Elizabeth H. Davis: On "A Grave"

In nearly all transformations of syllabics, deletion disturbs the stanzas into free verse. That process is physically evident in typescripts of "To a Snail" and "A Grave."

. . .

A pivotal typescript/manuscript of " A Grave" also shows the close relationship between excision and free verse (Rosenbach I:02:14). The key syllabic draft, itself a revision, begins the same way the final draft does—"Man looking into the sea." Four types of marks are handwritten on the typescript: deletions, alternative wordings in the margins, five slash marks in the first two stanzas, and an editorial comment—"All redundant." The next draft, on another page, excludes material deleted on the previous typescript, for example, "each with an emerald turkey foot at the top"; it replaces excised material with revisions pencilled in the margin of the previous typescript, for example, "their contemporaries row across them"; and it divides the poem as free verse, following the slash marks in the first two stanzas. The remarked-on redundancy triggers the change to free verse.

Although free verse line divisions are conveniently associated with deletions on this typescript, other factors may also have influenced the revision of "A Grave." The deletions are not as numerous as is typical with Moore's other free verse transformations, two deletions totalling 29 syllables out of a 333- syllable draft, and one of those deletions is replaced with alternative lines. Yet the one real deletion, "each with an emerald turkey foot at the top," is in the middle of the cluster of five slash marks which indicate all the divisions of lines 3 through 8 in the next draft, the first free verse version. It is ironic that this deleted material, apparently so crucial in the transformation of the poem, reappears in subsequent drafts, but by that time "A Grave" was settled in its free verse format.

Also, as Holley has suggested (83), line length may be especially important in "A Grave," which has three 32-syllable lines in the first syllabic draft. In the crucial second syllabic draft, Moore divides up the 32-syllable lines, creating another regular syllabic pattern with shorter lines. The slash marks on that draft may indicate other syllabic alternatives considered while Moore reworked the line lengths. Unsettled line length may be as significant as displacement by deletion in this poem. However, when Moore breaks up the 32-syllable lines, she produces another syllabic draft with an alternative regularity. The slash marks in that second draft, clustered around the only simple deletion marked on that crucial typescript, point to the deletion as the key element breaking up the form.

From "Marianne Moore's Concentrated Free Verse: 'Starve it Down and Make it Run.'" SAGETRIEB 10.3

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Criticism Overview
Title Elizabeth H. Davis: On "A Grave" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Elizabeth H. Davis Criticism Target Marianne Moore
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 31 Oct 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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