Daniel Tiffany: On "The Fish"

All 

external 

    marks of abuse are present on this 

    defiant edifice— 

    all the physical features of

 

ac- 

cident—lack 

    of cornice, dynamite grooves, burns, and 

    hatchet strokes, these things stand 

    out on it; the chasm-side is

 

dead. 

Repeated 

    evidence has proved that it can live 

    on what can not revive 

        its youth.

 

("The Fish" 32-33)

Two things about this passage (aside from its great beauty) are significant: first, the reader is deprived of any reference indicating that the phenomenon described so vividly and concretely is an animal, much less a fish. The virtuosity of Moore's observation decomposes the intuitive coherence of objects. Second, like Schrodinger's cat—though much more explicitly—the "defiant edifice," whose mesmerizing facade defies the reader's comprehension, swims in the element of adversity, thereby betraying a world of mortal danger: the animal is, to be more precise, a picture of "accident" and "abuse"—a ruin. Indeed, half of it is gone ("the chasm-side is dead"), though "it can live" on other living things. Again, like Schrodinger's cat, the creature in this traumatic (though somehow neutral) milieu is both dead and alive, "mixed or smeared out in equal parts."

Despite the wealth of visual and sensory evidence, Moore's poem does not represent a fish-object; instead, it depicts a "blurred reality," or complementary aspects of it, that resist integration into a coherent or determinate picture of physical reality. The ruined creature of Moore's virtuosity is poised between the visible and the invisible, a picture of ephemerality; yet it is also a cipher, a corporeal anagram combining social, imaginative, and material realities. In all of Moore's fables, however, the animal-cipher is born from the meticulous observations of the naturalist. . . .

From Toy Medium: Materialism and Modern Lyric. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. Copyright © by the Regents of the University of California.

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Criticism Overview
Title Daniel Tiffany: On "The Fish" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Daniel Tiffany Criticism Target Marianne Moore
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 19 Oct 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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