Leonard Diepeveen: On "Moore's Use of Quotation in "Marriage" and "An Octopus""

In a longer poem with many different quotations from different sources (and different types of sources), such as Moore’s "Marriage," it is difficult to find the central voice and its strategies:

"Married people often look that way"—

"seldom and cold, up and down, 

mixed and malarial 

with a good day and a bad."

"When do we feed?"

We occidentals are so unemotional, 

we quarrel as we feed; 

self 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 humour 

in that quixotic atmosphere of frankness 

in which, "four o'clock does not exist, 

but at five o'clock 

the ladies in their imperious humility 

are ready to receive you";

This series of voices, all on the same topic, but all pulling in slightly differing directions, demonstrates why Moore's longer quoting poems are so difficult, presenting the greatest challenge to the reader who wants to find out what they "mean." In "Marriage," the fractured voices point to Moore's lack of commitment to any single position in this "anthology"; the form and number of the voices may more profoundly suggest Moore's ambivalence and lack of allegiance to the topic. By contrast, "New York"’s clinching quotation, "accessibility to experience," seems much tamer. Although the greater syntactic disjunction in The Waste Land and The Cantos more spectacularly highlights how the quotations are working at different purposes, in both of those poems and in "Marriage" the frequency of quotations similarly impinge on voice, for the large number of quotations in each poem stymies attempts to find a lyric voice. Rather than being controlled by a single strategy, the quotations seem to talk to each other.

Lengthy quotations also help create a dramatic quoting voice. The more extensive the quotation becomes, the more readers look for the poetic voice in the quotation itself, and less in the relation of the quotation to the rest of the poem. The quoted voice stays long enough to acquire complexity and establish several characteristics within itself, and so its texture can neither be easily written over by a single strategy, nor subordinated to another voice. Thus, in many of Pound's cantos in which Pound uses lengthy quotations (such as in the Malatesta cantos), many readers discover that they cannot find "Pound" in a particular quotation; they can find Pound only in the thematic relation of this quotation to the rest of the poem. By naming certain cantos after their dominant quotations (e.g., the Adams or Malatesta cantos), readers implicitly recognize this function of lengthy quotations. The voice of the quoted sources dominates the new poem.

By foregrounding the quotation's voice one establishes a dramatic rather than a lyric strategy. At the same time, the original theme of the quotation, constructed in the quotation's original world, achieves more prominence. The result? A poem such as The Cantos that uses lengthy quotations (especially from argumentative or "nonaesthetic" texts) can become didactic. Despite its free play, the lengthy quotation can take on its original rhetorical functions as it establishes the characteristics of its original world.

In contrast, the less extensive the quotation is, the more readers look for the poet's voice in the relation between quotation and the rest of the text. It is easier for the relations between many quotations and the rest of the text to have a similar texture than it is for the voices of the quotations themselves all to have the same sound. (Relations, after all, are abstract concepts, quite able to overrun extraneous detail.) The short quotation plays a part in determining the poetic voice, but it does not within itself contain the voice, for in such a small space the quotation's voice cannot establish a presence that controls the entire poem. The shorter quotation tends to have just one significant characteristic for which the poet uses it. As such, this one characteristic is often easily incorporated into the strategy of the poem, as happens when Cumming’s poetry uses advertising. As Moore's poetry demonstrates, incorporation intensifies as the syntactic connection between quotation and new text becomes smoother:

    O Bird, whose tents were "awnings of Egyptian Yarn," shall Justice' faint zigzag inscription--     Leaning like a dancer--         Show The pulse of its once vivid sovereignty?

("To Statecraft Embalmed," 51)

This use of short quotations more easily allows for the creation of a lyric voice; Moore barely allows a dramatic relationship to establish itself here.

A further method by which poets establish a dramatic voice is in the placement of the quotation. Although the quotation that ends the poem often seems to sum up everything, its presence is duplicitous. Instead of affirming the lyric voice, the ending quotation introduces dramatic instability and conflict, even in as lyric a poet as Marianne Moore:

the white volcano with no weather side; 

the lightning flashing at its base, 

rain falling in the valleys, and snow falling on the peak—

the glassy octopus symmetrically pointed, 

its claw cut by the avalanche

"with a sound like the crack of a rifle,

in a curtain of powdered snow launched like a waterfall."

("An Octopus," 103)

To be sure, the quotation--almost as an authority—neatly clinches the logic and succession of images of this poem. But the voice of W. D. Wilcox's The Rockies of Canada adds an intrusive bump to the smooth texture of this ending. Instead of validating the voice of the poem that has gone on before, the ending quotation destabilizes it. The poem's controlling voice does not return after the presence of this quotation. Partly because of its obscure origins, the ending quotation introduces a radical separation from the rest of the text, and redefines the text that has gone before. By giving this quotation the last word, whatever voice that has up to this point controlled "An Octopus" gives up some control to the quotation, especially since this quotation climaxes what has been a finale of very energetic description. In addition, given the linear structure of this particular poem, it is impossible for this quotation’s voice to control the entire poem. In "No Swan So Fine" the beginning quotation ("No water so still as the / dead fountains of Versailles") can by virtue of its position set the direction for the poetic voice that follows. In "An Octopus," however, linearity prevents the quotation from reaching back to the beginning of the poem. Neither can the voice of the poem subsume the ending quotation. The poem's voice must enter some dramatic dialogue with the quotation, in a way that it doesn't when the poet's voice herself firmly ends the poem:

If external action is effete

    and rhyme is outmoded,

        I shall revert to you,

    Habakkuk, as on a recent occasion I was goaded

        into doing by XY, who was speaking of unrhymed verse

This man said--I think that I repeat

    his identical words: 

        "Hebrew poetry is

prose with a sort of heightened consciousness." Ecstasy affords 

    the occasion and expediency determines the form.

("The Past Is the Present" 117)

Here, the ending voice is the voice of the poem. This final voice has a heavy authority, as it does in "An Octopus." Unlike the quoted ending of "An Octopus," however, the final voice does not introduce dramatic instability but closes it off. Almost inevitably, the last presence of the speaker's voice here sounds epigrammatic.

From Changing Voices: The Modern Quoting Poem. Copyright © 1993 by the University of Michigan Press.

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Criticism Overview
Title Leonard Diepeveen: On "Moore's Use of Quotation in "Marriage" and "An Octopus"" Type of Content General Poet Criticism
Criticism Author Leonard Diepeveen Criticism Target Marianne Moore
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 19 Oct 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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