Marianne Moore

(1887 - 1972)




A Grave

Black Earth (com tradução para português)

By Disposition of Angels




Poetry I

Poetry II

Poetry III


Spenser's Ireland

The Fish

The Pangolin

The Steeple-Jack

What Are Years



'It is better to be forgotten'
(Filed: 05/12/2003)

Andrew Rosenheim reviews The Poems of Marianne Moore, edited by Grace Schulman

Of the great modern American poets, Marianne Moore is almost certainly the least read. This neglect stems partly from the quirky and difficult nature of her work, but also from the lack of a comprehensive edition of her poetry. Earlier "collected" and "complete" editions were compiled by Moore herself and suffered from the fact that she was her own harshest critic. A poem such as "Poetry" was reduced by Moore from its original 30 lines to just three:


I, too, dislike it: there are things

that are important beyond all this fiddle.

Reading it, however, with a

perfect contempt for it, one discovers in

it, after all, a place for the


In this new edition, lovingly compiled by Moore's friend the New York critic Grace Schulman, "Poetry" is restored to its full glory, as are more than 100 poems that Moore had excluded altogether. The result enables us to see what a remarkable body of work she created and how much she has influenced American poetry.

Moore began as an Imagist, with a playful taste for the exotic, and the exotically titled – "Polyphonic Craftsman, Coated Like a Zebra, Fleeing Like the Wild Ass, Mourning Like a Dove" is almost as long as the poem itself. But the short poems of her juvenilia soon give way to larger, more ambitious work, much of it written while she was still in her twenties.

Her poems are closely observed, and often feature animals, birds, butterflies or specific landscapes (England, New York). Yet, like Wallace Stevens, Moore was never content with the dictum of their contemporary William Carlos Williams, "no ideas but in things", and despite her poems' emphasis on the particular, she is as much concerned with the poet's own power to invent a world as with reporting on the world that already exists.

Like Stevens, too, the poems of Marianne Moore have arguments, often difficult to follow but always worth the effort. She was unapologetic about this difficulty, saying that something that was work to write should be work to read. Her diction is often unpoetic, but a haunting kind of music can emerge, and Moore is capable of the most memorable lines, especially those that offer the cadence of aphorism but with a highly original twist of words: "It is better to be forgotten than to be remembered too violently", or the opening of "Spenser's Ireland": "Has not altered: –/ A place as kind as it is green,/ the greenest place I've never seen". And in that same poem, the adage-like "you're not free/ until you've been made captive by/ supreme belief".

Distrustful of overt emotion, Moore's poems rely on understatement and reserve to create it, as in the simple "What Are Years?", read by the ageing Ezra Pound at a memorial service in Italy after Moore's death in 1972. It closes quietly but resonantly: "This is mortality,/ this is eternity". But this gravitas is uncharacteristic. Throughout her work, Moore leavens her poems with humour – as in the wittily titled "To Be Liked By You Would Be a Calamity", or the ending of "The Arctic Ox (or Goat)":

If you fear that you are

reading an advertisement,

you are. If we can't be cordial

to these creatures' fleece,

I think that we deserve to freeze.

A resident of Brooklyn for virtually all her adult life, Moore was a passionate baseball fan, and her sports poems and friendship with the young versifier (and heavyweight champion) Muhammad Ali helped to make her a poet celebrity (she was even asked by the Ford Motor Company to supply names for a new car model). She wrote poems almost until she died at the age of 85; the later poetry is even more playful, more occasional ("A Christmas Poem"), and less good. Her best work lies in those enigmatic poems, mainly written before the Second World War, in which, as one critic noted, sensation and intelligence are equally demanded, and equally evoked.

"A good poet," Randall Jarrell once declared, "manages in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms to be struck by lightning five or six times; a dozen or two dozen times and he is great." By this lightning rod, Moore is a great poet, for there are easily more than a dozen poems of such charge in this collection. Yet her entire body work is very small – for all of Schulman's inclusiveness, this collection is dwarfed by the recent vast editions of Robert Lowell and Ted Hughes. Moore's influence has been as great as either of these poets, if rather less obvious. For Elizabeth Bishop in particular, her poetry was absolutely instrumental, and Moore's handprints fall across the work of other poets as diverse as Galway Kinnell and Richard Wilbur. Since her death Moore's effective eclipse from poetry readers' radar has meant that her most obvious presence has been in her inheritors.

With this edition, we can begin to appreciate the power and originality of her own work.



Poems        O        O        O        O

Biographies        O        O       


The Academy of American Poets

Modern American Poetry

The Marianne Moore Society



Paper Trail
The true legacy of Marianne Moore, modernist monument.

By Stephen Burt

Posted Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2003, at 8:49 AM PT 

When a book's spine says Complete Poems most readers assume the book includes all of a poet's output, or at least everything published in that poet's lifetime. Marianne Moore's poems yield a different story. Throughout her career Moore (1887-1972) revised her work meticulously, some say compulsively; the 1967 Complete Poems, which she compiled and arranged, leaves out much of the early work that first won her notice, and includes other work only in later revisions. But the Moore who in 1919 wrote the poem titled "Poetry" (which begins "I too dislike it" and contains the famous phrase "imaginary gardens with real toads") was a recent Bryn Mawr graduate, committed to her own poetry but deeply unsure about its merits; an ex-schoolteacher who had just moved to New York City with her mother; a reader of "little magazines" published abroad; and a self-declared socialist. The Moore who revised "Poetry" in 1951, and the even older poet who cut it to a mere three lines in 1967, was long ensconced in her adopted Brooklyn, a minor celebrity noted by Time and Life for her ornate hats and her interest in baseball, and a reliable Republican.

Many American poets see Moore as one of the monuments of modernism, up there with Robert Frost and Wallace Stevens (or, depending on which poets you ask, with Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein). Yet Complete Poems long remained the only book of Moore's poems consumers could purchase. In 1997 Bonnie Costello—known for her critical studies of Moore and Elizabeth Bishop—produced, together with two other editors, Moore's Selected Letters (a tough selection; Moore sometimes wrote 50 a day, and over 30,000 survive). The sparkling, informative, well-received correspondence set the stage for a Moore resurgence.

That resurgence has begun. Last year the University of California Press offered Robin Schultze's Becoming Marianne Moore, a scholarly facsimile edition of Moore's early work. With The Poems of Marianne Moore, edited by the poet Grace Schulman, the nonacademic public can for the first time view all Moore's strongest poems, in their first—or close to their first—finished states.

One of Moore's best-known poems, "Nevertheless," begins "You've seen a strawberry/ that's had a struggle." Here, one might say, are some poems that have had a struggle to find their true forms, and readers may sometimes struggle to pick the fruit of Moore's labors out from among the leaves: Schulman's edition brings together (without distinction, except in the notes) poems Moore later chose for Complete Poems; poems she included in earlier books, then suppressed; poems she gave to magazines, but did not collect; and poems she chose never to publish at all, and may have considered unfinished. Nevertheless, the fruits are, finally, here. Take "Radical," finished in 1919, revised for Observations, and unpublished since, which begins:

     to a point, conserving everything,
     this carrot is predestined to be thick.
            The world is
            but a circumstance, a mis-
            erable corn patch for its feet. With ambition, im-
                 agination, outgrowth,

     with everything crammed belligerent-
     ly inside itself, its fibres breed mon-
            a tail-like, wedge-shaped engine with the
            secret of expansion, fused with intensive heat to
                the color of the set-

     ting sun and

If other American innovators (such as Walt Whitman) offer the pleasure of immediacy, Moore offers instead the pleasure of reflection, of poems that refuse to be simpler than the world is, and that make more sense the more you reread. The young Moore worried about her poems' difficult forms: She wrote to her friend Winifred Ellerman (Bryher), "to put my remarks in verse form, is like trying to dance the minuet in a bathing-suit," and told her in 1920 that she would not publish a book of poems until she had written "some that are easy to understand and that are beyond doubt, alluring." Yet an easily alluring poem would sacrifice some of Moore's strengths. Finished in 1919—and published that year in a magazine, but never since—"Radical" describes both a carrot (a root vegetable) and a left-wing movement. The poem shows many of Moore's best features: a syntax most readers have to work to decipher; careful if whimsical descriptive phrases, marked by colliding comparisons ("tail-like, wedge-shaped"); a moral at (or near) the end. (Moore's stanzas and lines count syllables, rather than metrical feet: All four first lines here, for instance, have three syllables, and all second lines have nine.)

The young Moore used those intricate structures to think about (radical) politics—one reason the older Moore kept the poem out of print. This is, after all, a socialist poem based on a pun: This root vegetable is both conservative (it grows thick because it gives nothing away) and radical (radix being Latin for root). ("Of course we all are Socialists," Moore wrote in a letter from college in 1909, "in so far as we know economics and are halfway moral, and want clean politics.") Ripe carrots are not quite red (Moore was no Bolshevik), but they're close, "the color of the set-/ ting sun"; Moore seems to laud an American tradition of homegrown radicalism, "agrarian" in its origins and still present in the "fibres" of American democracy along with its foe "monopoly." Burrowing (carrots suggest) is harder work than almost anything—almost as hard as the moral work of "progress" away from "slavery" and toward "freedom." The straw-hatted farmer (of indeterminate race) admires his carrot partly because it constitutes his livelihood (he needs it, either to eat or to sell) and partly because its struggles suggest his own. Is "it" ("it tells him this") the "agrarian lore" Moore thinks we should disregard? Or is "it" the carrot itself, opposing that wrong lore with good advice? The poem wants us to ask and not to be sure—just as it wants us to ask after (and to encourage) the elements of American character that might harmonize "ambition, imagination" and the economic reform about which Moore would later change her mind.

Early and late, Moore valued the meticulous, praised scholars, and collected her favorite phrases from all sort of texts; sometimes she placed those phrases in her poems, where she often set them between quotation marks. It may befit a poet so concerned with ethics, attributions, and accuracy that textual and critical debate will continue to surround her own verse. "Poetry" appeared so often, with so many changes, during Moore's life that Schulman's notes offer five separate versions. Experts will argue other editorial choices: Should Schulman have aimed for consistency and chosen the first published version of each and every poem? Has she sometimes mistaken run-on lines for line breaks, soft returns for hard? (In "Radical" I fear she has.) Why not print more notes, since she had room? (Schulman's Moore comes in under 400 pages: The recent Collected Poems of Robert Lowell, by contrast, has 1,203.) Readers still discovering Moore's opus can avoid such questions for now. Ezra Pound praised (and assisted) Moore early on, but wrote to her bitterly in 1918, "You will never sell more than five hundred copies, as your work demands mental attention." Moore proved him wrong several times over during her life; The Poems of Marianne Moore gives American readers a chance to do so once again.

Stephen Burt teaches at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. He is the author of Popular Music and of Randall Jarrell and His Age.



The Baltimore Sun

A poet's work is never done
Marianne Moore relentlessly revised, couldn't leave her verse alone

By Michael Collier
Special To The Sun
Originally published December 13, 2003

When French poet Paul Valery said, "A poem is never finished, only abandoned," he was getting at a particular truth regarding the process of writing - that it rarely ends with a sense of achievement and victory for the poet.

A poem can be thought of as the product of a truce in a war with perfection. One makes peace with the process by either declaring the poem a failure and burying it in a drawer or by sending it out into the world with the uncertain hope that it might be published.

If poets abandon their poems rather than finish them, it does not mean that they forget them. They often return to their orphaned verses, sometimes many years later, with the hope of improving them. The results are quite often misguided, and sometimes, as we will see in the three versions of Marianne Moore's "Poetry," extreme and bizarre.

Moore was one of America's greatest and most innovative and most-loved 20th-century poets. (Among other ventures, she was hired by the Ford Motor Company to come up with the name of the car that was eventually called the Edsel.) She revised her poems frequently, one might say, compulsively - cutting or adding stanzas, lines, words, and, in general, acting as if paint never dries.

Grace Schulman, the editor of the recently published The Poems of Marianne Moore (Viking, $40)," tells us that Moore reprinted "Poetry" 27 times between its first appearance in 1919 and its last in 1967, and that there are at least six variants of the poem.

Readers familiar with its different versions almost always prefer the longest, which appeared in her 1951 Collected Poems. This version, with its inclusive list of particulars, supports her belief that "all ... phenomena are important" and as such makes it one of the most forceful and vivid manifestos about modern poetry.

We can only guess why Moore decided to decimate her poem. The revision is so violent that it almost suggests an act of revenge against her own notions about poetry, or against her readers. Or perhaps in old age she came to prefer epigrammatic compression.

Nevertheless, we can be grateful that all of the versions survive and that Grace Schulman, a distinguished poet in her own right, has brought all of them together in an elegant and thoughtful edition that is certain to remind admirers of Moore's greatness, while introducing her to a new generation of poets and readers.

Three versions of "Poetry," including an early version and Moore's final three-line version, are reprinted here.

Michael Collier is poet laureate of Maryland. Poet's Corner appears monthly in the Arts & Society section.



I, too, dislike it:

There are things that are important beyond all this fiddle.

The bat, upside down; the elephant pushing,

a tireless wolf under a tree,

The base-ball fan, the statistician-

"business documents and schoolbooks"-

These phenomena are pleasing,

but when they have been fashioned

Onto that which is unknowable,

we are not entertained.

It may be said of all of us

that we do not admire what we cannot understand;

enigmas are not poetry.



I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle.

Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in

it after all, a place for the genuine.

hands that can grasp, eyes

that can dilate, hair that can rise

if it must, these things are

important not because a

high sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because they are

useful. When they become so derivative as to become unintelligible,

the same thing may be said for all of us, that we

do not admire what

we cannot understand: the bat

holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless wolf under

a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse that feels a flea, the base-

ball fan. The statistician-

nor is it valid

to discriminate against "business documents and

school books"; all these phenomena are important. One must make a distinction

however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry,

nor till the poets among us can be

"literalists of

the imagination"-above

insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, "imaginary gardens with real toads in them," shall we have

it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,

the raw materials of poetry in

all its rawness and

that which is on the other hand

genuine, you are interested in poetry.



I, too, dislike it.

Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in

it, after all, a place for the genuine.

Reprinted from The Poems of Marianne Moore (Viking, Oct. 2003) edited by Grace Schulman.


Tribute: Marianne Moore


Bonnie Costello gave the following introduction to the PSA's "Tribute to Marianne Moore" at the Boston Public Library, on November 6, 1997. Henri Cole, James Fenton, and Grace Schulman read at the event.

"[H]e who gives quickly gives twice / in nothing so much as in a letter" wrote Marianne Moore in an early poem, "Bowls," about the possibility of precision in an age of rapid transit. Moore's correspondence was prompt but never hurried, and the record of exchanges--not only with family and friends, but with the major writers and artists of her time--is a study in passionate deliberation. Her correspondents included T. S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, e.e. cummings, H. D., Elizabeth Bishop, W. H. Auden, and Louise Bogan, and artists such as Alfred Stieglitz and Joseph Cornell. "A cross-section of one's correspondence would seem to imply" the disorder of life, Moore admitted. But in her letters, as in her poetry, we "learn that we are precisionists, / not citizens of Pompeii arrested in action."

Marianne Craig Moore, who died in 1972 at the age of eighty-five, was one of the major poets of the Modernist era, celebrated by her contemporaries as a supreme inventor and precisionist who could, indeed, meet her own high measure of poetry. She is a "literalist of the imagination" who can "present for inspection...imaginary gardens with real toads in them." (In a college letter she speaks of imaginary owls in imaginary forests; the evolution to real toads and gardens is instructive.) She eschewed the role of the poetess and instead wrote a sharp-witted, formally radical poetry that holds aesthetics to an exacting ethical standard. As she would tell Ronald Lane Latimer in 1935, "aesthetic expression is, with me at any rate, a kind of transposed doctrine of existence." Born near St. Louis just a year before T. S. Eliot, she was one of the American Modernists who chose not to emigrate, but to stay to forge the new on her native soil. In an early poem, "England," she writes: "the flower and fruit of all that noted superiority-- / if not stumbled upon in America, / must one imagine that it is not there?"

She could imagine otherwise. Hers was, she would admit, a "grassless, linksless, languageless country" where there were "no proofreaders, no silkworms, no digressions," but the soil was fertile and the excellence of modern art took root in it. In 1915, after some of her poems had been accepted by the avant-garde magazine Others, Moore made a pilgrimage of sorts to New York City--she called it her "Sojourn in the Whale." She made a point of visiting the gallery 291, where Alfred Stieglitz was raging a revolution in the arts. She moved to New York City in 1918, entering a whirlwind of artistic activity. As she wrote to the expatriate Ezra Pound the following year, about life in the New York avant-garde: "I sometimes feel as if there are too many captains in one boat, but on the whole, the amount of steady cooperation that is to be counted on in the interest of getting things launched, is an amazement to me."

Moore was indeed one of those "getting things launched." In 1924, she won The Dial Award for her book Observations. She refused to call them poems, as her friends had when they collected her work in 1921. In 1925, she became editor of The Dial, a major international magazine of the arts. Even after The Dial folded in 1929, Moore continued to advise younger editors and writers; she had a shaping influence on work emerging in the thirties. Her own Selected Poems, including major new poems, appeared in 1935. In T. S. Eliot's introduction to the book, he wrote that it forms "part of the small body of writings, among what passes for poetry, in which an original sensibility and alert intelligence and deep feeling have been engaged in maintaining the life of the English language." Was he remembering her tolerance for "plain American which dogs and cats can read?" Moore became a literary elder statesman in her own right, eventually winning every major American prize for literature, and earning six honorary degrees.

Elizabeth Bishop, as a college student at Vassar in 1934, was thrilled when the campus librarian, a family friend of Moore, helped arrange a meeting by the lions in front of The New York Public Library. Moore was Bishop's first important supporter, offering discerning advice on all sorts of subjects--cures for poison ivy, household cleaners, prosody, propriety, profundity--and encouraging her not to give up or divert her talents (Bishop was considering medical school in 1936). The two remained friends until Moore's death. In 1952, Allen Ginsberg sent Moore the manuscript of his first book, The Empty Mirror/I>, and her advice to him was consistent with her sense that poetry should affirm life or help us to endure:

Patient or impatient repudiating of life just repudiates itself. There is no point to it. What can be exciting to others is one's struggle with what is too hard... Why do I say all this? Because your trials, your own realness, and capacity, affect me.

In the fifties and sixties, Moore's celebrity far exceeded the relatively small circle of poetry readers. She was the famous figure in tricorn hat and cape who brightened the pages of Life, Look, Glamour, and even Sports Illustrated. During this time she would occasionally write as many as fifty letters a day--each unique, lively, and memorable--in response to the "volumes of irrelevant mail" she was receiving. The poet's poet had become the public's poet.

But I'd like to bring attention back to the girl no one had heard of, growing up quietly in Carlisle but preparing to brandish her linguistic powers before a dazzling but recalcitrant world. At Christmas in 1896, when Moore was barely nine years old, her mother wrote a prescient letter to her cousin, Mary Shoemaker:

"You would have laughed surely, could you have heard my daughter's lament that the poetry was for Warner [Moore's brother], rather than her. She dotes on poetry to a perfectly horrible degree. I know we shall yet have a poetess in the family, and finish our day languishing in an attic (prior to the ages when posterity & future generations will be singing our praises). "

It is clear from the poetry, and from the myriad echoes and allusions in the letters, that even as a child Moore was building an arsenal of words and phrases from the Bible and Shakespeare, as well as from Johnson, Bunyan, Cowper, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, Browning, Meredith, and Tennyson. She did this with the enthusiasm that our own youth snap up the latest compact discs. From Bryn Mawr, she wrote home:

Writing is all I care for, or for what I care most, and writing is such a pulling profession if it is not a great one, that I occasionally give up. You ought I think to be didactic like Ibsen, or poetic like "Sheats" (Shelley/Keats), or pathetic like Barrie or witty like Meredith to justify your embarking as self-confidently as the concentrated young egoist who is a writer, must. Writing is moreover a selfish profession and wearing (on the investigator himself).

A remarkably self-distanced remark, for a junior in college--the result, in part, of her Presbyterian upbringing, and its emphasis on humility and gusto. But Moore would not turn out like any of these writers; she found her way as a bold Modernist who constructed from the past--both distant and close--a foundation on which to build a unique contemporary vision. The early letters provide a moving account of a young writer finding a voice:

"I have come to the conclusion that I 'want to write' and that shortly I will have something to say. My 'style' is execrable. I slave, and then talk a page of rot to every half-line of sense, but the thing is too much a solace, a fascination, a weapon-to-wield etc. to crush into invincibility."

From this purpose, happily for us, she was never diverted: art is a "weapon to wield" against all that oppresses the spirit. Dejection and defeat are the enemies of poetry and her life and art were designed to resist them. Moore at her best is a poet of wild decorum, combining high civility with energy and inclusiveness, propriety with sincerity. She joined other Modernists in the revolution of the word by challenging the conventions of poetic language with her varied lexicon, her singular choice of subject matter, her imagery, her heightened particularity, her appropriation of fragments from an open range of sources, her spatial designing of the page that establishes order without the tyranny of regular metrics. In no other poet's work do we find words like "contractility," "apteryx," "occipital," or "iconosphere," or extensive quotations from Baxter's Saints Everlasting, Leigh Hunt's Autobiography, The Rules and Regulations Manual of Mt. Rainer, and from a conversation overheard at a circus. Moore's work reaches toward aesthetic frontiers. But it is also bold in its moral vision, struggled for and never complacently claimed, expressed in paradoxes of strength in adversity, freedom in bondage.

--Bonnie Costello

 January 4, 2004

'The Poems of Marianne Moore': Digesting Hard Iron


Read this article here



The Poems of Marianne Moore
ed by Grace Schulman

Faber, £30, 449 pp


 A poet's animal kingdom
(Filed: 11/01/2004)

John Gross reviews The Poems of Marianne Moore ed by Grace Schulman

Read this article here



Marianne Moore and friends
Fiona Green
22 January 2004

Read this article here



The Eyes Have It
A new collection offers a long look at a poet's highly visual style.

Reviewed by Molly McQuade
Sunday, February 1, 2004; Page BW10

Read this article here



A letter to poet Marianne Moore

Molly McQuade. Molly McQuade is a member of the board of the National Book Critics Circle

November 30, 2003

Read this article here



you've seen a strawberry
that's had a struggle; yet
was, where the fragments met,
a hedgehog or a star-
fish for the multitude
of seeds. What better food
than apple seeds -  the fruit
within the fruit - locked in
like counter-curved twin
hazelnuts? Frost that kills
the little rubber-plant -
leaves of kok-sagyyz-stalks, can't
harm the roots; they still grow 
in frozen ground. Once where
there was a prickley-pear - 
leaf clinging to a barbed wire,
a root shot down to grow
in earth two feet below;
as carrots from mandrakes
or a ram's-horn root some-
times. Victory won't come
to me unless I go
to it; a grape tendril
ties a knot in knots till
knotted thirty times - so
the bound twig that's under-
gone and over-gone, can't stir.
The weak overcomes its
menace, the strong over-
comes itself. What is there
like fortitude! What sap
went through that little thread
to make the cherry red!




By Disposition of Angels

Messengers much like ourselves? Explain it.
Steadfastness the darkness makes explicit?
Something heard most clearly when not near it?
        Above particularities,
these unparticularities praise cannot violate.
    One has seen, in such steadiness never deflected,
    how by darkness a star is perfected.

Star that does not ask me if I see it?
Fir that would not wish me to uproot it?
Speech that does not ask me if I hear it?
        Mysteries expound mysteries.
Steadier than steay, star dazzling me, live and elate,
    no need to say, how like some we have known; too like her,
    too like him, and a-quiver forever.




Spenser's Ireland


has not altered;--

   a place as kind as it is green,

   the greenest place I've never seen.

Every name is a tune.

Denunciations do not affect

               the culprit; nor blows, but it

is torture to him to not be spoken to.

They're natural,--

    the coat, like Venus'

mantle lined with stars,

buttoned close at the neck,-the sleeves new from disuse.


If in Ireland

   they play the harp backward at need,

   and gather at midday the seed

of the fern, eluding

their "giants all covered with iron," might

 there be fern seed for unlearn-

ing obduracy and for reinstating

the enchantment?

   Hindered characters

seldom have mothers

in Irish stories, but they all have grandmothers.


It was Irish;

   a match not a marriage was made

   when my great great grandmother'd said

with native genius for

disunion, "Although your suitor be

               perfection, one objection

is enough; he is not

Irish."  Outwitting

    the fairies, befriending the furies,

whoever again

and again says, "I'll never give in," never sees


that you're not free

   until you've been made captive by

   supreme belief,--credulity

you say?  When large dainty

fingers tremblingly divide the wings

 of the fly for mid-July

with a needle and wrap it with peacock-tail,

or tie wool and

    buzzard's wing, their pride,

like the enchanter's

is in care, not madness.  Concurring hands divide


flax for damask

   that when bleached by Irish weather

   has the silvered chamois-leather

water-tightness of a

skin.  Twisted torcs and gold new-moon-shaped

 lunulae aren't jewelry

like the purple-coral fuchsia-tree's.  Eire--

the guillemot

   so neat and the hen

of the heath and the

linnet spinet-sweet-bespeak relentlessness?  Then


they are to me

   like enchanted Earl Gerald who

   changed himself into a stag, to

a great green-eyed cat of

the mountain.  Discommodity makes

 them invisible; they've dis-

appeared.  The Irish say your trouble is their

trouble and your

    joy their joy?  I wish

I could believe it;

I am troubled, I'm dissatisfied, I'm Irish.







I too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers that there is in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise

if it must, these things are important not because a high sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because they are

useful; when they become so derivative as to become unintelligible,

the same thing may be said for all of us, that we

do not admire what

we cannot understand: the bat,

holding on upside down or in quest of something to
eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless wolf under

a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse that

feels a flea, the base-

ball fan, the statistician--

nor is it valid

to discriminate against "business documents and


schoolbooks"; all these phenomena are important. One must make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not pretty,
nor till the poets among us can be


"literalists of

the imagination"--above

insolence and triviality and can present


for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them, shall we have


it. In the meantime, if you demand on one hand,

the raw material of poetry in

all its rawness and

that which is on the other hand

genuine, then you are interested in poetry.






A Grave

Man looking into the sea,
taking the view from those who have as much right to it as
     you have to it yourself,
it is human nature to stand in the middle of a thing,
but you cannot stand in the middle of this;
the sea has nothing to give but a well excavated grave.
The firs stand in a procession, each with an emerald turkey—
     foot at the top,
reserved as their contours, saying nothing;
repression, however, is not the most obvious characteristic of
     the sea;
the sea is a collector, quick to return a rapacious look.
There are others besides you who have worn that look—
whose expression is no longer a protest; the fish no longer
     investigate them
for their bones have not lasted:
men lower nets, unconscious of the fact that they are
     desecrating a grave,
and row quickly away-the blades of the oars
moving together like the feet of water-spiders as if there were
     no such thing as death.
The wrinkles progress among themselves in a phalanx—
beautiful under networks of foam,
and fade breathlessly while the sea rustles in and out of the
the birds swim through the air at top speed, emitting cat-calls
     as heretofore—
the tortoise-shell scourges about the feet of the cliffs, in motion
     beneath them;
and the ocean, under the pulsation of lighthouses and noise of
advances as usual, looking as if it were not that ocean in which
     dropped things are bound to sink—
in which if they turn and twist, it is neither with volition nor







What is our innocence,
what is our guilt? All are
naked, none is safe. And whence
is courage; the unanswered question,
the resolute doubt —
dumbly calling, deafly listening — that
in misfortune, even death,
          encourages others
          and in its defeat, stirs

the soul to be strong? He
sees deep and is glad, who
accedes to mortality
and in his imprisonment rises
upon himself as
the sea in a chasm, struggling to be
free and unable to be,
          in its surrendering
          finds its continuing.

So he who strongly feels
behaves. The very bird,
grown taller as he sings, steels
his form straight up. Though he is captive,
his mighty singing
says, satisfaction is a lowly
thing, how pure a thing is joy.
          This is mortality,
          this is eternity.








Strong and slippery,
built for the midnight grass-party
confronted by four cats, he sleeps his time away--
the detached first claw on the foreleg corresponding
to the thumb, retracted to its tip; the small tuft of fronds
or katydid-legs above each eye numbering all units
in each group; the shadbones regularly set about the mouth
to droop or rise in unison like porcupine-quills.
He lets himself be flattened out by gravity,
as seaweed is tamed and weakened by the sun,
compelled when extended, to lie stationary.
Sleep is the result of his delusion that one must do as well
     as one can for oneself,
sleep--epitome of what is to him the end of life.
Demonstrate on him how the lady placed a forked stick
on the innocuous neck-sides of the dangerous southern snake.
One need not try to stir him up; his prune-shaped head
and alligator-eyes are not party to the joke.
Lifted and handled, he may be dangled like an eel
or set up on the forearm like a mouse;
his eyes bisected by pupils of a pin's width,
are flickeringly exhibited, then covered up.
May be?  I should have said might have been;
when he has been got the better of in a dream--
as in a fight with nature or with cats, we all know it.
Profound sleep is not with him a fixed illusion.
Springing about with froglike accuracy, with jerky cries
when taken in hand, he is himself again;
to sit caged by the rungs of a domestic chair
would be unprofitable--human.  What is the good of hypocrisy?
it is permissible to choose one's employment,
to abandon the nail, or roly-poly,
when it shows signs of being no longer a pleasure,
to score the nearby magazine with a double line of strokes.
He can talk but insolently says nothing.  What of it?
When one is frank, one's very presence is a compliment.
It is clear that he can see the virtue of naturalness,
that he does not regard the published fact as a surrender.
As for the disposition invariably to affront,
an animal with claws should have an opportunity to use them.
The eel-like extension of trunk into tail is not an accident.
To leap, to lengthen out, divide the air, to purloin, to pursue.
To tell the hen: fly over the fence, go in the wrong way
in your perturbation--this is life;
to do less would be nothing but dishonesty.





My father used to say,
"Superior people never make long visits,
have to be shown Longfellow's grave
nor the glass flowers at Harvard.
Self reliant like the cat --
that takes its prey to privacy,
the mouse's limp tail hanging like a shoelace from its mouth --
they sometimes enjoy solitude,
and can be robbed of speech
by speech which has delighted them.
The deepest feeling always shows itself in silence;
not in silence, but restraint."
Nor was he insincere in saying, "Make my house your inn."
Inns are not residences.




The Fish


through black jade.
       Of the crow-blue mussel-shells, one keeps
       adjusting the ash-heaps;
              opening and shutting itself like
injured fan.
       The barnacles which encrust the side
       of the wave, cannot hide
              there for the submerged shafts of the
split like spun
       glass, move themselves with spotlight swiftness
       into the crevices—
              in and out, illuminating
turquoise sea
       of bodies. The water drives a wedge
       of iron throught the iron edge
              of the cliff; whereupon the stars,
rice-grains, ink-
       bespattered jelly fish, crabs like green
       lilies, and submarine
              toadstools, slide each on the other.
       marks of abuse are present on this
       defiant edifice—
              all the physical features of
       of cornice, dynamite grooves, burns, and
       hatchet strokes, these things stand
              out on it; the chasm-side is
       evidence ahs proved that it can live
       on what can not revive
              its youth. The sea grows old in it.



The Pangolin


Another armored animal--scale
    lapping scale with spruce-cone regularity until they
form the uninterrupted central
   tail-row! This near artichoke with head and legs and grit-equipped
the night miniature artist engineer is,
       yes, Leonardo da Vinci's replica--
         impressive animal and toiler of whom we seldom hear.
       Armor seems extra. But for him,
         the closing ear-ridge--
           or bare ear lacking even this small
           eminence and similarly safe
contracting nose and eye apertures
    impenetrably closable, are not; a true ant-eater,
not cockroach eater, who endures
  exhausting solitary trips through unfamiliar ground at night,
  returning before sunrise, stepping in the moonlight,
      on the moonlight peculiarly, that the outside
        edges of his hands may bear the weight and save the claws
      for digging. Serpentined about
         the tree, he draws
           away from danger unpugnaciously,
           with no sound but a harmless hiss; keeping
the fragile grace of the Thomas-
       of-Leighton Buzzard Westminster Abbey wrought-iron vine, or
rolls himself into a ball that has
   power to defy all effort to unroll it; strongly intailed, neat
   head for core, on neck not breaking off, with curled-in-feet.
          Nevertheless he has sting-proof scales; and nest
           of rocks closed with earth from inside, which can thus
          Sun and moon and day and night and man and beast
            each with a splendor
               which man in all his vileness cannot
            set aside; each with an excellence!
"Fearfull yet to be feared," the armored
    ant-eater met by the driver-ant does not turn back, but
engulfs what he can, the flattened sword-
  edged leafpoints on the tail and artichoke set leg- and body-plates
  quivering violently when it retaliates
      and swarms on him. Compact like the furled fringed frill
        on the hat-brim of Gargallo's hollow iron head of a
      matador, he will drop and will
       then walk away
        unhurt, although if unintruded on,
         he cautiously works down the tree, helped
by his tail. The giant-pangolin-
    tail, graceful tool, as a prop or hand or broom or ax, tipped like
an elephant's trunkwith special skin,
  is not lost on this ant- and stone-swallowing uninjurable
  artichoke which simpletons thought a living fable
       whom the stones had nourished, whereas ants had done
        so. Pangolins are not aggressive animals; between
       dusk and day they have not unchain-like machine-like
          form and frictionless creep of a thing
           made graceful by adversities, con-
versities. To explain grace requires
     a curious hand. If that which is at all were not forever,
why would those who graced the spires
  with animals and gathered there to rest, on cold luxurious
  low stone seats--a monk and monk and monk--between the thus
      ingenious roof supports, have slaved to confuse
         grace with a kindly manner, time in which to pay a debt,
      the cure for sins, a graceful use
       of what are yet
          approved stone mullions branching out across
          the perpendiculars? A sailboat
was the first machine. Pangolins, made
    for moving quietly also, are models of exactness,
on four legs; on hind feet plantigrade,
  with certain postures of a man. Beneath sun and moon, man slaving
  to make his life more sweet, leaves half the flowers worth having,
      needing to choose wisely how to use his strength;
        a paper-maker like the wasp; a tractor of foodstuffs,
      like the ant; spidering a length
         of web from bluffs
            above a stream; in fighting, mechanicked
            like the pangolin; capsizing in
disheartenment. Bedizened or stark
     naked, man, the self, the being we call human, writing-
masters to this world, griffons a dark
 "Like does not like like that is abnoxious"; and writes error with four
   r's. Among animals, one has sense of humor.
         Humor saves a few steps, it saves years. Unignorant,
         modest and unemotional, and all emotion,
         he has everlasting vigor,
           power to grow,
           though there are few creatures who can make one
            breathe faster and make one erecter.
 Not afraid of anything is he,
     and then goes cowering forth, tread paced to meet an obstacle
at every step. Consistent with the
   formula--warm blood, no gills, two pairs of hands and a few hairs--
   is a mammal; there he sits on his own habitat,
         serge-clad, strong-shod. The prey of fear, he, always
           curtailed, extinguished, thwarted by the dusk, work partly
        says to the alternating blaze,
           "Again the sun!
              anew each day; and new and new and new,
              that comes into and steadies my soul."




The Steeple-Jack


Dürer would have seen a reason for living
  in a town like this, with eight stranded whales
to look at; with the sweet sea air coming into your house
on a fine day, from water etched
  with waves as formal as the scales
on a fish.
One by one in two's and three's, the seagulls keep
  flying back and forth over the town clock,
or sailing around the lighthouse without moving their wings --
rising steadily with a slight
  quiver of the body -- or flock
mewing where
a sea the purple of the peacock's neck is
  paled to greenish azure as Dürer changed
the pine green of the Tyrol to peacock blue and guinea
gray. You can see a twenty-five-
  pound lobster; and fish nets arranged
to dry. The
whirlwind fife-and-drum of the storm bends the salt
  marsh grass, disturbs stars in the sky and the
star on the steeple; it is a privilege to see so
much confusion. Disguised by what
  might seem the opposite, the sea-
side flowers and
trees are favored by the fog so that you have
  the tropics first hand: the trumpet-vine,
fox-glove, giant snap-dragon, a salpiglossis that has
spots and stripes; morning-glories, gourds,
  or moon-vines trained on fishing-twine
at the back door;
cat-tails, flags, blueberries and spiderwort,
  striped grass, lichens, sunflowers, asters, daisies --
yellow and crab-claw ragged sailors with green bracts -- toad-plant, 
petunias, ferns; pink lilies, blue
  ones, tigers; poppies; black sweet-peas.
The climate
is not right for the banyan, frangipani, or
  jack-fruit trees; or for exotic serpent
life. Ring lizard and snake-skin for the foot, if you see fit;
but here they've cats, not cobras, to
  keep down the rats. The diffident
little newt
with white pin-dots on black horizontal spaced-
  out bands lives here; yet there is nothing that
ambition can buy or take away. The college student
named Ambrose sits on the hillside
  with his not-native books and hat
and sees boats
at sea progress white and rigid as if in
  a groove. Liking an elegance of which
the sourch is not bravado, he knows by heart the antique
sugar-bowl shaped summer-house of
  interlacing slats, and the pitch
of the church
spire, not true, from which a man in scarlet lets
  down a rope as a spider spins a thread;
he might be part of a novel, but on the sidewalk a
sign says C. J. Poole, Steeple Jack,
  in black and white; and one in red
and white says
Danger. The church portico has four fluted
  columns, each a single piece of stone, made
modester by white-wash. Theis would be a fit haven for
waifs, children, animals, prisoners,
  and presidents who have repaid
senators by not thinking about them. The
  place has a school-house, a post-office in a
store, fish-houses, hen-houses, a three-masted schooner on
the stocks. The hero, the student, 
  the steeple-jack, each in his way,
is at home.
It could not be dangerous to be living
  in a town like this, of simple people,
who have a steeple-jack placing danger signs by the church
while he is gilding the solid-
  pointed star, which on a steeple

stands for hope.






Black Earth



Openly, yes,

with the naturalness

of the hippopotamus or the alligator

when it climbs out on the bank to experience the


sun, I do these

things which I do, which please

     no one but myself. Now I breathe and now I am sub-

     merged; the blemishes stand up and shout when the object


in view was a

renaissance; shall I say

     the contrary? The sediment of the river which

     encrusts my joints, makes me very gray but I am used


to it, it may

remain there; do away

     with it and I am myself done away with, for the

     patina of circumstance can but enrich what was


there to begin

with. This elephant skin

     which I inhabit, fibred over like the shell of

     the cocoanut, this piece of black glass through which no



can filter – cut

into checkers by rut

     upon rut of unpreventable experience –

     it is a manual for the peanut-tongued and the


hairy toed. Black

but beautiful, my back

     is full of the history of power. Of power? What

     is powerful and what is not? My soul shall never


be cut into

by a wooden spear: through-

     out childhood to the present time, the unity of

     life and death has been expressed by the circumference


described by my

trunk; nevertheless, I

     perceive feats of strength to the inexplicable after

     all; and I am on my guard; external poise, it



has its centre

well nurtured – we know

     where – in pride, but spiritual poise, it has its centre


     My ears are sensitized to more than the sound of



the wind. I see

and I hear, unlike the

     wandlike body of which one hears so much, which was


     to see and not to see; to hear and not to hear;


that tree trunk without

roots, accustomed to shout

     its own thoughts to itself like a shell, maintained intact

     by one who knows what strange pressure of the atmos-

                         phere; that



brother to the coral

     plant, absorbed into which, the equable sapphire light

     becomes a nebulous green. The I of each is to


the I of each,

a kind of fretful speech

     which sets a limit on itself; the elephant is?

     Black earth preceded by a tendril? It is so that



the above formation,

     translucent like the atmosphere – a cortex merely –

     that on which darts cannot strike decisively the first



time, a substance

needful as an instance

     of the indestructibility of matter; it

     has looked at the electricity and at the earth–



quake and is still

here; the name means thick. Will

     depth the depth, thick skin be thick, to one who can see no

     beautiful element of unreason under it?




 Terra Negra 


Abertamente, sim,

com a naturalidade

     do hipopótamo ou do jacaré

     quando sobe para a margem para sentir o


sol, faço estas coisas que faço, que me agradam

a mim e a mais ninguém. Ora respiro, ora estou sub-

         mergida; os defeitos erguem-se e gritam quando o objecto


em vista era um

renascimento; devo dizer

     o contrário’? O sedimento do rio que

     me incrusta os membros torna-me grisalha, mas habituei-me


a isso, pode aí

ficar; acabem

     com isso e serei eu própria que acabo, pois a

     pátina da circunstância só pode enriquecer o que


já lá se

encontrava. Esta pele de elefante

que habito, coberta de fibras como a casca do

coco, este pedaço de erva negra que não deixa penetrar qualquer


luz — talhada

em xadrez por cio

após cio de experiência inevitável

é um compêndio para os de língua em forma de amendoim


e os de dedos peludos. Negro

mas belo, o meu dorso

 está repleto da história do poder. Do poder? O que

    é poderoso e o que não é? A minha alma não será nunca



por uma lança de madeira; durante

     a infância e até ao presente, a unidade da

     vida e da morte tem sido expressa pela circunferência


descrita pelo meu

tronco; no entanto

     compreendo que as façanhas são inexplicáveis

     afinal; e estou precavida; pose à superfície, tem


o centro bem

alimentado - sabemos

     de quê — de orgulho; mas a pose espiritual tem o centro onde?

     Os meus ouvidos são sensíveis a mais do que o som


do vento. Vejo

e ouço, ao contrário do

     corpo-vara de que tanto se ouve falar, que foi feito

     para ver e para não ver; para ouvir e para não ouvir,


este tronco de árvore sem

raízes, habituado a gritar

     para si os pensamentos como concha, mantido intacto

     por sabe-se lá que estranha pressão da atmosfera; este


irmão em

espírito da planta

     do coral, absorvida na qual a equânime luz de safira

     se torna num verde nebuloso. O eu de cada um é para


o eu de cada um

uma espécie de fala irascível

     que impõe um limite a si própria; será o elefante

     terra negra precedida de gavinha? Comparado com aqueles



que vacilam como uma

     translucidez da atmosfera, o elefante é

     aquilo em que flechas não entram decisivamente à primeira


vez, uma substância

necessária como exemplo

     da indestrutibilidade da matéria; tem

     olhado a electricidade e o terra-


moto e ainda aqui

está; o nome significa espesso. Será que

     o fundo é fundo, a pele espessa, espessa para quem não vê

     nenhum belo elemento irracional por baixo?





Tradução de João Ferreira Duarte, em "LEITURAS

poemas do inglês", Relógio de Água, 1993.

ISBN 972-708-204-1


Nota do tradutor português

Seria um poema da metamorfose, se existissem duas formas, uma antes e outra depois. Mas porque falta presumivelmente a primeira, teremos de supor que o poema  da poetisa norte-americana Marianne Moore, nascida em 1887, se trata de um texto sobre a corporalização de um eu numa capa, numa pele, numa máscara sem rosto, numa superfície sem fundo e numa circunferência sem centro. Sendo mero invólucro material, o eu não tem exterior nem interior, e o poema pode prosseguir numa táctica de diversão, interrogação e interrupção, rejeitando os clássicos artifícios da identidade, porque, afinal, eu sou apenas um nome, “espesso”, e o meu discurso não é a minha expressão, como no romantismo, mas a fala dessa espessura.