Monday, November 15, 2010

Born One-Hundred Twenty-Three Years Ago Today


Marianne Moore

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
   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 material of poetry in
      all its rawness and
      that which is on the other hand
         genuine, you are interested in poetry.

None but a few of us read Marianne Moore anymore I guess, but thirty-five years ago, when I contracted poetry, her poems contributed happily. She (and Auden) taught me it's not only permissible but honorable to be playful, was a strong antidote to Eliot's and Crane's and Schwartz's relentless humorlessness (at least as they seemed to the teenage me). Anthony Hecht (who is quoted in the linked bio above), taught her in his Modernist class, told me Moore was doubly discounted, first for being a woman, second for being funny, said she'd be forgotten as all poets are forgotten as all but a few poets are forgotten, though she'd be forgotten doubly faster and doubly deeper than her poetry and her influence deserved. He's no doubt right.


  1. Schwartz's relentless humorlessness? Delmore Schwartz?

  2. I qualified it by saying I was a teenager at the time. I know better now.

  3. Yeah, Cervantes and Faulkner were not funny at 17 or 23, but they are fucking hilarious at 58. The hell of it is that I was surer of myself then than I am now. I get embarrassed for the 40 years-ago me.


  4. Incidentally, I looked up Hardy's Ruined Broad, and you're right it is dreadful. I imagined it would fit in a novel as the creation of a Dickens character who's impressed with his sense of aesthetic refinement.