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by Marianne Moore |

Marriage

 This institution,
perhaps one should say enterprise
out of respect for which
one says one need not change one's mind
about a thing one has believed in,
requiring public promises
of one's intention
to fulfill a private obligation:
I wonder what Adam and Eve
think of it by this time,
this firegilt steel
alive with goldenness;
how bright it shows --
"of circular traditions and impostures,
committing many spoils,"
requiring all one's criminal ingenuity
to avoid!
Psychology which explains everything
explains nothing
and we are still in doubt.
Eve: beautiful woman -- I have seen her when she was so handsome she gave me a start, able to write simultaneously in three languages -- English, German and French and talk in the meantime; equally positive in demanding a commotion and in stipulating quiet: "I should like to be alone;" to which the visitor replies, "I should like to be alone; why not be alone together?" Below the incandescent stars below the incandescent fruit, the strange experience of beauty; its existence is too much; it tears one to pieces and each fresh wave of consciousness is poison.
"See her, see her in this common world," the central flaw in that first crystal-fine experiment, this amalgamation which can never be more than an interesting possibility, describing it as "that strange paradise unlike flesh, gold, or stately buildings, the choicest piece of my life: the heart rising in its estate of peace as a boat rises with the rising of the water;" constrained in speaking of the serpent -- that shed snakeskin in the history of politeness not to be returned to again -- that invaluable accident exonerating Adam.
And he has beauty also; it's distressing -- the O thou to whom, from whom, without whom nothing -- Adam; "something feline, something colubrine" -- how true! a crouching mythological monster in that Persian miniature of emerald mines, raw silk -- ivory white, snow white, oyster white and six others -- that paddock full of leopards and giraffes -- long lemonyellow bodies sown with trapezoids of blue.
Alive with words, vibrating like a cymbal touched before it has been struck, he has prophesied correctly -- the industrious waterfall, "the speedy stream which violently bears all before it, at one time silent as the air and now as powerful as the wind.
" "Treading chasms on the uncertain footing of a spear," forgetting that there is in woman a quality of mind which is an instinctive manifestation is unsafe, he goes on speaking in a formal, customary strain of "past states," the present state, seals, promises, the evil one suffered, the good one enjoys, hell, heaven, everything convenient to promote one's joy.
" There is in him a state of mind by force of which, perceiving what it was not intended that he should, "he experiences a solemn joy in seeing that he has become an idol.
" Plagued by the nightingale in the new leaves, with its silence -- not its silence but its silences, he says of it: "It clothes me with a shirt of fire.
" "He dares not clap his hands to make it go on lest it should fly off; if he does nothing, it will sleep; if he cries out, it will not understand.
" Unnerved by the nightingale and dazzled by the apple, impelled by "the illusion of a fire effectual to extinguish fire," compared with which the shining of the earth is but deformity -- a fire "as high as deep as bright as broad as long as life itself," he stumbles over marriage, "a very trivial object indeed" to have destroyed the attitude in which he stood -- the ease of the philosopher unfathered by a woman.
Unhelpful Hymen! "a kind of overgrown cupid" reduced to insignificance by the mechanical advertising parading as involuntary comment, by that experiment of Adam's with ways out but no way in -- the ritual of marriage, augmenting all its lavishness; its fiddle-head ferns, lotus flowers, opuntias, white dromedaries, its hippopotamus -- nose and mouth combined in one magnificent hopper, "the crested screamer -- that huge bird almost a lizard," its snake and the potent apple.
He tells us that "for love that will gaze an eagle blind, that is like a Hercules climbing the trees in the garden of the Hesperides, from forty-five to seventy is the best age," commending it as a fine art, as an experiment, a duty or as merely recreation.
One must not call him ruffian nor friction a calamity -- the fight to be affectionate: "no truth can be fully known until it has been tried by the tooth of disputation.
" The blue panther with black eyes, the basalt panther with blue eyes, entirely graceful -- one must give them the path -- the black obsidian Diana who "darkeneth her countenance as a bear doth, causing her husband to sigh," the spiked hand that has an affection for one and proves it to the bone, impatient to assure you that impatience is the mark of independence not of bondage.
"Married people often look that way" -- "seldom and cold, up and down, mixed and malarial with a good day and bad.
" "When do we feed?" We occidentals are so unemotional, we quarrel as we feed; one's self is quite lost, the irony preserved in "the Ahasuerus t?te ? t?te banquet" with its "good monster, lead the way," with little laughter and munificence of humor 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"; in which experience attests that men have power and sometimes one is made to feel it.
He says, "what monarch would not blush to have a wife with hair like a shaving-brush? The fact of woman is not `the sound of the flute but every poison.
'" She says, "`Men are monopolists of stars, garters, buttons and other shining baubles' -- unfit to be the guardians of another person's happiness.
" He says, "These mummies must be handled carefully -- `the crumbs from a lion's meal, a couple of shins and the bit of an ear'; turn to the letter M and you will find that `a wife is a coffin,' that severe object with the pleasing geometry stipulating space and not people, refusing to be buried and uniquely disappointing, revengefully wrought in the attitude of an adoring child to a distinguished parent.
" She says, "This butterfly, this waterfly, this nomad that has `proposed to settle on my hand for life.
' -- What can one do with it? There must have been more time in Shakespeare's day to sit and watch a play.
You know so many artists are fools.
" He says, "You know so many fools who are not artists.
" The fact forgot that "some have merely rights while some have obligations," he loves himself so much, he can permit himself no rival in that love.
She loves herself so much, she cannot see herself enough -- a statuette of ivory on ivory, the logical last touch to an expansive splendor earned as wages for work done: one is not rich but poor when one can always seem so right.
What can one do for them -- these savages condemned to disaffect all those who are not visionaries alert to undertake the silly task of making people noble? This model of petrine fidelity who "leaves her peaceful husband only because she has seen enough of him" -- that orator reminding you, "I am yours to command.
" "Everything to do with love is mystery; it is more than a day's work to investigate this science.
" One sees that it is rare -- that striking grasp of opposites opposed each to the other, not to unity, which in cycloid inclusiveness has dwarfed the demonstration of Columbus with the egg -- a triumph of simplicity -- that charitive Euroclydon of frightening disinterestedness which the world hates, admitting: "I am such a cow, if I had a sorrow, I should feel it a long time; I am not one of those who have a great sorrow in the morning and a great joy at noon;" which says: "I have encountered it among those unpretentious proteg?s of wisdom, where seeming to parade as the debater and the Roman, the statesmanship of an archaic Daniel Webster persists to their simplicity of temper as the essence of the matter: `Liberty and union now and forever;' the book on the writing-table; the hand in the breast-pocket.
"


by Marianne Moore |

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 sin-driven 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.


by Marianne Moore |

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
 gizzard,
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 darken.
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-- that 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 done, says to the alternating blaze, "Again the sun! anew each day; and new and new and new, that comes into and steadies my soul.
"


by Marianne Moore |

Silence

 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.


by Marianne Moore |

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 seaweed; 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 bell-bouys, 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 consciousness.


by Marianne Moore |

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


by Marianne Moore |

The Fish

 wade
through black jade.
Of the crow-blue mussel-shells, one keeps adjusting the ash-heaps; opening and shutting itself like an injured fan.
The barnacles which encrust the side of the wave, cannot hide there for the submerged shafts of the sun, split like spun glass, move themselves with spotlight swiftness into the crevices— in and out, illuminating the turquoise sea of bodies.
The water drives a wedge of iron throught the iron edge of the cliff; whereupon the stars, pink rice-grains, ink- bespattered jelly fish, crabs like green lilies, and submarine toadstools, slide each on the other.
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 ahs proved that it can live on what can not revive its youth.
The sea grows old in it.


by Marianne Moore |

The Paper Nautilus

 For authorities whose hopes
are shaped by mercenaries?
Writers entrapped by
teatime fame and by
commuters' comforts? Not for these
the paper nautilus
constructs her thin glass shell.
Giving her perishable souvenir of hope, a dull white outside and smooth- edged inner surface glossy as the sea, the watchful maker of it guards it day and night; she scarcely eats until the eggs are hatched.
Buried eight-fold in her eight arms, for she is in a sense a devil- fish, her glass ram'shorn-cradled freight is hid but is not crushed; as Hercules, bitten by a crab loyal to the hydra, was hindered to succeed, the intensively watched eggs coming from the shell free it when they are freed,-- leaving its wasp-nest flaws of white on white, and close- laid Ionic chiton-folds like the lines in the mane of a Parthenon horse, round which the arms had wound themselves as if they knew love is the only fortress strong enough to trust to.


by Marianne Moore |

Rosemary

 Beauty and Beauty's son and rosemary - 
Venus and Love, her son, to speak plainly -
born of the sea supposedly, 
at Christmas each, in company, 
braids a garland of festivity.
Not always rosemary - since the flight to Egypt, blooming indifferently.
With lancelike leaf, green but silver underneath, its flowers - white originally - turned blue.
The herb of memory, imitating the blue robe of Mary, is not too legendary to flower both as symbol and as pungency.
Springing from stones beside the sea, the height of Christ when he was thirty-three, it feeds on dew and to the bee "hath a dumb language"; is in reality a kind of Christmas tree.


by Jack Spicer |

Fifteen False Propositions Against God - Section XIV

 If the diamond ring turns brass
Mama's going to buy you a looking glass
Marianne Moore and Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams
going on a picnic together when they were all students at the
University of Pennsylvania
Now they are all over seventy and the absent baby
Is a mirror sheltering their image.