catholic Church would be to gloss over the “many cross-currents” (qtd. in Asher 38). Given this multiplicity of “cross-currents,” Eliot decides in “The Function of Criticism” to view his classicism as a concept with merely literary and not sociopolitical associations (Eliot, “Function” 34-36).

Eliot’s decision to prune his classicism of sociopolitical ramifications is also explained by his belief that the term classicism has certain bearings when applied to literature, and completely different ones when applied to “the whole complex of interests and modes of behavior and society” (Eliot, “Ulysses” 269-70). His pruning of sociopolitical ramifications was also governed by his opinion that one’s choice of classicism or Romanticism should not be dictated by national and consequently sociopolitical biases, but by an inquiry into “which, of the two antithetical views [as literary concepts] is right [i.e. better for purposes of literary expression].” Eliot casts his ballot in favor of classicism because he links it with a “more mature” literary form that Romanticism lacks (Eliot, “Function” 36; emphasis in the original).

Eliot thus links his version of classicism specifically with literary form—a link he also highlights in the second lecture from his Syllabus of a Course of Six Lectures in Modern French Literature (1916) (Asher 38). However, he first spells out the implications of this association of classicism with form only in his essay of homage to T. E. Hulme published in the Criterion of April 1924. In it, Eliot speaks of the “classical moment in literature” as being one involving the evolution of an ideal literary form “which satisfies the best intellect of the time” (qtd. in Ellis 56). Eliot views this ideal form as the marker of the age of classicism (Ellis 56). Being the distinguishing feature of the classicist age, this form is evidently what constitutes classicism. For Eliot, therefore, classicism is not merely associated with literary form, but in fact refers to an ideal literary form.

In this context, one should note that like Eliot, Hulme views classicism as a literary form—specifically a verse form. He defines Romanticism and classicism as two verse forms embodying two contrasting attitudes to life. According to Hulme, while the Romanticist verse form is characterized by an attempt to epitomize the infinite, the classicist form is distinguished by a contrarious “holding back” through a surrender to tradition (qtd. in Rae 45). Eliot consciously aligns his classicism with Hulme’s in his essay of homage to him. Consequently, given Hulme’s yoking of classicism with tradition, it is not surprising that tradition also becomes one of the central components in Eliot’s version of classicism as delineated by him in “The Function of Criticism” (Eliot, “Function” 31-33).

Eliot speaks of “tradition” in “The Function of Criticism” with direct reference to his 1919 essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” In this latter essay, he describes tradition in terms of literature, speaking of it as a view perceiving all the works of the European literary canon from Homer to the present day as “ha[ving] a simultaneous existence” and composing an “ideal order” amongst themselves. According to Eliot, whenever a “really new” literary work is produced in the present day, that work is introduced into this ideal order, thereby causing an ‘alteration’ of the already-existing works in the order. Such a view of the tradition of European literature therefore requires that “the past should be altered by the present as much as [that] the present [should be] directed by the past” (Eliot, “Tradition” 4).

The most obvious question that rears up at this point is: if classicism, for Eliot, is a reference to a literary form, what sort of form could incorporate within itself the presence of the European literary tradition while simultaneously effecting its alteration? Eliot answers this question in his essay on Andrew Marvell published in 1921. In it, he describes Marvell’s poetry as “a classic: classic in a sense in which [English Romantic poetry] is not” (Eliot, “Marvell” 156). The first use of “classic” in this description, as per Frank Kermode, refers to the more common employment of the word as a noun ascribing a certain cultural status to literary works (Kermode 24). Its use in the second instance, on the other hand, is clearly in accord with Eliot’s utilization of the word in his essay of homage to Hulme as the adjectival form of “classicism” (Ellis 56; Eliot, “Romanticism” 293). Eliot emphasizes this implication by speaking of Marvell’s poetry in the context of the latter instance as being opposed to English Romantic poetry, in keeping with his own definition of classicism against Romanticism. Through this latter usage, Eliot brings Marvell’s poetry within the purview of his version of classicism.

According to Eliot, Marvell’s poetry is “classic” in this latter sense because of his poetic form’s ability to “unite.” Given the relevance of the word “classic” in this epithetical sense to his notion of classicism as an ideal literary form, Eliot is here evidently indicating that the constituents of this ideal form are to be found in this ability to “unite” that Marvell’s poetic form possesses. What Eliot means by this capacity to “unite” is the capability that a poetic form has to incorporate the presence of past works of the European literary canon within itself by alluding to them, while simultaneously using the literary resources at its disposal to alter their content (Eliot, “Marvell” 149). He makes these indications clear by explaining this power to “unite” via the instance of Marvell’s poem “To His Coy Mistress,” quoting the following lines from it:

But at my back I always hear Time’s winged chariot hurrying near, And yonder before us lie Deserts of vast eternity. (qtd. in Eliot, “Marvell” 149)

Eliot says that in these lines Marvell alludes to Horace’s first and fourth odes, and to Catullus’ poem “Viuamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus” (“Let us live and love, my Lesbia”). Eliot states that in alluding to these works, Marvell uses his poetic voice to alter their content, making it “more comprehensive by penetrating greater depths” than Horace or Catullus had accomplished (Eliot, “Marvell” 149). By extension Eliot indicates that Horace’s odes have similarly alluded to and altered the content of “Viuamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus,” Catullus’ poem having been the work that had ostensibly started the carpe diem tradition encompassed in Horace’s odes and in Marvell’s lines (Rainey 219). Marvell’s allusion to and alteration of Horace therefore involves a simultaneous allusion to and alteration of the fountainhead of the carpe diem trope in the European literary tradition. What Eliot consequently signifies is that the quoted lines from “To His Coy Mistress” cannot be viewed in isolation. By citing and modifying the source of the carpe diem theme in European literature, the lines should be seen as in effect altering the entire European literary tradition that deals with this theme, thereby helping perceive and alter the whole of European literature as a “simultaneous order” in keeping with Eliot’s tenets in “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (Eliot, “Tradition” 3).

 

Consequently, Eliot signifies that what constitutes classicism as a literary form is the allusion to and alteration of content from a past work of European literature—a process which automatically encompasses and alters the entire European literary canon down to its sources through that past work’s own literary allusions. One should note in this context that the passage Eliot quotes from “To His Coy Mistress” to demonstrate this process of allusion and alteration is exactly the one he himself alludes to and modifies twice in the third section of “The Waste Land.” In fact, the poetic form of “The Waste Land” depends on Eliot’s citation and modification of the content of past English, French, German, Italian, Greek, and Latin literary works, and of the Bible. In Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1948), Eliot refers to the European literary tradition as being made up specifically of these bodies of literature (Eliot, Culture 189-90). Therefore, if the alteration of material from past works of the European literary canon is what classicism as a literary form is about, it is executed through the full length of “The Waste Land” via Eliot’s procedure of citing and altering the content of works from those very bodies of literature which, for him, together constitute this canon.

It can consequently be concluded that “The Waste Land” sees Eliot putting into exercise the literary form he refers to through his use of the term “classicism.” Given the fact that he was working on “The Waste Land” even as he was writing “Tradition and the Individual Talent” and his essay on Marvell, it is not surprising that “The Waste Land” puts into practice this literary form whose possibilities Eliot lauds in these essays. By using “The Waste Land” to cite and modify those very lines by Marvell that themselves do the same for Horace who in turn alters Catullus, Eliot demonstrates in practice what he speaks of in “Tradition and the Individual Talent”—that this ‘alteration of the past’ so intrinsic to the European literary tradition is a continuous process (Eliot, “Tradition” 4).

Very often when citing a quote from a literary work in “The Waste Land,” Eliot modifies it to some degree. This is what he does when quoting “To His Coy Mistress.” But through the example of Marvell’s modification of Horace and by extension the latter’s modification of Catullus, Eliot makes it obvious that by the ‘alteration’ of a literary allusion, he refers to the modification of that allusion’s substance and not of a quote as such. This alteration of the substance of literary allusions may not always be very overt in “The Waste Land.” Nevertheless, I would assert that every allusion made in “The Waste Land” has its substance altered merely by the presence of the allusion. This is because these allusions, whether in the form of quotation or paraphrase are singly or otherwise collapsed with Eliot’s own lines. This changes the context and the implications of the allusions’ content by forcing the reader to consider Eliot’s lines and the allusions simultaneously (Brooker & Bentley 24).

To demonstrate this process of alteration, let us take the instance of the first literary text alluded to in the body of “The Waste Land”—Countess Marie Larisch’s autobiography. The passage in “The Waste Land” paraphrasing portions from the autobiography is preceded by and fused with Eliot’s own lines discussing the aridity of the waste land of the poem’s title. The substance of the alluded content from the Countess’ autobiography is, as I have stated, altered by its mere citation, thanks to this fusion with Eliot’s lines—it changes the context and the implications of the Countess’ talk of her aristocratic lifestyle, making it symptomatic of the moral and spiritual aridity of modern civilization. This same process of modification through the collapse of lines applies to Eliot’s use of quotations as literary allusions. For example, in the two instances when he alludes to “To His Coy Mistress,” he partially quotes the poem’s line “But at my back I always hear” and melds it with his own input. This alters the connotations of the line in the context of “The Waste Land,” making it signify a sense of physical decay in keeping with the moral decay of modern civilization that the poem portrays.

Even when the allusion to the literary text is too short and/or obtuse to be either a quote or a paraphrase, its content is altered by this same process. When, for example, Eliot claims that he is citing Baudelaire’s poem “The Seven Old Men,” his reference is limited to the words “Unreal City” (Eliot, “Waste Land” 60; “Notes” 71) which neither constitute a quotation from nor a paraphrase of any part the poem. The words only bear a rough resemblance to the poem’s opening line which speaks of the illusory character of a city “crowded with dreams” (qtd. in Rainey 83). At any rate, the reference melds with Eliot’s own lines to make the city of London illustrative of the illusoriness and emptiness that, for Eliot, characterizes materialistic modern life.

This ‘classicist’ framework within which “The Waste Land” functions is, however, fractured in three parts of the poem where Eliot applies this process of allusion to Asian and not European literature. According to the notes appended to “The Waste Land,” Eliot refers to the Buddha’s Fire Sermon in the poem’s third section, and to the Sanskrit Brihadaranyaka Upanishad in its fifth section. This allusion to the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad being the more extensive of the two, it would be fruitful to closely examine it.

“What the Thunder Said,” the title of the fifth section of “The Waste Land,” alludes to a fable narrated in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. The fable is about the three classes of beings in Hindu mythology i.e. the gods, the demons, and the humans going to Brahma, the creator of the universe, to ask him what they should ideally do. In response to their query, Brahma utters a single syllable—“da.” While the humans take it to mean “datta” i.e. “give,” the demons think it means “dayadhvam” i.e. “be compassionate,” and the gods feel it means “damyata” i.e. “control yourselves” (Rainey 119-20). What ensues as a result of Brahma’s instruction is thus a crisis of meaning. In the final verses of “What the Thunder Said,” Eliot alludes to this fable by thrice quoting the syllable “da,” besides citing the words “datta,” “dayadhvam,” and “damyata” (Eliot, “Waste Land” 400-11).

By the quotation of the syllable “da” which pertains to a crisis of meaning, I would suggest that the allusion to and alteration of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad’s content gets reduced to a process bearing no meaning. The repetition of the syllable “da” in “What the Thunder Said,” after all, recalls another instance to which such a repetition is central—Dadaism, which derives its name from the syllable “da” that constitutes an integral part of French baby-talk (Shell 162). Eliot, while writing “The Waste Land” was greatly concerned with the element of meaninglessness in Dadaism, as his essay “The Lesson of Baudelaire” (1921) proves (Eliot, “Baudelaire” 144). The syllable “da” that Brahma utters in the aforementioned fable from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is used in “The Waste Land” to onomatopoeically represent the sound of thunder (Rainey 120). Be it as a literary allusion to onomatopoeia or as a reference to baby-talk, the syllable connotes the absence of meaning. It collapses in “What the Thunder Said” with Eliot’s lines to also draw them within its ambit of meaninglessness instead of having its content coherently modified by them.

One observes this same failure to make meaning in the allusions to the Buddha’s Fire Sermon, and to the closing benediction of the Upanishads. The line from the third section of “The Waste Land” that alludes to the Buddha’s Fire Sermon runs “Burning burning burning burning;” it ultimately gets reduced to the single word “burning” with which the section closes. The word remains isolated, with no punctuation marks or other formal features with which to make sense of it. This isolation of the word leaves it without a sense of closure although it is itself used to close the third section of “The Waste Land.” Lacking Eliot’s lines to collapse itself with, it also lacks closure within the poem’s classicist framework in that its content thereby remains unmodified in contrast to the European literary allusions in the poem (Eliot, “Waste Land” 308-11). Without this element of closure, the word and by extension its meaning remain open-ended, encompassing any possible number of meanings only to indicate the absence of any specific meaning assignable to it. These very features are to be found yet again in another allusion in “The Waste Land”—the Upanishadic “Shantih shantih shantih” with which Eliot ends the poem (Eliot, “Waste Land” 433). Isolated, and without any punctuation to make sense of it or any of Eliot’s lines to modify it, the citation lacks closure and consequently meaning.

Through these three citations, Eliot indicates that the allusion to and alteration of the content of the Asian work within the classicist literary form opens itself to the possibility of an absence of meaning. This can be traced to a belief Eliot expresses about Asian culture in his essay Notes Towards the Definition of Culture. He states in it that Asian culture is cut off from the comprehension of Europe because all culture makes sense to the European insofar as he perceives it through the prism of Christianity. He says, “[i]t is in Christianity that our [European] arts have developed…It is against a background of Christianity that all our thought has significance…The [European] World has its unity in this heritage, in Christianity and in the ancient civilisations [sic] of Greece, Rome, and Israel, from which, owing to two thousand years of Christianity, we trace our descent” (Eliot, Culture 200). In short, the European literary tradition encompassed by Eliot’s classicism gains meaning in the European situation by being perceived through the lens of Christianity because “[i]t [i]s only in relation to his own religion that the insights of any…m[a]n ha[s] its significance to him” (qtd. in Izzo 104).

For Eliot, European culture is synonymous with Christian culture in Notes Towards the Definition of Culture. He brings even pre-Christian Greek and Latin literature within the purview of Christianity because he views Virgil as having “led Europe towards the Christian culture which he could never know”—a conception that Eliot formulated largely because of Virgil’s role in Dante’s The Divine Comedy(Kermode 23). Thus, the European literary tradition whose subjection to the process of alteration Eliot describes in “Tradition and the Individual Talent” is bound by and comprehended through the Christian religion.

Eliot’s classicist literary form in “The Waste Land” is, as I have indicated before, a formal exposition of the European literary tradition as represented in “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” Eliot’s own lines in the classicist form of “The Waste Land” are, in the context of “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” significatory of the “really new” work of art in the “ideal order” of the European literary canon, altering the past works of the canon by modifying their content. Therefore, what Eliot’s classicist form demonstrates in “The Waste Land” through its citation of Asian literature is in effect an attempt to fit a non-European work within this ideal order. But this intrusion of the non-European work into the European literary canon is, as I have shown, marked by a failure to make meaning. Eliot’s conception of the European literary tradition as described in Notes Towards the Definition of Culture evidently attributes this failure to the fact that the non-European work lacks the “background of Christianity” so intrinsic to enabling the European reader’s comprehension of the European work. Therefore, in keeping with Eliot’s representation of the European literary canon vis-à-vis his classicism in “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” “The Waste Land” shows how intrinsic the European literary work and the alteration of the European literary canon are to the poem’s classicist form; it does so not only through its profusion of European literary allusions, but also by its fracture of the classicist form to introduce the non-European work only to highlight how such a work is alien to the form.

Works Cited

Asher, Kenneth. T. S Eliot and Ideology. New York, USA: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Brooker, Jewel Spears, and Philip Bentley. Reading The Waste Land: Modernism and the Limits of Interpretation. Amherst, Massachusetts: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1990.

Deane Patrick. “Eliot’s Classicism, Pound’s Symbolism, and the Drafts of The Waste Land.” At Home in Time: Forms of Neo-Augustanism in Modern English Poetry. Montreal, Canada: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1994. 31-55.

Eliot, T. S. “Andrew Marvell.” The Annotated Waste Land with Eliot’s Contemporary Prose. Ed. with Annotations and Introduction by Lawrence Rainey. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2005.146-57.

---. “Notes” on “The Waste Land.” The Annotated Waste Land with Eliot’s Contemporary Prose. Ed. with Annotations and Introduction by Lawrence Rainey. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2005. 71-74.

---. Notes Towards the Definition of Culture. Christianity and Culture. USA: Mariner Books, 1940. 79-208.

---. “Romanticism and Classicism.” Canonical Texts of English Literary Criticism with Selections from Classical Poeticians. Ed. Rangoon Kapoor. Delhi, India: Academic  Foundation, 1995. 294.

---. “The Function of Criticism.” The Criterion 1922-1939 in Eighteen Volumes: Volume 2 (October 1922-July 1924). Ed. T. S. Eliot. London, UK: Faber & Faber, 1967. 31-42.

---. “The Lesson of Baudelaire.” The Annotated Waste Land with Eliot’s Contemporary Prose. Ed.with Annotations and Introduction by Lawrence Rainey. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2005. 144-45. ---. “The Romantic Englishman, the Comic Spirit, and the Function of Criticism.” The Annotated Waste Land with Eliot’s Contemporary Prose. Ed.with Annotations and Introduction by Lawrence Rainey. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2005.  141-43.

---. “The Waste Land.” The Annotated Waste Land with Eliot’s Contemporary Prose. Ed. with Annotations and Introduction by Lawrence Rainey. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2005. 57-74.

---. “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” Bartleby.com. 22 June 2010 <http://www.bartleby.com/200/sw4.html>.

---. “Ulysses, Order and Myth (T. S. Eliot on Ulysses and Myth).” The Critical Heritage: James Joyce (Volume 1: 1907-27). Ed. Robert H. Deming. New York, NY: Routledge, 1970. 268-71.

Ellis, Steve. The English Eliot: Design, Language, and Landscape in Four Quartets. London, UK: Routledge, 1991.

Izzo, David Garrett. The Influence of Mysticism on 20th Century British and American Literature. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company Inc., 2009.

Kermode, Frank. The Classic. New York, NY: The Viking Press, 1975.

Kimmel, Michael S. Absolutism and its Discontents: State and Society in Seventeenth-Century France and England. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Inc., 1988.

Rae, Patricia. The Practical Muse: Pragmatist Poetics in Hulme, Pound, and Stevens. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1997.

Rainey, Lawrence. “Editor’s Annotations to The Waste Land.” The Annotated Waste Land with Eliot’s Contemporary Prose. Ed.with Annotations and Introduction by Lawrence Rainey.

Shell, Mark. Stutter. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2006.

Vaughan, William. “The French Romantics.” The French Romantics (Volume 2). Ed. D. G. Charlton. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1984. 308-52.

Original Contribution

Michael North: On "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

The general fragmentation of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is obvious and notorious. The poem seems a perfect example of what Terry Eagleton calls the modern "transition from metaphor to metonymy: unable any longer to totalize his experience in some heroic figure, the bourgeois is forced to let it trickle away into objects related to him by sheer contiguity." Everything in "Prufrock" trickles away into parts related to one another only by contiguity. Spatial progress in the poem is diffident or deferred, a "scuttling" accomplished by a pair of claws disembodied so violently they remain "ragged." In the famous opening, "the evening is spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherised upon a table," and the simile makes an equation between being spread out and being etherised that continues elsewhere in the poem when the evening, now a bad patient, "malingers, / Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me." There it "sleeps so peacefully! / Smoothed by long fingers . . . ." This suspension is a rhetorical as well as a spatial and emotional condition. The "streets that follow like a tedious argument / Of insidious intent" lead not to a conclusion but to a question, a question too "overwhelming" even to ask. Phrases like the "muttering retreats / Of restless nights" combine physical blockage, emotional unrest, and rhetorical maundering in an equation that seems to make the human being a combination not of angel and beast but of road-map and Roberts' Rules of Order.

In certain lines, metaphor dissolves into metonymy before the reader's eyes. "The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes" appears clearly to every reader as a cat, but the cat itself is absent, represented explicitly only in parts -- back, muzzle, tongue -- and by its actions -- licking, slipping, leaping, curling. The metaphor has in a sense been hollowed out to be replaced by a series of metonyms, and thus it stands as a rhetorical introduction to what follows. The people in the poem also appear as disembodied parts or ghostly actions. They are "the faces that you meet," the "hands / That lift and drop a question on your plate," the "Arms that are braceleted and white and bare," the "eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase." Prufrock himself fears such a reduction, to use Kenneth Burke's term for the effect of metonymy. The dread questions "How his hair is growing thin!" and "But how his arms and legs are thin" reduce Prufrock to certain body parts, the thinness of which stands in for the diminution caused by the rhetorical figures. What Prufrock fears has already been accomplished by his own rhetoric.

In this poem the horror of sex seems to come in part from its power to metonymize. Like Augustine, Eliot sees sex as the tyranny of one part of the body over the whole. Though Eliot is far too circumspect to name this part, he figures its power in his poetry by the rebelliousness of mere members: hands, arms, eyes. Sexual desire pulls the body apart, so that to give in to it is to suffer permanent dismemberment. This may account for the odd combination in Eliot's work of sexual ennui and libidinous violence. The tyranny of one part scatters all the others, reducing the whole to impotence. In this way, the violence of sex robs the individual of the integrity necessary to action.

An oddly similar relationship of part to whole governs Prufrock's conception of time. In a burst of confidence he asserts, "In a minute there is time / For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse." Yet he seems to quail before the very amplitude of possibility contained in time, so that all these decisions and revisions are foreclosed before they can be made. Thus Prufrock's prospective confidence in the fullness of time becomes a retrospective conviction that "I have known them an already, known them all: -- / Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons. . . ." To know "all" already is to be paralyzed, disabled, because "all" is not full of possibility but paradoxically empty, constituted as it is by pure repetition, part on part on part. In a figure that exactly parallels the bodily metonymies, time becomes a collection of individual parts, just as the poem's human denizens had been little more than parts: "And I have known the eyes already, known them all"; "And I have known the arms already known them all." The instantaneous movement from part to whole, from eyes, arms, evenings, mornings, to "all," expresses the emptiness between, the gap between dispersed parts and an oppressive whole made of purely serial repetition. The very reduction of human beings to parts of themselves and of time to episodes makes it impossible to conceive of any whole different from this empty, repetitious "an." As Burke says, metonymy substitutes quantity for quality, so that instead of living life Prufrock feels "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.

From Michael North, The Political Aesthetic of Yeats, Eliot, and Pound. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Reprinted with permission of the author.

T. S. Eliot: Biographical Timeline

1888: September 26: Thomas Stearns Eliot born in St. Louis, Missouri to Henry Ware and Charlotte Stearns Eliot.

1898: A student at Smith Academy in St. Louis

1905: To Milton Academy in Massachusetts

1906-10: Undergraduate years at Harvard. Reads Symons’s The Symbolist Movement in Literature and the poetry of Laforgue. Studies with George Santayana and Irving Babbitt.

Yi-ling Lin: On "The Paper Nautilus"

Joanne Feit Diehl thinks that this poem presents two antithetic aspects of maternal affection: it can be “both a refuge and a risk” (88). Since the paper nautilus is a cephalopod like the octopus whose embrace kills, Diehl suggests that the paper nautilus “will crush what she strives to protect” (86). However, I believe that this poem eulogizes maternal love; the arms of the paper nautilus are not a strangling force, but a protective power.

Through the depiction of a female-gendered paper nautilus and her hatching habits, the poet glorifies the selflessness of maternal affection. Her delicate shelled beauty is not meant as decoration for authorities “whose hopes / are shaped by mercenaries” (lines 1-2) or for writers who are “entrapped by / teatime fame and by / commuters’ comforts” (3-5), but rather for the protection of her young. She is a watchful guard that never diverts her attention from her eggs; she “scarcely / eats until the eggs are hatched” (14-15).

The comparison of the paper nautilus to an octopus shows that she will exercise her defensive power to protect her eggs when being attacked. The poet’s deliberate use of the term “devilfish,” another name for the octopus, may lead to a terrifying image of the paper nautilus, but the sudden change of the paper nautilus’ temperament merely indicates a mother’s effort to protect her young. Her defensive power is directed at attackers rather than at her own young, so she will only protect her eggs instead of crushing them: “ . . . her glass ram’shorn-cradled freight / is hid but is not crushed” (19-20). The oxymoronic combination of the fragile glass with the strong and defending ram’shorn best illustrates how greatly the paper nautilus would change in order to defend her eggs.

Although the poet’s utilization of the story of Hercules to describe how strenuously the eggs free themselves from their creator may contribute to the impression that the paper nautilus’ overwatchfulness hinders the eggs from liberating themselves, what cannot be ignored is that when the eggs are freed, they free the shell as well: the paper nautilus is relieved from her significant task of hatching. Nevertheless, her relief is temporary. As indicated in the last stanza, the poet’s comparison of the young of the paper nautilus to the lines in the mane of a Parthenon horse “round which the arms had wound themselves” (32-33) suggests that the paper nautilus’ care for her young is unfailing even after the eggs are hatched.

Works Cited

Diehl, Joanne Feit. Women Poets and the American Sublime. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.

Moore, Marianne. “The Paper Nautilus.” Anthology of Modern American Poetry. Ed. Cary Nelson. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. 273-74.

Copyright © 2006 Yi-ling Lin

Bonnie Honigsblum: On "Poetry"

"Marianne Moore's Revisions of 'Poetry'"

Although Marianne Moore's "Poetry" has for its subject a universal topic treated in general terms, an examination of the poet's many revisions and her reasons for them suggests that she became susceptible to a variety of influences while writing and revising this major poem in her canon. If we examine revised versions of "Poetry" in light of their appearances in certain of her volumes or in anthologies edited by valued colleagues, we can see that she usually revised for a new edition of her poetry and that she sometimes revised even for the occasion of a special printing. In the course of revising this poem, she admitted multiple influences: her family, a like-minded coterie, her editors, even her critics. Occasionally, a trend in publishing or writing also resulted in a revision. For our purposes, we could turn to David Daiches's theory of modem fiction to account for the multitude of forces to which she seemed to respond:

If we know just what it is in the civilization of his time that led the author to adopt the attitude he did, to shape the work the way he did, to tell this story in this way and no other, then we understand what we may call the logic of the work; we can see what its real principal of unity is; we can see the work as a whole and be sure of seeing the right whole. (216)

To see the "right whole" in the case of this poem, we must first assemble all the versions. Then we must examine the chronology of changes and consider the individuals whose influence propelled this chronology and the movements to which they belonged. This process will shed light on critical problems that have concerned scholars and will reveal a modernist application that underlies Moore's method of revision.

The variorum text appended here sets forth the four basic versions of "Poetry" (listed in order of their first publications): a version with five stanzas of six long, divided lines (roughly 19, 19, 11, 5, 8, and 13 syllables, stanzas three and five being less regular), almost rhymed (printed fifty-seven times and once as a note to the three-line version, during Moore's lifetime ), hereinafter called the five-stanza version; a thirteen-line version in free verse without stanzas (printed once), hereinafter called the thirteen-line version; a fifteen-line version with three stanzas of five long, divided lines (roughly 8, 14, 11, 19, and 16 syllables), with internal rhyme (printed five times in anthologies compiled by foremost poet-editors), hereinafter called the three-stanza version; and a three-line version to which she appended a revision of the five-stanza version in a footnote (printed ten times), hereinafter called the three-line version.

The notes to the poem were printed twenty-four times in a shortened version slightly modified and expanded in The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore (1967) to include the five-stanza version, where the notes to this version become notes on a note, referring to lines no longer part of the three-line version of "Poetry."

The thirteen-line, three-stanza, and three-line versions were printed less often than the five-stanza version: in the case of the three-line version, only ten times; in the case of the thirteen-line version, only once; and in the case of the three- stanza version, only five times, in all of these versions and their printings with only two unauthorized changes. Moore revised the five-stanza version, however, right up until its placement in the notes to the three-line version; that is, she continued to revise this longer version over a span of nearly fifty years (ca. 1919-67). The same may be said for the poem as a whole in all of its versions and, beginning in 1924, for the notes to the five-stanza version as well.

Though many of the revisions that bring about new versions appear to be self-explanatory, the reasons for them are not. The five-stanza version in syllabic stanzas gives way to an experiment in free verse, which Moore also abandoned ultimately. The drafts of the thirteen-line version of "Poetry" show that she worked over them considerably, first by trimming four lines from the end:

and not until the misled literalist of the imagination 

presents for our inspection, 

imaginary gardens with real toads in them, 

shall we encounter its misrule.

One of the most famous lines from "Poetry," "imaginary gardens with real toads in them," was in the course of revision dropped from an but the five-stanza version of the poem. Below the excision of the four lines above, Moore wrote, "we shall have nothing of the kind" ( see TMS A ), probably introducing a line to replace the four excised lines. In a later revision of the thirteen-line version, she trimmed phrases, changing "more important than" to "important beyond" and dropping "or trivial, or glib" after "but when they have been fashioned / into that which is unknowable" (TMS B).

The finished, free-verse version of "Poetry" that resulted from these revisions should be viewed in the context of a letter to Pound, dated 9 January 1919. In it, she stated her preference for poems in syllabic stanzas and observed that this was often the form in which she first conceived them.

Any verse that I have written, has been an arrangement of stanzas, each stanza being an exact duplicate of every other stanza. I have occasionally been at pains to make an arrangement of lines and rhymes that I liked, repeat itself, but the form of the original stanza of anything I have written has been a matter of expediency, hit upon as being approximately suitable to the subject. ( qtd. in Tomlinson)

A passage recorded in her conversation notebooks from the period when she was writing the first, five-stanza version of the poem as it appears in Others indicates that she herself may have felt an aversion to free verse—or else she only observed the presence of this sentiment in the intellectual climate.

I think he's narrow minded He likes nothing but free verse—(well- I've never written free verse and don’t know how to write it and they've been very kind to me—) Well they think it's free verse and that's all the same to them. (1250/23, 35 Rosenbach)

In any event, Moore must have been dissatisfied with the thirteen-line version of "Poetry," as she returned to syllabic stanzas for the poem's next authorized appearance in an anthology, this time in three, five-line stanzas, a version that appeared in Harriet Monroe and Alice Corbin Henderson's The New Poetry (1932, 1934, 1935) and Louis Zukofsky's A Test of Poetry (1948, 1952). In 1929, Conrad Aiken, an acquaintance of Moore's and a contributor to the Dial during her editorship (1925-29), chose the earlier, five-stanza version written in syllabic stanzas. As by that time Moore was bringing her years as editor of the Dial to a close, she could not have failed to know of this anthologization, for which she probably gave permission, although proof of her authorization is unavailable.

That the problems with the thirteen-line version may have been internal is born out by Moore's rapid dismissal of this version and by its lack of critical acceptance, even by her peers and critics. R. P. Blackmur calls this free-verse version of "Poetry" "a half-shrewd, half-pointless conceit against the willfully obscure" (141-71), a point with which George Nitchie, with more deference, nevertheless concurs (37).

But her disenchantment was not with the thirteen-line, free-verse version alone. The thirteen-line "Poetry," a free-verse experiment written for Observations (1925), represents one of the last times Moore resorted to the strategy of converting poetry drafted in syllabic stanzas into free verse. Many similar revisions took place before she accepted her editorial post on the Dial. From that vantage point, she must have gained the courage of her "conviction," the preference for syllabic stanzas, which she had expressed as early as 1919 in the letter to Pound. She was capable of writing to her satisfaction in free verse, as other free-verse experiments from this period demonstrate, in particular "A Grave" and "When I Buy Pictures." Several typed and autograph manuscripts show the origins of each of these famous free verse poems. Moore drafted them originally (and even published one) in syllabic stanzas. The decision to revise "Poetry," returning it to its original form in syllabic stanzas, was less the result of Moore's failure to write satisfactorily in free verse than the result of her preference for poetry in syllabic stanzas.

For an understanding of Moore's method of revision, "Poetry" is a litmus test. A poetic manifesto of sorts, it returns to a syllabic form and takes on a somewhat strident tone for its first appearance after February 1931, an important date because it marks the publication of the Objectivist issue of Poetry magazine. This issue joined the directions of two powerful poet-editors—Harriet Monroe, editor of Poetry, and Louis Zukofsky, guest editor of the issue—both of whom later selected (or received from Moore herself) the three-stanza version of "Poetry" for their anthologies, Monroe's The New Poetry (1932, 1934, 1935) and Zukofsky's A Test of Poetry (1948, 1952). The Objectivist issue of Monroe's Poetry may have prompted Moore to revise her poem "Poetry" once again because in it Zukofsky had singled out Moore's poetry as among the "works absolutely necessary to students of poetry" (37).

Whatever the case, the three-stanza version of "Poetry" represents a new direction for the poem, especially in light of the previous, thirteen-line version in free verse printed in the second edition of Observations (1925). The thirteen-line version contained certain abstractions—"unknowable," "what we cannot understand," and "enigmas"—that were loosely joined to images of "the bat," "the elephant," and "the wolf," strung out at the poem's beginning without connectives or explanation, forming an almost Whitmanesque catalogue. By contrast, the three-stanza version joined these images with a preceding colon and tied them together with a concluding dash, forming one of Moore's idiosyncratic "miscellanies." As Louis Bogan noted, Moore had a "seventeenth-century passion for miscellany" (151). In 1927, Moore put it,

Academic feeling, or prejudice possibly, in favor of continuity and completion . . . is opposed to miscellany—to music programs, composite picture exhibitions, newspapers, magazines and anthologies. Any zoo, aquarium, library, garden or volume of letters, however, is an anthology and certain of these selected findings are highly satisfactory. . . . The selective nomenclature—the chameleon's eye as we might call it so—of the connoisseur, expresses a genius for difference. (Bogan 151)

Not only are these elements bound together in a miscellany in the three-stanza version, the meaning of this grouping intensifies as it develops from a less structured catalogue into a more highly structured miscellany. In the thirteen-line version, "these phenomena are pleasing," but in the three-stanza version, "these phenomena are important." The three-stanza version is much more intent upon making its point than the thirteen-line version in free verse. Not surprisingly, therefore, an Objectivist credo erases the "enigmas" of the thirteen-line version, and in the three-stanza version this credo rather stridently amplifies what had once been Moore's discreetly discursive tone. The three- stanza version of "Poetry" asserts,

            —these phenomena 

are important; but dragged into conscious oddity by 

    half poets, the result is not poetry. 

        This we know. (TMS C)

Apparently, Moore retained an attachment to the three-stanza version in syllabic stanzas, even after 1935 when she returned to revising the longer five-stanza version in syllabic verse (her first version, dating from 1919). In "Brooklyn from Clinton Hill," an essay (first published in Vogue in 1960) that Moore included in A Marianne Moore Reader (1961), she referred enthusiastically to Zukofsky's A Test of Poetry, first published in 1948:

Louis Zukofsky’s anthology, A Test of Poetry, exhilarated me when it came out. It wears well and in his courses for engineers at the Polytechnic Institute on Livingstone Street not far from the Packer Institute, Mr. Zukofsky expertly presents poetry, composition, and American literature. (A Marianne Moore Reader 185)

Despite her liking for this anthology, the three-stanza version of "Poetry" was probably little more than Moore's vociferous transition to yet another revision of the five-stanza version of the poem.

When she sent a typed manuscript of her poems for Selected Poems (1935) to T. S. Eliot at his request as an editor for Faber and Faber publishers, it must have included the revised, five-stanza version that borrowed from both the three-stanza version of "Poetry" and the original form in five, six-line stanzas. The typed manuscript Moore sent T. S. Eliot is not available. From the order of the poems in Selected Poems, how-ever, we may assume that even in the earliest manuscripts she must have sent him a version of "Poetry" written in syllabic stanzas, because in Eliot's ordering of the poems "Poetry" is included among others written in that form. Eliot's letter to Moore (20 June 1934) indicates as much:

I take it that the order which you give them which is the same as in "Observations" (a title, by the way, to which you have better claim than I) is the order of composition. The fact that your omissions are chiefly of the first numbers of that book lends colour to my assumption. If the chronological order were retained I think dates ought to be given. But I am inclined to re-shuffle, which is more or less arbitrary in that it could be varied considerably without damage; and I enclose a tentative list for your approval. 

    I want to start with the new poems hitherto uncollected, and shove some of the slighter pieces towards the end. At your simplest, you baffle those who love "simple" poetry; and so one might as well put on difficult stuff at once, and only bid for the readers who are willing and accustomed to take a little trouble over poetry. I think this will pay better; and will excite the booksellers more.

Whether Moore first sent the three- or five-stanza version is not clear. Since it is the five-stanza version that ultimately appeared in Selected Poems (1935), we can assume that Eliot probably worked with it from the very beginning, particularly in view of its place in the volume. What is apparent is that, as she usually did for each new appearance of a poem in a collection of her poetry, Moore revised "Poetry," this time with a goal in mind, a goal set by the direction she took when preparing the three-stanza version that appeared shortly after publication of the Objectivist issue of Poetry.

To create the five-stanza version of "Poetry" published in Selected Poems, Moore revised an earlier, five-stanza version (Observations [1924]), introducing several significant changes. She smoothed out the structure of pauses to achieve a more conversational (and a less dogmatic) tone by adding a comma after "I" in line one: "I, too, dislike it"; and adding a period after "useful" in the second line of the second stanza, breaking up a long periodic sentence:

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but be- 

                cause they are 

    useful. When they become so derivative as to become 

                        unintelligible. . . .

Former printings had shown a semicolon where the period appears after "useful" (see the variorum text of "Poetry" from Collected Poems, fourteenth impression [1968]).

In his capacity as editor for Faber and Faber, Eliot changed double to single quotes to conform to British standards of punctuation. As in the case of Eliot's remark about the booksellers' tastes, these revisions sanctioned by Moore—a change in the order of poems and altered punctuation—have more to do with the social and institutional demands of modern publishing than with the aesthetic demands of the author, yet both changes bring about revisions with aesthetic implications. For example, Moore began all of her subsequent major collections with this order from 1935 on, and the single quotation marks suggest that these are quotations inside a form of direct discourse. In regard to the poem itself, however, these changes in punctuation were usually subject to the tastes of the times throughout Moore's lifetime.

The more conversational tone punctuation changes conveyed was, however, also secured by other changes that Moore included in her 1935 revisions. She changed "one discovers that there is in it" to "one discovers in it"; and "on one hand" to the more colloquial and better balanced "on the one hand." With these changes, some of the strict prosody of the 1924 version gave way to a more idiomatic tone. By means of subtle changes in punctuation and syntax Moore soft peddles some of the heightened emphasis that supported didactic assertions in the three-stanza version (for example, "This we know"), and in the new five-stanza version, she makes her point with more of her characteristic reticence. In descriptive terms, the new version shows rather than tells its point, a method very characteristic of Moore's technique. In doing so, the poem takes on one of the most salient characteristics of Moore's mature poetry, a lightness of touch and a conversational tone, which she is able to achieve without sacrificing depth or sincerity.

This version met its mark with reviewers. Peter Monro Jack said of "Poetry" in an article in the New York Times Book Review,

Miss Moore is perfectly in the American tradition when she continues, ". . . these things are important / not because a / high- sounding interpretation can / be put upon them but be- / cause / they are useful." . . . When we say "the American tradition" we mean in the way it has cut into the English tradition of the singing lyric and the sacred eloquence of blank verse. Ezra Pound in his way, Eliot, Cummings and Marianne Moore in their ways have helped in this new pragmatism of poetry. (2)

It was this five-stanza version that Moore chose to revise thereafter, and it was this version that attracted the attention of more anthologists than any other. Nevertheless, after its appearance in Collected Poems, she dropped the poem altogether from A Marianne Moore Reader in 1961, only to restore it in revised form in The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore published in 1967.

In this case, she took a very successful version of "Poetry," cut it to its first three lines, and put the longer, successful version in the notes, along with notes to the five-stanza version that were then relegated to the role of being notes on a note to the three-line version of the poem. If prior revisions were made to please a coterie committed to free verse or to a poetic dogma, or to please an editor such as T. S. Eliot, this one was probably made by Moore for herself alone, though not without a larger audience in mind.

Indeed, the final revision with its dramatic about face—cutting what was virtually an institution by 1967 and then almost nostalgically, or in a parody of nostalgia, restoring it—puts the earlier revisions of "Poetry" in perspective, particularly that version made for T. S. Eliot's edition of her Selected Poems in 1935. Her revisions suggest that the five-stanza version was restored not so much to please Eliot or a coterie as to sound like those she considered to be her contemporaries and her equals.

If we are to believe the message written between the lines of the conversation notebooks, there was a "coterie." As Williams said, "She was our saint" (146), and Kreymborg said of her, "She talked as she wrote and wrote as she talked" (239). No doubt she collected material for her conversation notebooks in the company of the Others group including Kreymborg, Williams, and others (Hoffman 153). Excerpts from the conversation notebook dating from the period when she was writing "Poetry," 1915-19, convey the flavor of conversation at such literary gatherings:

Dr. Williams If you don't understand the improvisation read the 

explanation If you don't understand the explanation go 

back to the improvisation and so on (1250/23, 69 Rosenbach)

 

 

to form an independent opinion I do not 

exaggerate wait a moment You interfere (making

a bow)—"Miss Moore" I do not jest—I have never 

found anything of yours which I had trouble 

to discover something which had in it to me, 

meaning I might not have read into t[he] words 

t[he] meaning wh[ich] was intended that I sh[oul]d 

there to me then was meaning to find 

Let me tell you about Miss Monroe, Miss M 

is no more a judge of poetry than . . . 

not poetry than that andiron 

It is so long since they have known 

what a truth looked like that if they 

were to stumble on it 

accident they w[ou]ld not recognize 

She had included in the list every poet of 

importance in America except myself—and 

incidentally yourself. I had not the personality—

to interest DM. . . . Mr. Wolf 

this 

is not a year for art. astute impudent, 

cool, collected Mr. Bodheim they want it 

(Poetry) to be more lyrical, conventional 

uplifting, optimistic—unoffensive 

inspiring helpful educational pleasant and 

inspiring 

To try to put y[ou]r things in 

Poetry is like putting new wine in old bottles. 

I came away so loaded down w[ith] ideas 

I c[ou]ld hardly keep the sidewalk. 

(1250/23, 57 Rosenbach)

Her mastery of the conversational tone, one of the most striking attributes of much of her poetry (Shankar 147), an effect she notes frequently in others (see her essay on Abraham Lincoln, for example [Predilections 197-204]), is one of the most forceful organizing factors of the poem "Poetry." Which is to say, that her response to her audience may have been as much to copy its diction as to please it—or perhaps she knew that to do the first was to accomplish both at the same time. That she listened critically is evident in her prose in such works as " 'New' Poetry since 1912" published in the Anthology of Magazine Verse for 1926 (172-79) and in the unpublished essay "English Literature since 1914," an essay written for a contest held by The Athenaeum in spring of 1920. Mailed 9 April 1920, the manuscript probably did not arrive in time to meet the 19 April deadline. A transcript of a carbon of it was printed in the Marianne Moore Newsletter, "not as finished work but as documentation of MM's interests at the beginning of her career as a critic" ("MM Surveys English Literature" 13). Such essays make it abundantly clear that though she declined to mention herself in these contexts (on 13 June 1926, she wrote Braithwaite: "You suggest my name also, but would be willing should you not, that I make no comment upon myself?"), she understood her place in the social and literary circles she frequented. To these groups she may have owed in part the esoteric, witty conversational tone of "Poetry," though these influences were always indirect.

A like-minded coterie and the poet-editors who, like herself, were all caught up in a particular literary climate—all must have influenced the evolution of the poem's form. In the light of a preference for free verse in the late teens and early twenties, she converted it (and other poems written originally in syllabic stanzas) into free verse. After her term as editor of The Dial (roughly 1925-29), once she knew that her syllabic stanzas were acceptable, she began to focus on the content of the poem, perhaps counting herself among those who sought to convey beliefs and images via rather self-conscious forms, such as Zukofsky and other objectivists. In 1935, the return to the earlier, five-stanza version in syllabic verse took place under the editorship of T. S. Eliot, who advised discreetly at a very great distance. If these revisions suggest her changing roles—first as discovered poet, then as a colleague among poets, then as an editor, then as a major poet in her own right—the last revision of "Poetry" suggests her final status, achieved over a period of fifty years, as a major modernist.

Even prior to the revision of 1967, some had embraced the five-stanza version of "Poetry" as a modernist document. In The Influence of Ezra Pound, K. L. Goodwin, claiming that "her natural predilection for precise, objective description found convenient theoretical justification in Imagism, which she has practised assiduously throughout her career," declares that in "Poetry" Moore states that "poetry must be made up . . . of what is 'genuine', of 'raw material . . . in all its rawness'." Goodwin asserts that Moore distinguishes between a symbolic and an imagistic use of this material in the same way that Pound does in his article "Vorticism" (157-58). In the same vein, Jean Garrigue called "Poetry" one of the nine poems in which Moore is both "poet and critic, writing incidentally about literature in general or poetry in particular" (204). Not only is this a modernist subject, it is also a modernist treatment, in Garrigue's view establishing "a new touchstone," which "is not the old and famous beautiful and true" but the "genuine" which is, then, the "useful" (Garrigue qtd. in Unger 204). Garrigue concludes:

Seemingly straightforward, it is oblique when you look into it and complex in terms of what's left out as well as what's put in. And with its iconoclastic and reformist frankness it is upsetting a good many applecarts.

What could be more modernist?

Moore herself supplied the answer when she revised "Poetry" once again in 1967 for the first edition of her Complete Poems. She cut the poem to all but its first three lines and put a new revision of the five-stanza version in a note, retaining the notes that had come to append the five-stanza version, which became notes on a note to the three-line version of 1967. In one stroke, she transformed the poem, in one sense revealing the skeleton that had been there since 1919. As a self-conscious modernist—stubbornly resisting postmodernism—she reverted to an Imagist technique, perhaps grown overly familiar by the 1960s, revealing the image-within-the-image, and she deployed a modernist device, appending footnotes, a method that both Pound and Eliot had explored. In this context, her drastic revisions of 1967 seem at worst playful and at best an insightful homage to a mellowing tradition, all too susceptible of parody. What saves the 1967 revision of "Poetry" in this respect is its conscious, even self-conscious, regard for its sources—that revision of the original, five-stanza version, imbedded in a footnote.

In an important sense, the three-line version of "Poetry" with its elaborate, perhaps even ridiculous note, is Moore's precursor to this variorum text of the poem. Besides confirming the relationships among various versions of "Poetry" suggested by Moore's revision of it for the 1967 printing of Complete Poems, this variorum text of "Poetry" highlights what might be called the spirit or core of the poem, whatever remained intact throughout the revisionary process. It establishes that certain parts of "Poetry" never changed (if we consider the notes to the 1967 revision part of the poem): the title and the final word, "poetry"; the opening disclaimer, "I too dislike it"; a miscellany of "phenomena"; the importance of the "genuine"; and the rhetorical device of a speaker addressing an audience, an "I" and a "you," in the case of the three-stanza version the "you" suggested only by the locution "I too" and later, "we know." These elements afford a central unit to which Moore added an assortment of related pieces. But this dressing and undressing of the mannequin, so to speak, was a conscious technique rather than the attention-seeking gesture some critics have made it out to be. On the contrary, the revisions of the poem as evidenced in the variorum text appended here prove a case for "Poetry" as Moore's personal expression of her views of modernism in poetry and her own modernist method.

The revisions and what remains intact throughout the revisionary process also explain why several critical approaches, based on different versions of "Poetry," nevertheless still pertain. Blackmur's case (141-71) still has some validity even though it was based on what he had seen in 1935, apparently a revision of the five-stanza version. Frankenberg's reading of 1948 (173-77) still makes sense, though he would deny that Moore advocated modernism in "Poetry," and he does not refer to the three-stanza version of the poem also published in 1948 in Zukofsky's A Test of Poetry. Proposed in 1981, Costello's centrifugal model for Moore's creative process—the spinning out of new lines from a central core of meaning, an ongoing creative process—expresses only one view of the phenomena, from the outside looking in (228). The reader of the variorum text is at the inside, looking out, like a visitor to the Musee Pablo Picasso in Paris, gazing at various states ofDavid et Betsabee, a series of lithographs after a painting [dated 1526] by Lucas Cranach, the Picasso series dated 1947-49. Like the various states of Picasso's lithograph hanging side by side, the four versions of Moore's "Poetry" appear in the variorum text, a kind of literary museum. She never was particularly concerned to replace an early version with a new one, and in fact seems to have been quite content to allow concurrent publication of different versions. In 1934, she allowed the three-stanza version to appear in The New Poetry, although at the time she was probably at work on her revision of the five-stanza version for Selected Poems. After this five-stanza version was published in Selected Poems in 1935, the three-stanza version appeared twice more, even in a new anthology for which we may assume Moore gave permission herself since she speaks of it so fondly in 1960 in her essay, "Brooklyn from Clinton Hill" (Moore 1961). The three- stanza version of "Poetry" appeared twice (in 1948 and 1952 in Louis Zukofsky's A Test of Poetry) after the new five-stanza version of 1935, with the second printing of the five-stanza version, revised yet again, included in Collected Poems, first published in 1951. This revision of the five-stanza version appeared twice in later impressions of Collected Poems (1968 and 1975), the first of these printings appearing prior to Moore's death but subsequent to the first publication of the three-line version of "Poetry" written for the Complete Poems (1967).

"Poetry" in its many versions is also like the Picasso lithograph series of David et Bethsabee in that just as Picasso reflects upon the subject of staring in his depiction of the biblical story, Moore reflects upon the subject of poetry itself within a poem. This self-reflexive preoccupation is not exclusively the province of modern artists and authors, as Picasso's source of inspiration suggests (his lithographs are after a picture by the German Renaissance painter and engraver Lucas Cranach ), but it certainly found a place in modernism. In her essay "Subject, Predicate, Object," Moore insisted, "Form is synonymous with content" (7). The self-reflexive technique is a familiar method of all modernists, practitioners of a genre that comments upon its own conventions as a way of extending meaning beyond the scope of the literal content of a work.

We are forced to cast our net wider so as to include more than the third level of vraisemblance and intelligibility and must allow the dialectical opposition which the text presents to result in a synthesis at a higher level where the grounds of intelligibility are different. We read the poem or novel as a statement about poems or novels (since it has, by its opposition, adumbrated that theme). To interpret it is to see how its various types of content or devices make a statement about the imaginative ordering of the world that takes place in literature. (Culler 151)

In the long form of the poem, she uses the word "poetry" only twice and enlists a procession of anti-poetical substitutes to make, almost invariably, the same point, one she underscores in her final revision of the poem by cutting its size to three lines. In an interview after the publication of Complete Poems, Moore said that this revision arose from dislike of unnecessary verbal display in the early poems (Costello 25). But as Costello points out:

The two versions [the three-line version and the five-stanza version in its note] stand not as original and revision but as two alternative statements. . . . It was not her usual practice to include her variorum. If, as she says, "omissions are not accidents," the corollary may be "inclusions are intentional." (25)

She abandoned neither version, though she carefully distinguished between them.

The Imagist technique as defined by Goodwin is particularly evident in light of the printing history of the poem, which shows a gradual revelation of the core of the poem, the image-within-the-image (159). In "A Grave," the poem's core turns up in the process of composition, long-lined drafts yielding at one point to an autograph manuscript of two lines, later transformed to the line selected by Goodwin as the core of the poem, a line linking "A Grave" to its partner "When I Buy Pictures": "the sea has nothing to give but a well excavated grave." The core image shows up in "The Steeple-Jack," "The Student," and "The Hero," where the last lines take on this function. Moore seems to have gradually substituted inductive for deductive argument, a trend evident even in "Poetry's" last revision, which turned it into a three-line aphorism upon its own evolution.

Not only do Moore's exclusions result in a kind of modernist ideogram, her inclusions too are modern. Like William Carlos Williams and Hart Crane, Moore advocated a place for all types of experience in "Poetry," carrying this belief to the same extreme as had Pound and Eliot. The notes to the poem constitute another modernist inclusion, as do those of T . S. Eliot (Goodwin 162-63). She approached this task, however, with ambivalence, expressing her misgivings about the notes in Observations in letters to T. S. Eliot:

Here are the notes which pertain to the material recently sent you. They could be reduced further, or omitted if that would be best, and I would say this with respect to the notes on recent work given Mr. Morley. Despite the extreme amount of conscience I seem to have shown, in preparing the 1924 book I think I was erratic, or somnambulistic; it looks to me, that is to say, as if I had "quoted" things that were my own, and as if I had taken from you the titles, Observations, and Picking and Choosing; (16 May 1934, Rosenbach)

and to her brother:

Everything is very cheerful and convenient except that I am irked greatly by having to type the notes for my poems. They seem jejune & careless in some ways & this is a bugbear for me but soon it will be out of my paw. (16 May 1934, Rosenbach)

Though she reveals two sources for "Poetry" in the notes to the five-stanza version, she chose not to document at least eight other sources. In her notes, Moore gives the sources for the phrases "business documents and school-books" and "literalists of the imagination" (see the appended variorum text). Yet the sources she left out of her notes are no less significant.

For example, the famous opening phrase, "I, too, dislike it" appears in notes Moore copied from The Notebooks of Samuel Butler (London, 1912) not long before she wrote "Poetry." The passage sets forth Butler's encounter with Silvio, a young boy who "knew a little English and was very fond of poetry." Moore altered the first line to read "Silvio (on Wordsworth)" in her transcription of this passage:

"And you shall read Longfellow much in England?" 

"No," I replied, "1 don't think we read him very much." 

"But how is that? He is a very pretty poet." 

"Oh yes, but I don't greatly like poetry myself." 

"Why don't you like poetry?" 

"You see, poetry resembles metaphysics, one does not 

mind one's own, but one does not like anyone else's."

("On Disliking Poetry" 10)

The source gives the poem's opening phrase a new dimension, for it applies to the would-be poets as well as to those who simply "dislike it," another suggestion of the way the poem is designed to speak to a group of Moore's like-minded literary friends.

She took another phrase from a clipping from the Spectator (London) for 10 May 1913 in which we find the source for the phrase "the raw material of poetry / in all its rawness." The clipping is of a review by "C" of a work entitled Ancient Gems in Modem Settings by G. B. Grundy. It is an edition of the Greek Anthology. "C" asks how it is that despite the artificial and commonplace matter of the writings, they still charm discerning readers:

The reasons are not far to seek. In the first place, no productions of the Greek genius conform more wholly to the Aristotelian canon that poetry should be an imitation of the universal. Few of the poems in the Anthology depict any ephemeral phase or fashion of opinion, like the Euphuism of the sixteenth century. All appeal to emotions which endure for all time, and which, it has been aptly said, are the true raw material of poetry. ("On Raw Material" 10-11)

The phrase seems to have informed the content of the poem: there is nothing arcane about the content of the poem in any of its forms, even though the poem speaks to a varied, and in part a very sophisticated, audience.

That Moore neglected to cite a particular source did not mean that she was unaware of her indebtedness or of the phrase for which she was indebted. This is demonstrated in a letter she wrote 18 May 1950 to college student Thomas P. Murphy, who had asked her to explain what she meant by "the genuine" and how she felt about free verse, the rules for which he thought the poem "Poetry" set forth:

I meant by the genuine, a core of value-expressed in whatever way the writer can best express it. Like you, I prefer rhyme to free verse; I like a tune and I feel that one should be as clear as one's natural reticence allows one to be. The maximum efficiency of expression in poetry, should be at least as great as it could be in prose; certainly, one should be natural. The reversed order of words seems to me poetic suicide. We put up with it often for the sake of some preponderant virtue but it is always disaffecting—to me—except as an archaic effect sustained with an artistry as exacting as the opposite effect could be sustained. ("The Genuine in 'Poetry'" 14-15)

At the end of the letter, she reiterates, stating that the poem is "expressed in whatever way the writer can best express it." That she should define the "genuine" as the "core of value" is also significant, particularly in light of the poem's revisions, since the final, three-line version ends on the word "genuine" and contains the "core of value" of the poem in its longer version, what has been called the ideogram of the poem, the image-within-image (Goodwin 159). Thoughts such as these expressed in 1950 may have led to the dramatic revision of 1967, which drastically altered the entire poem.

Other concealed sources for phrases in the poem were Moore's conversation notebooks and, by extension, her conversations with fellow poets, friends, and her family. In the notebooks, we find verbatim a phrase from a line that was eventually dropped from the later versions of the poem, "we are not daft about the meaning" (1250/23, 40 Rosenbach: "Alfred Oct. 12, 1916 I am not daft about the meaning"). The notebooks also contain phrases that were retained, at least in the longer versions: "hands that can grasp" ( 1250/24, 35 Rosenbach) and "we do not admire what / we cannot understand" ( 1250/24, 30 Rosenbach). Since Moore occasionally cites a conversation in her notes, why doesn't she cite these? The same might be said about sources embedded in her reading notebooks and lifted from obscure places. It is true that she never claimed precision for her notes and seems to have supplied them under duress. Whether published or suppressed, they are very unlike Pound's or Eliot's, and bear the imprint of Moore's own eclectic tastes and idiosyncratic style. It is not surprising, then, that the notes constitute her most emphatic send up—and demonstration—of modernist technique.

In her note to the poem "Poetry," she emphasizes the place for the five-stanza version; it belongs in the place for those things that came before the finished poem, its sources. By giving the note an archival function, she allowed it to become a cue to her readers, telling them how to react to her latest venture into unconventionality. In this light, the revision and its appended note are hardly frivolous. For Moore, this change was loaded with meanings, and the note tells us that she intended the revision to have meaning for readers as well, and not just shock value.

WORKS CITED

Blackmur, R. P. 'The Method of Marianne Moore." The Double Agent: Essays in Craft and Elucidatio. New York: Arrow Editions, 1935.

Bogan, Louise. "American Timeless." Quarterly Review of Literature 4 (1948): 151.

Braithwaite Papers, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Costello, Bonnie. Marianne Moore: Imaginary Possessions. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1981.

Culler, Jonathan. Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics, and the Study of Literature. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1975.

Daiches, David. The Novel and the Modem World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1939.

Dial Papers, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

Frankenberg, Lloyd. "The Imaginary Garden." Quarterly Review of Literature 4 (1948): 173-77.

Garrigue, Jean. "Marianne Moore." American Writers: A Collection of Literary Biographies. Ed. Leonard Unger. Vol. 3. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1974.

Goodwin, K. L. The Influence of Ezra Pound. London: Oxford UP, 1966.

Hoffman, Frederick J., Charles Allen, and Carolyn F. Ulrich. The Little Magazine: A History and a Bibliography. Princeton: Princeton UP , 1946.

Jack, Peter Monro. "A Book of Selected Poems by Marianne Moore." Rev. of Selected Poems by Marianne Moore. New York Times Book Review, 28 Apri11935: 2.

Kreymborg. Alfred. Troubadour: An Autobiography. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1925.

Marianne Moore Papers, Rosenbach Museum and Library, Philadelphia.

"MM Surveys English Literature, 1914-1920." The Marianne Moore Newsletter 4 (Fall 1980): 13.

Moore, Marianne. "Brooklyn from Clinton Hill." Vogue, 1 August 1960, p. 82, as quoted in A Marianne Moore Reader. New York: Viking, 1961, p. 185.

---. "'New' Poetry since 1912." Anthology of Magazine Verse for 1926. Ed. William Stanley Braithwaite. Boston: B. J. Brimmer, 1926.172-79.

---. Predilections. New York: Viking, 1955.

---. "Subject, Predicate, Object." Christian Science Monitor, 24 December 1958: 7.

Nitchie, George. Marianne Moore: An Introduction to the Poetry. New York: Columbia UP, 1969.

Shankar, D. A. "The Poetry of Marianne Moore." The Literary Criterion 5 (Winter 1962): 147.

Tomlinson, Charles, ed. Marianne Moore. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1969. Williams, William Carlos. The Autobiography of William Carlos Williams. New York: Random House, 1951.

[Willis, Patricia C.] "On Disliking Poetry." The Marianne Moore Newsletter. 1 (Fall 1977): 10.

---. "The Genuine in 'Poetry': A Letter from Marianne Moore." The Marianne Moore Newsletter 5 (Fall 1981): 14-15.

---."On Raw Material." The Marianne Moore Newsletter. 1 (Fall 1977): 10-11.

Zukofsky, Louis. "Program: 'Objectivists' 1931." Poetry 37 (February 1931): 26.

[Ed. Note: See the original essay for a 16-page variorum edition of the various versions of Moore's "Poetry" and an extensive publication history.]

From Marianne Moore: Woman and Poet. Ed. Patricia C. Willis. Copyright © 1990 by the National Poetry Foundation, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

Pamela White Hadas: On "Marriage"

 

FIGHTING AFFECTIONS

MARRIAGE

Unhelpful Hymen

Truly as the sun

can rot or mend, love can make one

bestial or make a beast a man.

        Thus wholeness—

wholesomeness? best say efforts of affection—

attain integration too tough for infraction.

                    ("Efforts of Affection")

MARIANNE MOORE'S "MARRIAGE" begins with superb lack of passion, on the far abstract end of the continuum of meaning that reaches between it and dream. It is a purely verbal consideration:

This institution,

perhaps one should say enterprise

out of respect for which

one says one need not change one's mind

about a thing one has believed in,

requiring public promises

of one's intention

to fulfill a private obligation.

Enter Adam and Eve, not as immediate protagonists, but as absent mentors who, having been the first to propose conjugal bliss, so the myth has it, might have some useful observation to make. Their answer is of course entirely a matter of our own imaginations. It is really we who are asked to reflect on the glint of a wedding ring and some cynical words drawn from Francis Bacon. Not love, but an "enterprise," is the center of attention as the poet wonders

                what Adam and Eve

think of it by this time,

this fire-gilt steel

alive with goldenness;

how bright it shows—

"of circular traditions and impostures,

committing many spoils,"

requiring all one's criminal ingenuity

to avoid!

Moore's quotation of Bacon, so aptly placed for rendering the symbol of love into an image of social greed, and the eternal circle into an image of unprogressive self-interest, applies as much to a style of writing and speaking as it does to the life style of prospective husbands and wives. Social mores, ingenious in the enshrinement of the original felix culpa, must be fought with like ingenuity. What Adam and Eve might think of it is certainly no consolation.

The "hand" that is offered the reader in "Marriage" is, like the hand offered in marriage described by the poem, "impatient to assure you" that its groping is free of obligation. Whatever they say, though, both poet and lover know that this is not true. The poet beginning an ambitious poem is not unlike the applicant for marriage in that there is an obligation to fulfill at least one's own definition of a plausible poem, and at most to make a lasting and public union of words and sense. The applicant for marriage is squeezed between the danger of uncontrollable affection, something alive with goldenness which requires criminal ingenuity to obtain as well as to avoid, and a certain abstract bondage to universal meaning. To maintain a balance between the inner irrationality and the outer reasonableness of any such "enterprise" leads almost inevitably to a moral strain; it is perhaps this strain, more than any other, that holds the fragments of a life, a marriage, or a poem together.

Late in the poem "Marriage" someone is quoted as saying:

"Married people often look that way—

seldom and cold, up and down,

mixed and malarial

with a good day and a bad."

Marriage is a strain. A poem of more or less loosely "married" images also looks a bit "mixed and malarial," with a good line and a bad, according to its various mental predispositions, chance associations, arid a certain amount of unconscious fastidiousness. Part of the strain of "Marriage" is due to the intended comprehensiveness of it despite the knowledge, or intuition at least, that such an enterprise is to be necessarily incomprehensible in the end. What Allen Tate has said about Hart Crane's poem The Bridge is splendidly true of Marianne Moore's "Marriage." He is speaking of the image or central idea of "bridge"; we can easily substitute "marriage."

Because the idea is variously metaphor, symbol, and analogy, it tends to make the poem static. The poet takes it up, only to be forced to put it down again when the poetic image of the moment is exhausted. The idea does not, in short, fill the poet's mind; it is the starting point for a series of short flights, or inventions connected only in analogy—which explains the merely personal passages, which are obscure, and the lapses into sentimentality. . . . Crane's difficulty is that of modern poets generally: they play the game with half of the men, the men of sensibility, and because sensibility can make any move, the significance of all moves is obscure.

"Marriage" is obscure for these reasons, for the brevity of its insights and the lack of smooth transitions between them. The poem is true to the "conscientious inconsistency" of the mind described by Moore in "The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing"; it is a poem that describes the poet's mind with as much faithfulness as it describes what is in the poet's mind. "Marriage" is constantly changing tones, seemingly in response to itself, its own inner need to leave an unsatisfactory phrase or unexplainable or unenlargeable image. Clearly Moore thinks of "marriage" not so much as an event as a set of attitudes toward a hypothesis. It is centrally concerned with mental, not physical actions, and it leads eventually to a marriage within one mind of its various attitudes toward marriage rather than to a marriage of different minds.

Moore's initial picture of Eve, for instance, marries the old my thy attractiveness with a very peculiar mental ability:

Eve: beautiful woman—

I have seen her

when she was so handsome

she gave me a start,

able to write simultaneously

in three languages—

English, German, and French—

and talk in the meantime;

This Eve gives us a start, too, but not because of her alleged handsomeness. Moore's note on this passage refers us to an article in the Scientific American entitled "Multiple Consciousness or Reflex Action of Unaccustomed Range." We are done with Eden. Babel is behind us. Finnegans Wake is before us, unwritten as yet, a threatening potential of multiple consciousness turned literary. Eve is modern and it is her mind, the incomprehensible comprehendability of it, that attracts us. But if amazing Eve is busy scribbling and talking at the same time, relying on unconscious fastidiousness, we suspect, as she could not possibly be thinking of everything "equally positive in demanding a commotion / and stipulating quiet," where is there room for dense old Adam? He enters the room of the poem and of the scribbling Eve when we are not looking; he is an unwelcome "visitor." "I should like to be alone," says preoccupied Eve,

to which the visitor replies

"I should like to be alone;

why not be alone together?"

A modest proposition, surely. On the surface it is good natured enough, or pleasantly devious. Any second thought about it, though, is sure to be made uncomfortable with its glibness, vulgarity, and sad presumption with regard to what could be a sacred human relation. There is an insidious remoteness and literally embarrassing sentiment in the proposal of being alone together. It is all mildly funny, too, but the poem, resisting its own impulses with a vengeance, glances suddenly back to Eden and seriousness, as it was seen to glance for just a moment near the beginning, at a live goldenness. Here, despite a warning given earlier that "psychology . . . explains nothing," we are offered a psychological reason:

Below the incandescent stars

below the incandescent fruit,

the strange experience of beauty;

its existence is too much;

it tears one to pieces

and each fresh wave of consciousness

is poison.

We welcome the new inspiration and relief from the offhand proposition that immediately precedes it, but are we to welcome the news that each such fresh wave is poison? Although sudden beauty saves us from the poetic sterility of "alone together," it transports us to the only slightly more poetically fertile ground of being alone alone, savoring a disjunction of senses that we know is poison.

From affectation to affection, in poem after poem, Marianne Moore writes, or seems to write, in self-defense against this poison. At the same time she cannot help seeking it out. She may remind one of the small animal, observed observing, in her poem "An Octopus,"

the victim on some slight observatory,

of "a struggle between curiosity and caution,"

inquiring what has scared it.

This is a "victim" not only of some hidden predatory thing in man or in nature, but of its own struggle between the instinctive desire to know and the fear that by venturing out to know, it will be known. In the poem "Marriage," no matter how much the mind wants to be alone, there is the very existence of "Adam" to contend with. Adam is tantamount to a world; he is the general "other" as well as the particular "other" who is dangerous to the self precisely because he is equipped by beauty to invade it, because he may not remain quite "other" enough.

And he has beauty also, it's distressing . . . a crouching mythological monster.

The "beauty" in "Marriage" seems always to be crouching and waiting for a chance to break in and overwhelm the careful cerebrations, the witty satire, the pure descriptions, in short, all the defensive maneuvers, the silences, the necessary restraints.

In The Philosophy of Literary Form, Kenneth Burke assures us that

when you begin to consider the situations behind the tactics of expression, you will find tactics that organize a work technically because they organize it emotionally. . . . Hence, if you look for a man's burden, you will find the principle that reveals the structure of his unburdening, or in attenuated form, if you look for his problem, you will find the lead that explains the structure of his solution.

The burden of the poem "Marriage" is one with the witty confusions (read con-fusions) of style in the poem. The poet, in presenting her broad subject in a way that is so willfully confusing, is also stipulating a kind of solitude. The woman of "multiple consciousness" defies "psychology" to explain her abilities.

Psychology which explains everything

explains nothing

and we are still in doubt.

She should like to be alone. It is possible that in solitude the poet finds the complexity of consciousness, and its ability to change energy states like an excited electron, less frightening. "In the Days of Prismatic Color" is a poem that considers the fine clarity of the world "when Adam was alone." Alone he is able to perceive things clearly and with no obscurity, as a green thought in a green shade perhaps. The entrance of Eve is not an explicit event in this poem, but we are made to know that when Adam 's solitude was lost, so was his uncomplicated vision. Admit the presence of an "other," explain or try to explain yourself and exactly how you see things, and all becomes complex, obscure.

The obscurity in Marianne Moore's vision of marriage lies in attempted explanations that are highly personal and shared only through "efforts of affection" not quite equal to affection. The obscurity, the single self confronting another with marriage in mind, says to the reader in each unprepared-for leap of sensibility, "I should like to be alone." But here we are, and the poem, pulled in the direction of silence by its desire for solitude and unapproachability, is acknowledging us in every image restrainfully given over to language. It is also daring us to make at least equal efforts of affection on its behalf. It is an effort of communication, an uncomfortable one. Nevertheless, in that discomfort is a real truth about the human predicament. We can never have the occasional comfort of affection, of the beautiful image that strikes love in us, without the pain of reaching out, offering something too personal for words, in words, in other words, and in yet other words.

"Marriage" begins with Adam and Eve. The poem is "about" a mythical situation. Without telling us the whole story, it makes jerky guesses pertaining to the meaning of it. This reflects the critical modern quandary of a literature that is over-conscious of itself. The question we are expected to ask of literature is not an absorbed "what happens next?" but a beard-stroking "what does it mean?" Each fragment has its burden. Each must signify. Divorce—between absorption in a mythic story and detached analysis of its parts—is written into the engagement.

"Mythological statements lead to questions," observes Elizabeth Sewell. Whether the statements really do precede the questions as Sewell's phrasing would have it, or vice versa, it is true that in Moore's poem "Marriage" both are present and are connected causally, however casually. We do not want to see the same old Adam and Eve go through their old routine, we want to know what they think about our own blundering imitation of it. We want to see them respond to our myth. We imagine their responses in our own fears and hesitations, desires and aggressions, and last but not least, rhetorical persuasions.

The poem "Marriage" may be seen as a rhetorical response to the idea of marriage, to the myth of confrontation between man and woman, a man and woman who may be asked to stand for opposed forces in general. The "Eve" and " Adam" of the poem are each imagined in the separate rhetorics of each, their separate self-persuasions and persuasiveness. Underlying all the rhetoric, however, we are always aware that there is a question as motivation. And the one affirmative answer, "I do," is never given.

"Unhelpful Hymen!" the poet exclaims near the center of the work, after giving us images of the beauty and monstrousness and triviality of marriage. "Hymen," that purely mythical tissue, that rhetorical ploy, cannot solve the insoluble elements of "Marriage." "Hymen" is described as

a kind of overgrown cupid

reduced to insignificance

by the mechanical advertising

parading as involuntary comment,

by that experiment of Adam's

with ways out but no way in—

the ritual of marriage,

augmenting all its lavishness.

The "criminal ingenuity" of "mechanical advertising" replaces childlike dreams with those of adult-infantile cupidity. Simple self-expression learns calculation and the art of seeming to be what it has lost by calculation, the artlessness of being itself. The poet has no choice but to fight fire with fire. The poem "Marriage" parades as "statements that took my fancy which I tried to arrange plausibly" (Moore's first note on the poem). Actually, it is forced to partake of the same evilly conscious rhetorical techniques that it damns. It courts us, woos us with the propaganda of poetry, wants to bond our senses to it for life. It is greedy for our affections. There the difference begins. Moore wants our affections not for a material greed which goes beyond them, and not for a social-commercial commitment, but for a spiritual and moral commitment. We cannot escape the original greed of Adam's experiment, but we can recognize that it was a greed for life and love and not twist those things to mean aimless possessiveness and a willingness to be possessed.

If Moore's cynicism throughout the poem seems excessive, we might note that cynicism, although not always so witty, is a part of every mythic quest and every quest for meaning. Adam and Eve mistrust their creator and accept the cynical rhetoric of the serpent; Psyche turns her light on what should be dark, and loses what is central to her life; the Red Cross Knight abandons Una and tends to believe the rhetoric of Despair. All these stories illustrate the moral strain of life itself. There is something right and realistic about what all of them do, even when they are broken, having broken their words. Words are made to be broken, and some of the tentative answers to mythical questions have to be informed by the consciousness of evil in order to make new words, new promises, new lives, and new poems for ourselves.

Moore's allusion to "mechanical advertising" follows kind and lovely images of affect-dazzlement of apple and nightingale and fire. Her crafty alternations are analogous to the reversals and surprises that must be a part of any narrative quest. Here the "victim" of reversals, the "hero" of the "story," is the reader insofar as she lets herself be involved. If we are not involved by the very technique of the poem, in other words, then we are doomed to read a story without character and without point. "Marriage" is boring for those with no "way in" to the myth. Life can be boring for the same reason.

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.

                        . . .

and moreover my mother told me as a boy

(repeatingly) 'Ever to confess you're bored

means you have no

 

Inner Resources.’

 

(John Berryman, Dream Song #14)

Berryman confesses, for the moment of this song, that he is bored, and that this is the reason. It is a warning (among other things) to the reader of modern poetry, whose "inner resources" are constantly in demand in the reading of poems that come close to the confusions of life, confusions which, when we cannot meet them with "inner resources" or find a "way in" to the myth, we are quite ready to ignore or to dismiss as "boring." If we believe that "the mind is an enchanting thing," we must admit that its inconsistencies and confusions, inseparable from most of its most interesting functions, are by no means the least of its enchantments. Nevertheless, in the interests of integrity, the poet presenting such confusions must not herself be confused, as the poet presenting us with his boredom must not, in the writing itself, be bored or boring. "Unconfusion submits / its confusion to proof," says Moore in "The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing," and the burden of the "proof" lies with the reader, the observer of the mind and the life of the mind.

"Good art never bores one," says Ezra Pound in the preface to The Spirit of Romance. "By that I mean that it is the business of the artist to prevent ennui; in the literary art, to relieve, refresh, revive the mind of the reader—at reasonable intervals—with some form of ecstasy, by some splendor of thought, some presentation of sheer beauty, some lightning turn of phrase—laughter is no mean ecstasy. Good art begins with an escape from dullness." Marianne Moore accepts this responsibility and proves it in the technical brilliance of the poem "Marriage," a technical brilliance that illuminates confusion, controls it, and presents it as central to life and the decisions one must make about it. She pays her readers the compliment of trust in their inner resources. She does this by never explaining or visibly pontificating; by sharing carefully selected and suggestive facts, quotations, and images without enslaving them to a single vision; by never staying too long with one of these, and by never forcing an issue. She assumes that we have an interest in the way our minds leap between mundanity, ecstasy, and humor and that we can bear the tension of never quite coming to a conclusion. She assumes that we do not find life boring.

If in all the reversals and surprises of the poem, the accumulations of words around a single magical image, or in suddenly changed pace the reader feels she is approaching a climactic statement of some kind, something that will suddenly make all the pieces fit into the puzzle, she will be disappointed. "Marriage," like life, presents anticlimax after anticlimax with only slight build-up and, significantly, no climax at all. There is no "I do" in the poem, no consummation, and by the time we do catch a glimpse of an actually married couple they are already seen to be preparing for divorce. In the essay "Feeling and Precision," Moore comments on the madness behind this method:

Intentional anticlimax as a department of surprise is a subject by itself; indeed, an art, "bearing," as Longinus says, "the stamp of vehement emotion like a ship before a veering wind," both as content and as sound; but especially as sound, in the use of which the poet becomes a kind of hypnotist—recalling Kenneth Burke's statement that "the hypnotist has a way out and a way in."

The poet's technique is not superadded to an enchanting story. It is an enchantment in itself in its provision, not of continuity, but of a continuous and (if we can allow ourselves to submit to it as we would to the continuity of dream) hypnotic tension.

According to Marianne Moore's intentionally anticlimactic summaries of marriage up to the point of the Hymen passage quoted earlier, Adam's experiment has "ways out but no way in— / the ritual of marriage, / augmenting all its lavishness." That is, the ritual aspects of marriage, in providing and perpetuating a kind of false and lavish substitute for the largesse of the relinquished garden, only make the original sin more contemptible, not necessarily more bearable. Hymen—the myth of Hymen—is unhelpful unless we are capable of reevaluation. The poem "Marriage," with its ability to withdraw from the mythical situation and to disdain the "way out," mythical escape from real consequences, makes a new myth in the process of examining itself. It has a "way in" to an interior reality and the devious workings of the mind that make myth attractive and necessary in the first place.

Manipulation by sound is used as a "way in" with the same "criminal ingenuity" in poetry as it is used in advertising, but with quite a different moral intent. The rough sound of "insignificance," "mechanical advertising," and "involuntary comment" wakes us from the trance of "unnerved by the nightingale / and dazzled by the apple"; it spoils the illusion with a purpose. A matter mainly of the arrangement of long and short syllables, of consonance and assonance, it is a "way out" of the illusion of Eden or a childhood paradise or whatever fine nostalgic fantasy one would dream oneself into. Technical manipulation is a "way out" as Adam's tasting the fruit of consciousness was a "way out." Paradoxically, it is also a "way in," as only through this kind of withdrawal from illusion can one retrieve a precise understanding of it. Only the Adam who does not willingly give up Paradise in favor of the enchantments of mortal and moral confusions, the Adam who once he is forced out tries to imitate a lost lavishness and convince himself it is the real thing, has no "way in" to the meaning of the myth. It may sound melodramatic, but it is true: the meaning of the myth contains, like the flower its seed, the meaning of Adam's existence.

Treading Chasms

Marianne Moore's style and structuring of poems is what provides for her the balance between the fight to be affectionate and the fight not to be. It is for this that the paper nautilus "constructs her thin glass shell." She guards her "eggs," scarcely eating until they are hatched:

Buried eightfold in her eight

        arms, for she is in

        a sense a devil—

fish, her glass ram's-horn-cradled freight

        is hid but not crushed.

The poet's "freight" is the substance of her poems; they will hatch as the tentative communications that come from efforts of affection. Feelings, in Marianne Moore's scheme of things, must be hidden but maintained whole in hiding. Their existence, more than any other force, dictates the form and beauty of the shell that holds them. Perhaps this is why the typical man and the typical woman who seek each other and each other's feelings in marriage must use, at least in Moore's poem "Marriage," the careful rhetoric they use, and why the poet must arrange her poem so as neither to express too early an unformed and unprotected feeling nor to deny the loving motives that underly and oversee the finished form.

The poet may have the appearance, in jumping from image to image, of a ship veering in the wind, like the cruising frigate pelican "allowing the wind to reverse [his] direction," "quiver[ing] about / as charred paper behaves—full / of feints," but the apparent aimlessness is important; it reflects the true character of wind, wings, and words-an end that is not at all aimless. The poem "Marriage" veers in the wind, so to speak, on both rhetorical and psychological levels; this is one of the things that makes the poem "work." The poet no more makes her cynical comments on the lavishness of the false rituals of marriage, than she must be off again, with extraordinary lavishness of her own, describing it with images of eccentric beauty:

its fiddlehead ferns,

lotus flowers, opuntias, white dromedaries,

its hippopotamus—

nose and mouth combined

in one magnificent hopper—

[its crested streamer—

that huge bird almost a lizard,] *

its snake and the potent apple.

 

*(bracketed lines in 1923 Manikin edition only)

Henry James, speaking of "men of largest responding imagination before the human scene," notes that they provide generous mixtures of the two tones or attitudes toward experiencing the world that James calls the romantic and the real. "His current," says James, "remains therefore extraordinarily rich and mixed, washing us successively with the warm wave of the near and familiar and the tonic shock, as may be, of the far and strange." Certainly the poem "Marriage" is evidence of this sort of "largest responding imagination before the human scene." In it we are given the most realistic, not to say prosaic, view of marriage at the outset ("an enterprise . . . requiring public promises / of one's intention / to fulfill a private obligation") and we are given as well the "tonic shock" of strange beauty below incandescent stars and incandescent fruit where "each fresh wave of consciousness is poison." The "real" says James, is composed of "things we cannot possibly notknow," and the romantic or strange, of "things that can reach us only through the beautiful circuit and subterfuge of our thought and our desire." The word "subterfuge," associated here with desire, seems particularly apt with respect to the work of Marianne Moore, for many of her most beautiful images seem to come, not through the conscious fastidiousness that informs her observations of the "real," but through that unconscious fastidiousness which lets certain "efforts of affection" bloom into real longing. The lavishness of exotic detail in the Persian miniature that she describes at one point in "Marriage," for instance, is a desired extravagance. In the very remoteness of its fantastic animal-figures and jewels from "real" life is hidden the remotest (to common sense) and the nearest (to sensibility) object of the imagination—the "crouching mythological monster" that is seen to be Adam himself. Or Love, or Evil. In " An Octopus" Moore describes the mysterious bear's den "composed of calcium gems and alabaster pillars / topaz, tourmaline crystals and amethyst quartz" where the bear, unseen for all this extravagance, is known to lurk. The danger is not dangerous when it is hibernating in such dreamed beauty. The mythological monster is never fully revealed; what is revealed in Moore's poetry inspired by him is the primal desire for excess and love that escapes her everyday ascetic attitudes toward marriage and life. The greediness that she despises is a greediness that she knows, as we all must know it, from self-inspection.

One finds in Moore's calculated alternations between lavishness and stoicism, "rigid fidelity and the most fanciful extravagance" (to use Hazlitt's words concerning Burke's style), a coincidence of moral and psychological responses to the possible richness of experience. Whether it is called, with moral prejudice, "the garden of earthly delights," or, with psychoanalytic prejudice, the "nurturing other," the reader must have an affection for it, as Marianne Moore herself does. One must have both moral and psychological defenses against the hunger and the affection, however, as well as ways of expressing both. The questions and the statements Moore presents us with by first indulging and then damning material and verbal extravagance embody her method, make up the "story" that almost, but never quite, answers the mythical quest for meaning. When the artistic defenses become too rigid, one begins again "the fight to be affectionate" as in "Marriage." One must begin the fight over and over, as one loses it.

Thus Eve must be introduced, and introduced again, as she loses her original brilliance and, chameleon-like, takes on a new but still transitory brilliance.

"See her, see her in this common world,"

the central flaw

in that first crystal-fine experiment,

this amalgamation which can never be more

than an interesting impossibility

describing it

as "that strange paradise

unlike flesh, stones,

gold or stately buildings,

the choicest piece of my life:

[I am not grown up now;

I am as little as a leaf,]*

the heart rising

in its estate of peace

as a boat rises

with the rising of the water."

 

*(bracketed lines in 1923 version only)

In this rather long description of Eve describing paradise in Richard Baxter's words, there are actually two descriptions of paradise—the one the poet sees surrounding Eve, surrounding "the central flaw," and the paradise within her. Outside of her it is disaffected, or disinfected, by intellect and abstraction; it is an "experiment," an "amalgamation," and "interesting impossibility" (a good description: incidentally, of the poem "Marriage" itself). Within Eve, Paradise or "marriage" is associated with nostalgia for childhood, "the choicest piece of my life." But there are problems beyond inner and outer paradise in this passage; there is a central flaw deeper than simple Eve.

Eve is "in this common world" describing marriage as a strange "paradise" (an idea she picked up from "mechanical advertising" most probably) or quality of soul that is unlike material wealth. She describes it as "the choicest piece of my life." We have assumed she refers to a real childhood on the basis of the lines later removed, but there is another possible reading, also based on the excised lines but more closely connected with the rest of the poem. Later on the woman, the "she" of the lovers' debate, is described in rather unfavorable circumstances and in a nasty tone by the "he" of the debate as "uniquely disappointing, / revengefully wrought in the attitude / of an adoring child." In the earlier passage we hear only Eve's thoughts on the matter, in which the idea of marriage seems to remind her of being a child. This makes her heart rise exactly as Richard Baxter describes the hearts of ambitious and covetous men rising in the passage from which Moore quotes to supply her Eve with words. Could it be that her "innocent" heart rises with the expectations of what she will get by marriage, by returning to weak dependency? One suspects that Moore certainly thought so. Seen in this cynical light, the loveliness of the passage partakes of the "circular traditions and impostures/ committing many spoils" that were part of Moore's initial definition of marriage. If the lines specifying childhood are removed from the passage, the connection is lost. For better or for worse?

In Marianne Moore's own retreat from beauty that "tears one to pieces" (a retreat which is at least partially distinct from Eve's), we note that she first pulls back to the safety of abstraction, in the description of Eve's outward circumstances, then allows a measure of release in giving us her inner perceptions of "paradise." We are, in this reflection of Eve's, still safely removed from the place where consciousness itself is poison. The Eve of this common world needs this safety, for she is

constrained in speaking of the serpent—

shed snakeskin in the history of politeness

not to be returned to again.

Because Eve cannot speak of the serpent, she reminds herself of childhood, when one is ''as little as a leaf," free from consciousness that can kill, and ignorant of the potency of the apple. Marianne Moore, however, often speaks of the serpent, which in one poem she describes as

This animal which from the earliest times, importance has attached,

fine as its worshippers have said—for what was it invented?

To show that when intelligence in its pure form

has embarked on a train of thought which is unproductive, it will

        come back?

("Snakes, Mongooses, Snake Charmers, and the Like")

"There is something attractive about a mind that moves in a straight line," as Moore observes in "People's Surroundings," but there is a remedy for, as well as something attractive in, one which does not. The snake was "invented" so that we can, when thinking scatters itself (as it so consistently does in Moore's poems and in the reading of them) come back to snakedom as to a basic premise, a hidden principle of consciousness, of life and evil. For instance, when one sets one's "intelligence in its pure form" a task, such as defining so broad a thing as "marriage," and when one finds oneself talking instead about somebody or other's ability to write in three languages simultaneously and the unproductive paradise of childhood in which you are a vegetable and there is no serpent to speak of, one finds oneself returning to intelligence in a less pure form, a kind of ur-intelligence of images. The dazzling image throughout Moore's work more often than not comes back to a simple and dangerous consciousness of the identity of beauty and evil in the snake or some related animal-the chameleon in "People's Surroundings" for example. Possibly more central than Adam to the various hypotheses of the poem "Marriage" is the serpent that constrains us.

The encounter between Eve and the evil beauty of serpentine intelligence is referred to in the poem as "that invaluable accident/ exonerating Adam." This allusion to Eve's seduction is a little resentful, but mostly witty, as is the "shed snakeskin in the history of politeness." The humor relieves the tension underlying Eve's attraction to "the strange experience of beauty" that will tear her to pieces. It begins with Adam:

And he has beauty also;

it's distressing—the O thou

to whom from whom,

without whom nothing—Adam;

"something feline,

something colubrine"—how true!

a crouching mythological monster

in that Persian miniature of emerald mines,

raw silk-ivory white, snow white

oyster white, and six others—

that paddock full of leopards and giraffes—

long lemon-yellow bodies

sown with trapezoids of blue.

Adam is so distressingly beautiful, and Eve's dependence on him so utter, that he must, like a god, be seen in the mystery of creation that surrounds him to be seen at all. We cannot look at him directly. Adam's being swallowed up by this particular Persian miniature characterizes one aspect of all of Marianne Moore's poems; in her the experience of intense beauty inspires both fear (of her own seduction by it) and praiseful wonder, and she summons all creatures here below to help her, to help her conceal and control her feelings through their own artful armorings and their lending of them to her. Animals and the art of others help her praise the origin of an individuality that cannot be explained, but that must be proved. Art provides a necessary retreat from the feline and serpentine beauty of Adam, specifically from his sexual attractiveness. Sublimation is the fate of this poet, whose fate is con-fused with verse :

Alive with words,

vibrating like a cymbal

touched before it has been struck.

The crash never comes, but the instrument lightly agitated keeps trembling out a message of possibility. It is a possibility that could not help but call attention to itself among the rest of Moore's orchestration, her "tuned reticence with rigor" that belongs to her "Propriety."

The image of vibration in the touched cymbal is attributed to the words of someone who "has prophesied correctly," but the reader is left in doubt about the prophecy itself and the person who made it, and the passage in quotation marks is not acknowledged in the notes.

Alive with words,

vibrating . . .

he has prophesied correctly—

the industrious waterfall

"the speedy stream

which violently bears all before it,

at one time silent as the air

and now as powerful as the wind."

The stream, related to the Pierian spring perhaps, is, in all its violence, the same stream that at another time was quiet. The latent power of the stream is analogous to the latent power of still air, which as wind can be felt. This power is analogous to the latent power of sound in a vibrating cymbal, or the latent power of words that, as prophecy, can become truly enacted. It encompasses possibilities within realities. Verse can become fate. "The power of the visible is the invisible" ("He 'Digesteth Harde Yron"'). The associations that these ideas of latent power have with marriage are made clearer by the statements that caught Moore's fancy in presenting the second proposal scene in the poem:

"Treading chasms

on the uncertain footing of a spear,"

forgetting that there is in woman

a quality of mind

which as an instinctive manifestation

is unsafe,

he goes on speaking

in a formal customary strain,

of "past states, the present state,

seals, promises

the evil one suffered,

the good one enjoys,

hell, heaven,

everything convenient

to promote one's joy."

 

The first proposal was a simple "Why not be alone together?" This, its "formal customary strain" more apparently calculated and seriously thought about, nevertheless has similar dramatic and ironic elements. We as readers have information about Eve's mental qualities—in the first such scene they were the freak ones of "multiple consciousness" that allowed her to write in three languages with both hands and talk at the same time, and here they are informed by sinister instincts connected with the garden of Eden and a childish greed. Into such hostile or unsafe atmosphere comes the man with his inept proposals. He is persistent here, though his proposal may seem to go off in many different directions at once—heaven, hell, past, present, and everything convenient, coming together. Moore, by quoting Hazlitt on Burke's style in this passage, is commenting on the style of the proposal and on the style of the poem as a whole. Because it contains such an important double commentary, here is the quoted passage and environs from Hazlitt:

Burke's style is airy, flighty, adventurous, but it never loses sight of the subject; nay, is always in contact with and derives its increased or varying impulse from it. It may be said to pass yawning gulfs "on the unsteadfast footing of a spear": still it has an actual resting place and tangible support under it—it is not suspended on nothing. . . . The principle which guides his pen is truth, not beauty—not pleasure, but power. He has no choice, no selection of subject to flatter the reader's idle taste or assist his own fancy: he must take what comes and make the most of it. . . . It is all the same to him, so that he loses no particle of the exact, characteristic, extreme impression of the thing he writes about, and that he communicates this to the reader, after exhausting every possible mode of illustration, plain or abstracted, figurative or literal. . . . The most rigid fidelity and the most fanciful extravagance meet and are reconciled in his pages.

One can easily see how this praise of Burke can be turned into a rationale for the poem "Marriage," which does proceed by fancy and by "exhausting every possible mode of illustration, plain or abstracted" in offering us its hand. And we have seen how it does not cater to the reader's natural idleness. The man proposing marriage within "Marriage" does not flatter the idle tastes of the woman to whom he speaks, either. He is like the writer who assumes his readers must admire him because of the integrity he knows is inside himself. Marianne Moore makes fun of this, but it is also something which the writer or suitor or reader must believe in order to go on.

In the situation at hand, then, the suitor continues his little lecture without seeming to be aware of the woman's mental state, which is, like his, one of lonely calculation. So he goes on talking to himself, unaware that he is on dangerous ground with respect to her and that there are chasms between them which his rhetoric barely crosses, "speaking/ in a formal customary strain" which has to do with customs that are a strain for both of them. We feel it is the woman in the poem—the mental Eve—who appreciates the wit of "everything convenient" in his talk of good and evil, heaven and hell. For her, joy is different than for him. It is from her point of view that his joy is mocked in the following passage:

In him a state of mind

perceives what it was not

intended that he should;

"he experiences a solemn joy

in seeing that he has become an idol."

Is this really what he sees or what he is made to think he sees by the "masked ball attitude" ("Nothing Will Cure . . .") in her, an attitude that is instinctive and self-destructive.

Marianne Moore abandons this particular irony for a different level of consciousness in this "Adam" in which his mental state is taken much more seriously; and it is, as are all the most emotionally charged insights of the poem, conveyed by image rather than by verbal wit or abstract rhetoric.

Plagued by the nightingale

in the new leaves,

with its silence—

not its silence but its silences,

he says of it:

 

"It clothes me with a shin of fire."

"He dares not clap his hands

to make it go on

lest it should fly off ;

if he does nothing, it will sleep;

if he cries out, it will not understand."

Efforts of affection are efforts of communication and this Everyman has chosen to appeal to a creature who, although she may be able to understand many languages simultaneously, cannot seem to understand or respond to his language. The situation is similar to one Moore presents in "Half-Diety," where a butterfly, conscious that a "nymph" is pursuing it, proves to be inaccessible to her efforts of affection toward it; the butterfly is "indifferent to her. Deaf to ap-/ proval." The nightingale is, like the butterfly, or the unicorn, a creature of "miraculous elusiveness" ("Sea Unicorns . . .") ; it is hidden and silent where visible and affirmative responsibleness is most fervently desired of it. The pursuer of this elusive creature knows that it will be frightened by too obvious a gesture, yet will ignore him if he makes no gesture at all.

Later in "Marriage" the man is described as an "orator," master of rhetoric, skillful but of questionable sincerity; there is no real or personal communication between him and the lady he importunes. Whims and studied effects cannot compose themselves into a whole; perhaps "Marriage" is partly about the divorce of poetry and prose. Both bad poetry and bad prose, or whimsical arbitrariness and sterile rhetoric, are meant to appeal to the psychology of the auditor, as advertisement and cliché do. But calling the prospective or actual husband "orator" looks not just to the ironic scene of private argument or imprecation, but beyond that to the culminating figure of the poem, Daniel Webster, an orator who failed to make a "marriage" work between civil warriors. "Marriage" becomes more and more a poem about political America at the same time as it is a critique of the personal lives of Americans.

The man, despite his being on stage, an "orator," has deep feelings that lessen our possible contempt for him. The following presentation of "Adam" balances Eve's meditation on paradise quoted earlier.

Unnerved by the nightingale

and dazzled by the apple,

impelled by "the illusion of fire

effectual to extinguish fire,"

compared with which

the shining of the earth

is but a deformity—a fire

''as high as deep

as bright as broad

as long as life itself,"

he stumbles over marriage,

"a very trivial object indeed"

to have destroyed the attitude

in which he stood—

the ease of a philosopher

unfathered by a woman.

Unhelpful Hymen!

The vision of the nightingale—a creature of myth in its own right—and the apple, which in this context is the apple of dazzling and poisonous consciousness identified with Eve's accident, creates in the aspiring suitor the illusion of an eternal love, "compared with which/ the shining of the earth is but a deformity." It is the highest illusion possible; it defies the precision of a certain woman's freak multiple abilities, of the definitions of paradise as "crystal-fine experiment" and "interesting impossibility," and of the particularization of shades of white in the Persian miniature. It may be the highest possible illusion, but it is still only illusion. It is the shocking irrelevance, or perhaps it is relevance (the issues are so mixed on this level), of this image of desire, of "fire effectual to extinguish fire" that jolts the poem back to the relative clumsiness of wit and verbal precision. The suitor "stumbles" over the reality of marriage, over the realization that it is not a legalization of his affection for his own images of desire but legalization on an earthly plane, "a very trivial object indeed"; and somehow—he cannot understand how—this trivial object is able to destroy the ease of his imaginings and his narcissistic philosophy of eternals. His extravagant desire was "unfathered by a woman." She obviously can "father" nothing. He has fathered his vision himself, plagued by her uncanny silences.

Just as the "O thou/ to whom from whom,/ without whom nothing—Adam" was at the center of the "emerald mines/ raw silk—ivory white, snow white/ oyster white, and six others—/ that paddock full of leopards and giraffes," Adam is at the center of the ritual of marriage with its ferns, flowers, prickly pears, dromedaries, hippopotamus, crested bird-lizard, snake, and apple. The hippopotamus is described specifically as a huge mouth, a "magnificent hopper," and this is, perhaps, one of the most germane images in "Marriage"—the mouth that needs to be filled—with vows, with irony, but most important, with beauty and love. We have seen how Moore extends and retracts, extends and again retracts the feelings of her poem. She will envision a scene, be filled with it, and make us passive in looking at it (i.e., we do not act upon it intellectually, ask is this true, are giraffes "sown with trapezoids of blue"?); she will then turn against this instinct for beauty and mock it with words that require from us, as well as from her, an active intellectual evaluation.

In the following passage from "Marriage" the Manikin edition is used because it contains lines, indicated by brackets, that the other editions do not possess and that in my reading of the poem are significant. (One might speculate that they were taken out because their private significance was greater than their artistic contribution to the poem; but one can contend, too, that they are poetically justified.)

["When do we feed?"]

We Occidentals are so unemotional,

[ we quarrel as we feed;

one's] self [love's labor] lost

the irony preserved

in "the Ahasuerus tête-à-tête banquet"

with its small orchids like snakes' tongues,

with its "good monster, lead the way,"

with little laughter

and munificence of humor

in which "four o'clock does not exist,

but at five o'clock

the ladies in their imperious humility

are ready to receive you";

in which experience attests

that men have power

and sometimes one is made to feel it.

"When do we feed?" is a slyly vulgar question at this point in the poem. It is a barbarian talking, surely, or a husband demanding service. The animal-monster and the prospective husband are not always separable, and the gratification of food is not always far from that of the marriage bed. It is a more jocular than affectionate communication, and it leads to the observations which follow, on the prearranged meetings of men and women over food. Dining, which could be an intimate and serious mutual occupation between husbands and wives, is called "feeding," is denied grace and communion. The "quarrel as we feed" is perhaps the only communication, and is engaged in for its own sake. The "quarrel as we feed" may also be a witty but not complicated slur against those whose tastelessness in love is brought to table; or it may be a quarrel with the food itself, fighting against what one knows one needs, as a poet may fight her own images.

The line "one's self love's labor lost," which is shortened in subsequent printings to "self lost," has, in its original willful ambiguity the tone of preoccupation with one's own language that Moore makes fun of in the language of the lovers throughout the poem. One's self is one's greatest labor of love, of course, and it is a labor in vain. There is no real love left, or no self, but there is irony, the irony of having unwittingly made one's efforts of affection in the wrong direction.

The "Ahasuerus tête-à-têtes banquet" is a reference to the story of Esther (chaps. 5-7) and the two banquets she prepares to give Haman his just desserts. Ironically, Haman feels himself to be specially favored by the royal attentions the first night, only to be hanged upon the second. The small orchids with snakes' tongues are Moore's own sinister decoration of the banquet table; we know her attitude toward feasting together and betrayal. Esther's story emphasizes the power a wife may have over her husband while he still retains the illusion of freedom. The quotation from The Tempest, "Good monster, lead the way," is associated with Esther's banquet by virtue of the scene in which it occurs. In this scene (Act 11, scene ii), it will be remembered, Stephano and Trinculo discover Caliban, get him good and drunk, and enlist his services in their scheme. Caliban, poor monster, under the influence of their spirits,. thinks mistakenly that he has found new freedom whereas he has merely found new bondage. "O brave monster, lead the way," ends the act, and the next act opens with a love scene between Ferdinand and Miranda wherein she offers to be his wife, or servant, however he is willing to take her—another example of bondage exchanged for a new bondage. The "monster" has led the way; feasting, drinking, loving, one must beware.

The feast is set "with little laughter/ and munificence of humor," much as the gems of warning are set into the poem "Marriage." We do not laugh at the ironies, but they have a "quixotic atmosphere of frankness" that makes us smile to ourselves as we imagine the civilized gentlemen and ladies at their tea. The ladies who serve it have "imperious humility" because they know the men have the real power and because they have learned in their own way how to manipulate it. Only sometimes is it felt. The whole passage beginning with the uncivilized "When do we feed?" and progressing through time and literature—from the Bible to Shakespeare to a dissertation on La The (by the Comtesse de Noailles)—attests to the fact that the obligation to satisfy one's own body and to serve another's are inseparable in life and ritualized by art.

In this passage, as in most of Moore's poems, the conscious fastidiousness of the rhetoric of the sequence and the unconscious fastidiousness of the motives behind it are equally thorough. The close association of the tête-à-tête banquet, the drunk monster, and the affectatious tea, is not unlike the "condensation" of dreamwork. Kenneth Burke, in "Freud and the Analysis of Poetry," argues that poetry uses such phenomena as "condensation" and "displacement" as dreams do, and that poetry is therefore susceptible to the kind of analysis that is applied to dreams. "In so far as art contains a surrealist ingredient (and all art contains some of this ingredient), psychoanalytic coordinates are required to explain the logic of its structure." The "psychoanalytic coordinates" of the passage just discussed, and perhaps of the whole poem "Marriage," would seem to be on one hand the desire to be satisfied, to be "fed" and treated royally, as if one had power; on the other hand, we have the coordinate of fear of betrayal, enslavement, and physical injury to which any intimacy with another human being makes one vulnerable. It is summed up in "the spiked hand/ that has an affection for one/ and proves it to the bone." The "displacement" of this desire and this fear is, as is characteristic in Moore's poetry, raised to the level of art—the Old Testament, the Elizabethan play, and the western tea ceremony—and to the level of occasions where people get especially dressed up and speak in carefully calculated phrases which invariably mean something other than they seem to mean. Sublime sublimation.

Next we overhear a debate between a "he" and a "she" which shows superlative lack of mutual understanding.

He says, "What monarch would not blush

to have a wife

with hair like a shaving brush?"

The fact of woman

is "not the sound of the flute

but very poison."

In other words, if she must be at all, she must be beautiful; but it would be even better if she were invisible and inaudible. This little speech shows Moore characteristically using negatives to introduce associations as extraordinary as possibilities. If she is not getting ready to symbolically castrate him with her shaving-brush hair, she will poison him with her decidedly unflute-like assaults on silence. What he would like is something sublime and artistic, not physically embarrassing and humanly noisy.

She answers his rebuke with one of her own:

    "Men are monopolists

of 'stars, garters, buttons

and other shining baubles'—

unfit to be the guardians

of another person's happiness."

This observation, Moore's notes tell us, is taken from a Mount Holyoke Founder's Day address (1921) in which Miss M. Carey Thomas goes on to say that these "baubles" are "so valueless in themselves and yet so infinitely desirable because they are symbols of recognition by their fellow-craftsmen of difficult work well done." This does not seem to convey the insult intended by Moore's woman's statement. The Holyoke address, furthermore, reads, "men practically reserve for themselves," not "men are monopolists of," the latter being much more definitely denunciatory. Moore is outdoing her sister feminist as well as paying tribute to her.

"He" is allowed to rally, though, with a stranger insult than he has received :

He says, "These mummies

must be handled carefully—

'the crumbs from a lion's meal,

a couple of shins and the bit of an ear';

 

turn to the letter M

and you will find

that 'a wife is a coffin,'

that severe object

with the pleasing geometry

stipulating space not people,

refusing to be buried

and uniquely disappointing,

revengefully wrought in the attitude

of an adoring child

to a distinguished parent."

The physicality, and it is not a sheer but a dense one, of his perceptions of woman is meant to be appalling. These "mummies" are delicate, for they exist only as the leftovers of a lion's meal. The quotation is from the book of Amos (III, 12): "Thus saith the Lord; As the shepherd taketh out of the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear; so shall the children of Israel be taken out that dwell in Samaria in the corner of a bed, and in Damascus in a couch." Now what makes Moore think of this particular verse of Amos in connection with marriage? The passage in Amos has nothing in it about marriage, but it is about punishment for transgression, the punishment being to be all but eaten by the metaphorical lion of Assyria. The remains from the lion's meal are moral remains, and they must be retrieved from the beds and couches of the Samarians. One commentator on the Bible suggests that the morally despoiled people are found in the corners of beds because they have grown to love the evil luxury of soft cushions; another suggests that they are there out of cowardice, hiding with only legs and perhaps an ear showing. In the context of Moore's poem we think of the marriage bed, of course, but this is not the sort of bed anybody thinks Amos had in mind—except her.

What is the speaker's interest in "mummies?" Is he simply talking to himself about some archeological interest apart from women, or is he suggesting that these "mummies"—mothers?—are like the horribly evil remains of women after the "lion" has satisfied himself? Can we see in the lion a continuance of the animal and monster imagery in the rest of the poem? This would be to see him as the pursuing lover. Can we connect the "meal" with the other references in the poem to feeding? "But questioning is the mark/ / of a pest!" ("For February 14th"), and these may be too monstrously leading.

If the lion's meal is not enough to convince us that we are on dangerous ground when debating marriage, we can "turn to the letter M"—for Marriage, Murderousness, Moore?—and find Ezra Pound's claim that "a wife is a coffin." She is, in fact, less than two shins and an ear; she is an "object," a "geometry," a "space" unaccommodating of living people. You would like to bury her like a coffin, but unfortunately she is only like one, and in reality is a dependent object "wrought in the attitude of an adoring child." The remains of passionate wickedness, the helplessness of a child—what compliment can the "she" of the debate return?

She says, "This butterfly,

this waterfly, this nomad

that has 'proposed

to settle on my hand for life'—

What can one do with it?

There must have been more time

in Shakespeare's day

to sit and watch a play.

You know so many artists who are fools."

There is "munificence of humor" in this transition, and considerable irony. He speaks of lion 's hunger, and death, and ponderous object-worship, with allusion to punishment by an angry God, and she comes back at him with butterflies and waterflies, nomadic and undependable creatures.

The lady is obviously flustered. She is almost muttering to herself when she says "What can one do with it?" "It," not "him"; he is an object to her as she is an object—no more—to him. She goes on to speculate on what two people can do together. Go to a play? One can only guess why she thinks there was more time in Shakespeare's day. Perhaps she believes that if one did have time one would find out enough about the trials of love not to want to try it out oneself. Or that one would find out enough about writing plays to be more than just a foolish artist. It does not matter much; she may be stalling for time, filling her part of the conversation with whatever occurs to her, as if she were free-associating. It is practically her last freedom.

When the lady criticizes the proposing or imposing gentleman for having so many foolish artist friends, he immediately retorts that she has foolish friends who are not even artists. I suspect this is one of the "statements which took Moore's fancy" that is inserted into the poem merely for the delight of it. We may think of it as an overheard and remembered conversation. Here ends the "debate,"

The fact forgot

that "some have merely rights

while some have obligations,"

he loves himself so much,

he can permit himself

no rival in that love.

He cannot let anyone love him more than he himself does, but it doesn't matter, because she feels the same way about herself: "she loves herself so much,/ she cannot see herself enough—." "She" sees herself as an object in a household of objects,

a statuette of ivory on ivory,

the logical last touch

to an expansive splendor

earned as wages for work done.

She believes she deserves this fate, and she does. Moore caps this little aside on the utter barrenness of narcissistic enchantment with a moral: "one is not rich but poor/ when one can seem so right." One that does not question one's position has no way into the meaning of the myth. These people are poor in their self-satisfied segregation from each other. The "vermin-proof and pilfer-proof integration/ in which unself-righteousness humbles inspection" that Moore indicates would be welcome in "Efforts of Affection" would be welcome here.

A Striking Grasp of Opposites

What can one do for them—

these savages

condemned to disaffect

all those who are not visionaries

alert to undertake the silly task

of making people noble?

Lovers are "savages" in Marianne Moore's book because of their primitive self-interest. The "savage" asks, "When do we feed?" and, as we see in the poem "Marriage," this savage sentiment is only thinly disguised by such civilized ceremonies as tea at five o'clock precisely. We recall that Moore has said first of all in the poem "New York" that it is "the savage's romance." The city is the center of the fur trade, commerce, excessive materialism, and has a "dime-novel exterior" which she imagines as portraying "Niagara Falls, the calico horses and the war canoe"—in other words, honeymoon sentimentality, animal-wildness, and battle. Not that she objects to these things unequivocally, but she does make fun of all of them as they are related to "Marriage." In the end, "New York" is seen as important not for all these qualities but for "accessibility to experience." This is also one importance of courtship and marriage and all thought about these, but does not make them any less a "savage's romance."

The "savages" must inevitably alienate all those who see the world plainly and unenchantedly, "all those who are not visionaries." "Visionaries" is an extravagant word here and, I think, meant to strike us as funny and impossible—like "Marriage"—impossible that a "visionary" would want to undertake the task of making ordinary and narcissistic people into noble and true lovers, to go so far as to see them as Adam and Eve. The only "visionaries" who would undertake it are the politicians, like the Daniel Webster of dubious morals with whom "Marriage" will end, or those visionaries who make up the "mechanical advertising" that sells Bride magazine and home insurance, and we know what their visions are. But Moore's "Marriage" is an American poem about American-style marriages, and we have been blessed with many visions of low nobility. There is another breed of visionaries however—visionaries in the sense that Moore might be said to be one—those who see the "rock crystal thing", or at least know that it is there to see. These will not be alert to the "silly task." They will produce instead the witty commentary called "Marriage" and save vision for the pangolin or plumet basilisk.

Up to this point the poem "Marriage" has been about the uncomfortable preliminaries, the initial attractions, self-interested courtship, and mutual abominations. We skip the marriage ceremony itself and come next upon a glimpse of the couple after they have been married a while:

This model of petrine fidelity

who "leaves her peaceful husband

only because she has seen enough of him"—

that orator reminding you

"I am yours to command."

The words which describe this "model" wife are, Moore's notes tell us, taken from an advertisement in the English Review of June, 1914 (actually the English Review Advertising Supplement), for new Paris fashions. The advertisement is mostly descriptive of new tissues and colors and shapes of bodices and other "elegancies," except for Madame Puget's one indulgent condescension to women of bad taste, and it is revealing of Marianne Moore that she was enough struck to enshrine this piece of prose in a poem fashioned eight or nine years after.

    Now everything has changed, without any other reason than "for change." Thus proceed pretty dolls when they leave their old home to "renovate their frame," and dear others who may abandon their peaceful husband only because they saw enough of him.     The worst is that the alteration is far to be a success. The elegant of 1914 are actually hoisting a few horrid imaginations that one must declare, and try to ruin under the weight of their own ridicule.     It is first the coiffure in the shape of a pumpkin which uncovers foreheads and lengthens occiputs.     The "Simple Simon" collar with its absurd long points.     The flounces and different engines which play an anker's effect round the middle of the body.     And then the awful evident little drawers.

Clearly Marianne Moore fancied this sort of "advertisement" with as much enthusiasm as she felt for the need to ridicule such things. This double feeling—curiosity and fantasy about the richness of a fallen world and simultaneous disdain—corresponds with her feelings toward marriage itself and toward her own poem about it. On one level, she regards courtship as no better than a "mechanical advertising" of the self. In "Armor's Undermining Modesty" she quotes an advertisement put out by a publishing firm which seems ambivalent in its intent to mock. In "The Arctic Ox" she says, in a lighter vein, "If you fear that you are/ reading an advertisement,/ you are." Neither women nor strong native attitudes of any son can make true and workable marriages of different styles—that of freedom and bondage, New York and Paris, evident underpants and modesty—with mere rhetorical rufflings. Poems, which are also a kind of advertising of the self, cannot do it either. The point is that advertisement, the often deceptive rhetoric of change, is central to affectation as well as to affection, meaning to stir and invent no more than the illusion of affection.

Moore is both in and out of sympathy with Noras who slam the door. If they had not lei themselves be so easily carried over the threshold in the first place such scenes might be avoided altogether. Fashion and marriage along with most social attitudes are centrally pretense; they are awful-ly attractive. Awe-fully. "Certain white crapes embroidered with coloured cotton wool," remarks Madame Puget in the same article from which Moore quotes, "are fascinating when they are new, but the effect is deceitful after washing." Moore is constantly aware of this danger of "style" and may not always be able to avoid it herself, despite the "criminal ingenuity" that at the beginning of the poem "Marriage" she attributes to both social impostures and means of avoiding them (poetry being one of the latter).

One sees that it is rare—

that striking grasp of opposites

opposed each to the other, not to unity,

which in cycloid inclusiveness

has dwarfed the demonstration

of Columbus with the egg—

a triumph of simplicity—.

"That striking grasp of opposites" is a concisely humorous way to de- scribe the relationship of Moore's model marriageables—her Adam and Eve, her poetry and prosy rhetoric, her ideas of freedom and bondage, her own feelings and the things she "quotes." All are striking out at each other in the poem "Marriage" as well as striking us. "Striking" is associable with aggressiveness and attractiveness both, as is the "spiked hand/ that has an affection for one" that occurs earlier in the poem. And the "grasp" may be one of affection, or bondage, or abstract understanding. And the "opposites"—well, they are, both abstractly and particularly, "opposed each to the other, not to unity," which is to say they are, and they aren't. They tend most strongly, though, to the protection of abstraction, the first abstract view of "Marriage" as "this institution/ perhaps one should say enterprise."

This unity in its "cycloid inclusiveness" makes other explorations, other "sciences," look insignificant. Columbus, when challenged to make an egg stand on end, realized he had to break the shell, and sacrifice wholeness to do so. To Moore's way of thinking, making a marriage stand solidly also requires sacrifice, and to a much more complicated degree. The poem itself stands on broken ends, for to pretend that anyone perception about her subject could be perfectly conceived as an egg would be less than honest. Columbus is also invoked because of his discovery of America, and if we see this as a poem that comes to be about America as well (the "integration" of North and South), we see that Moore is comparing Columbus' discovery in its relative insignificance to the discovery of a first love, each leading in its own way to the quarrels of compromise, and of settling in. "Marriage" shows us the New World with all its paradisal illusions unveiled, its unnoble savages having tea at five o'clock and calculating spoils, its bickering Adams and Eves submitting to each other's serpentine logic.

In Moore's anti-epic, Columbus' important discovery was not of the roundness of the world, but discovery of a joke with cynical implications, the discovery of gravity, and of "uniting strength with levity" ("The Frigate Pelican"). Moore breaks the myth of "Marriage" to make it stand up; it is done with style and an air of innocence, acquisitiveness and wit, a willingness to sacrifice meaning without sacrificing moments of accuracy.

She sees

that charitive Euroclydon

of frightening disinterestedness

which the world hates,

admitting:

"I am such a cow,

if I had a sorrow

I should feel it a long time;

I am not one of those

who have a great sorrow

in the morning

and a great joy at noon."

"That charitive Euroclydon" is identified syntactically with "that striking grasp of opposites"; it is another metaphor for love that is rare, that has both destructive and constructive qualities. Euroclydon is the name given to a tempestuous wind, which in Acts 27 threatens the lives of Paul and other prisoners as they sail near Crete. An angel of God comes to Paul and explains that the men will be saved but the ship will be wrecked, the connection with "Marriage" being, one must suppose, that the tempestuous wind, like love and wars fought for love, is both charitive and dangerous. The wind, like a tempestuous emotion, has a "frightening disinterestedness" or may seem to by virtue of its blindness; the world hates this wind because it is a force which cannot be controlled with human reason. The allusion to storm and shipwreck is not surprising in connection with what Moore feels to be dangerous and attractive—we may see the image invoked by her to represent unconscious emotion in many different poems. Again, if this poem is "the vestibule to experience" of an American "epic" and we are approaching civil war, the "charitive Euroclydon" is the wind that will wreck the ship of state.

This rare thing, this love of unified opposites and storm of simultaneous charitiveness and disinterestedness must be hated by a world that cannot accept paradox. It must see marriage, or any other enterprise, as either bountifully good or bountifully bad. This world, which cannot accept the simultaneity of joy and sorrow, of freedom and slavery, admits, "I am not one of those/ who have a great sorrow/ in the morning/ and a great joy at noon";

which says: "I have encountered it

among those unpretentious

protégés of wisdom,

where seeming to parade

as the debater and the Roman,

the statesmanship

of an archaic Daniel Webster

persists to their simplicity of temper

as the essence of the matter:

'Liberty and union

now and forever';

the Book on the writing table;

the hand in the breast pocket."

The war is over, but the rhetoric and the sorrow persist. The "statesmanship" of a Daniel Webster, as far as the simple masses of Americans are concerned, is the essence of the wise democracy that spawned and protects them. He is part of our tradition. The essence of Webster's statesmanship was, however, less than a moral success. Moore uses the word parade at one other point in the poem, also placing it strikingly, where "mechanical advertising" is seen "parading as involuntary comment." Devious rhetoric is an American tradition. Daniel Webster had complete mastery of the rhetoric of resistance and secession; he had celebrity; he had plenty of money and plenty of power. He said, as if it came as naturally as leaves to the trees, "Liberty and union, now and forever," and died. His statue remains, and the sorrow of disunion remains, in this peace of art.

The cowlike world admits its unrelieved state of unhappiness, admitting it is not in its nature to change from sorrow to joy. Neither divorce nor civil war will bring instant cure to a family or country whose union was brought about in the first place through selfish verbal manipulation. Is there, somewhere behind this confession of the "world," the sentiment that worldly things and a heavy, cowlike existence are inextricably bound to long sorrow and that joy is to be reserved for some unearthly place, not the noon of everyday, but the Noon that Emily Dickinson sees as Heaven? The poem "Marriage" is permeated with the wickedness of mundane aspirations, the most thoroughly pessimistic work Marianne Moore ever produced for public consumption. It admits the attractiveness of earthly affection, of the idea of love, of the possibility of a new world, a paradise that "works," but love is damned in every instance by false affection, by affectation and insincere speeches, by the "savage's romance." Marianne Moore does not say that there is another kind of love in this poem, unless it is love of art; but the earthliness, the "faulty excellence" of this love too is undercut, here as in other poems of hers.

"Marriage" appeared in 1923, one year after T. S. Eliot had shown the literary world what could be done with a fragmented experience in The Waste Land. An extraordinarily long poem for Marianne Moore to have written, running to ten pages in the Complete Poems, it was first brought out by the Manikin Press in London (was it thought to be unacceptable in America?) as a book in itself. "Marriage" is seldom, if ever, mentioned in connection with what have come to be known as the standard long poems or neo-epics of the present century, including The Waste Land, the Cantos, certain long poems of Stevens, Crane's The Bridge, and Williams' Paterson. Though Marianne Moore's "Marriage" is not as flamboyant as some of them, not perhaps as painstakingly conceived (though one may have doubts about this), or as successful, it shares with these poems certain origins in late nineteenth-century (French) and twentieth-century poetic speculations, and certain "originalities"—disjunctiveness, obscurity, implied criticisms and cynicism about modern society, a free combination of poetic styles. The relations these poems bear to each other and to literary and social traditions are expressed not by logical or continuous argument, but by glancing allusions and sly parataxis. It is helpful to think of Moore's "Marriage" in relation to these poems, as an experiment partly influenced by other experiments in poetry and partly by the social and literaryZeitgeist that influenced them all. She refers both to marriage and to Adam's mishap as "experiments," and almost certainly she considered her poem as a similar consciousness-expanding experiment. Experimenting is, after all, something one does when one is not satisfied with the way things are and wants to find something better; an experiment is also often a bid for power, whether it occurs in Eden or in a fallen world.

"Marriage" may be seen as a woman's bid for power in a man's world, or a poet's bid for power in a prosaic world. Yet "Marriage" was never acclaimed as the men's experiments were. It was perhaps felt too strongly that a woman could not propose it. When she did, there was an embarrassing silence. Somebody blushed to imagine "a wife/ with hair like a shaving brush." Years later T. S. Eliot chose to admire "The Jerboa." Marianne Moore is best known for her elegant and eccentric descriptions of harmless animals. Her passion was for baseball. No one until lately has thought of her in connection with marriage. But enough of that.

All the long poems produced in and about America in the modern period, in addition to what they were trying to "say" about the state of the external world, say something also about highly personal states of being. Their very "original" confusions and inturnings of sense seem somehow purposeful and necessary to the poets' own lives as well as to the poets' observations upon the disorder of the human community. The institution of marriage, certainly, is as flexible an image for the joining of disparate elements, in self or society or both, as is the bridge, the growth of a city-man, a general quest in a wasted land, the journey of a comic Crispin or blue guitarist. The concept of "marriage" is as abstract as the basic concepts of any of these. The poem "Marriage," proposes, as the other long poems do, to investigate rather abstractly, through all its imagistic and rhetorical particulars, the possibility of joining, of making sense of bits and scraps of experience—a past there, a present here, and so forth. These go forth to some implied future and have no small pretensions to a kind of prophecy. Whether it is the clairvoyance of a Madame Sosostris, the babble of the falls in Paterson that contains history and prefigures the future, or the statue of the failed statesman at the end of "Marriage," all look to some difficult future, some further fall of man which, like past falls, may not be without its rewards (mainly for sensibility, one suspects), but which is somehow without epic, or even true or traditional poetic dignity.

So, after the long-range ineffectiveness of everything, what is left? "The statesmanship/ of an archaic Daniel Webster" seems to be all. The victim of lingering sorrow in Moore's poem says, "I have encountered it." Love? The grasp of opposites? The birth of a nation? The God-exploited storm? The sorrowful world has encountered a language of "cycloid inclusiveness," as the sorrowful poet has, which can transform hopeless complexity into simple statements, a language that can arrange marriages between entities that are as fundamentally opposed as North and South. The summary: "Liberty and union/ now and forever." Liberty is not union and now is not forever, but one can say it; it sounds nice and people want to believe it, and they do. They even say "I do." Marianne Moore, a Secretary of State in her own right, as Daniel Webster was in his, finds this remarkable, and the poem "Marriage" may be regarded as her series of remarks on this very peculiarity of language, its ability to persuade.

I find the last two lines of "Marriage" devastating in their anticlimactic oddness and complacency: "the Book on the writing table;/ the hand in the breast pocket." After all that! After a poem of such strange complexity, after all the wit and the rich allusiveness and elusiveness of style, we are left with a cold statue, paralyzed. The Book on the writing table is naturally the Bible. That must be all that is left if the world has failed one utterly: hypocrisy and self-satisfaction punished, heaven promised. The hand in the breast pocket is not the hand given in "Marriage," or, if it is, it has been retracted to the self in a stiff pose, for the sake of an image really. And what is in the breast pocket that the hand should go after it? Is it love, or money? If "Marriage" is to be seen ultimately as an act of statesmanship, a record of articulate language and worldly calculation, which is worth its while whether it works or not, this, I suppose, is a good way to end.

Excerpted from a longer essay in Marianne Moore: Poet of Affection. Copyright © 1977 by Syracuse UP. Reprinted with the author's permission.

Christian Reed: On "The Fish"

 “The Fish” refuses to be caught. This poem seems, on some fundamental level, irreducible to any one interpretation, “high-sounding” or otherwise. It functions as an embodiment of the poetic that cannot be collapsed into the conceptual, the philosophical, the arguable. “The Fish,” as such, functions as an exemplary poetic utterance. Attempts to reduce this utterance to the easily comprehensible always produce some remainder, always admit some error that allows “The Fish” to swim away with the bait.

Formally, as many critics have noticed, Moore’s “Fish” is very striking. The poem is composed of eight stanzas, each of which (1) has five lines, and (2) follows the rhyme scheme a a b b c and (3) the syllable count 1, 3, 9, 6, 8. This triple-mark of order is not immediately apparent; the reader’s first glance at the text suggests the disorder of lines at radically different lengths and pervasive enjambment. However, while reading, the sense of the pattern nonetheless gradually suggests itself – an experience that, as many critics, beginning with Wallace Stevens, have noticed, mimics the sensible apprehension of waves on the sea. Each stanza, like a wave, builds (in the first two lines) and breaks (in the second two), giving way for the one that follows (and repeats the same cycle). In this way, we get a poetry in which the structure of the lines, their inherent rhythm, lines up their descriptive content perfectly. The force of this utterance, under this kind of reading, derives from the special conjunction between the poem’s formal structure and the substance of its descriptions.

Although this reading of the poem does account for a measure of the poem’s power, and is important to understanding how the poem works (read, in the terms of “Poetry”: makes itself useful), “The Fish” cannot simply be reduced to this gloss. The attempt to apply this interpretive scheme to the poem inevitably produces some significant remainder, some inassimilable poetic material. For instance, the c is a recurrent remainder: if the stanza derives its structure from the wave, building (a a) and breaking (b b), the presence of the last line (c) is systematically ignored, discarded, thrown back. If the wave-like rhythm of “The Fish” marks its poetry, then the c is excluded from this poeticism. The c, of course, is a homophone for “the sea” – the very name of the image the c is being excluded from. The site of exclusion, of the remainder, then, covertly names that from which it is barred, and hence names this act of exclusion as such. The formalist reading of the poem also has no place for the title, which (as in William Carlos Williams’ “The Yachts”) is made to function as a semantic unit within this poem: “The Fish” “wade / through black jade,” (1-2). The title, then, also is a manifest remainder, an element of the poem reduced or excluded in the act of explaining the poem.

Another provocative reading of “The Fish” finds it to be “a poem about injury of wholeness, resentful but resigned deprivation,” a poem saturated with “a sense of infringement, violation, and injury,” (Hadas, MAPS). This reading embraces the poem as “the work of a thirty year old woman whose rather unnervingly cool sympathies lie with a battered and violated nature.” However, this pessimistic reading also produces a significant remainder. The critic propels herself into pessimism by reading the image of “the / turquoise sea / of bodies” (16-18) as a phantasmal image of the water an overfull grave (also as in Williams’ “The Yachts”), so that the sea is “not deliberate, not playful; not an expansive sea…” This reading captures some of the power of this image, but at the expensive of its true richness. The “sea / of bodies” seems not only to be an image of death, but also an image of flourishing, thriving, healthy life – an image supported by the emphasis on light and the play of illumination in the preceding lines:

The barnacles which encrust the side 

of the wave, cannot hide 

there for the submerged shafts of the

sun, 

split like spun

            glass, move themselves with spotlight swiftness

            into the crevices – 

in and out, illuminating

the

turquoise sea 

of bodies. …                        8-18

The “sea / of bodies” is not only a collection of physical remnants forsaken by death, but also a profusion of living, moving, embodied creatures. And so, once again, the poetic language of “The Fish” is compromised, reduced, exploited, by explanation.

This, of course, is not to say that no attempt at explanation should be made. It is more to say that many attempts should be made, that no one attempt to render - in conceptual, philosophical, arguable, language - the power of the poem can function perfectly, can avoid leaving behind some significant remainder, can avoid performing some uneasy motion by which “The Fish” manages to slip away.

Copyright © 2006 by Christian Reed

Elaine Oswald and Robert L. Gale: On "Marianne Moore's Life and Career"

She was born Marianne Craig Moore in Kirkwood, Missouri, the daughter of John Milton Moore, a construction engineer and inventor, and Mary Warner. Moore had an older brother, John Warner Moore. She never met her father; before her birth his invention of a smokeless furnace failed, and he had a nervous and mental breakdown and was hospitalized in Massachusetts. Moore's mother became a housekeeper for John Riddle Warner, her father, an, affectionate, well-read Presbyterian pastor in Kirkwood, until his death in 1894.

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