Three poems including “Poetry” by Marianne Moore

Photograph by George Platt Lynes (1935) from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3c01955 / Public Domain

” . . . Moore wrote without regard to labels. She was a Modernist who used a precise syllabic form and rhymes. She was a defender of the underdog, an early white champion of civil rights and of black artists and athletes who also voted Republican and defended LBJ’s continuing the Vietnam War, the latter mainly so as not to abandon the South Vietnamese. She wrote “advertising” verse and patriotic poems during WWII. She was raised by lesbians and then denigrated by second wave feminists.

“Her poetry must be read and dealt with if you care about American poetry. Her carefully controlled poems were often described as emotionless and overly intellectual. In truth, she was able to contain deep emotion and thought in precise verse, a skill and aesthetic often not practiced or appreciated since the Confessionals came along.” excerpt from July 25, 2017 Library Thing Review of Linda Leavell’s Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore

An Egyptian Pulled Glass Bottle In The Shape Of A Fish

Here we have thirst
and patience, from the first,
and art, as in a wave held up for us to see
in its essential perpendicularity;

Not brittle but
intense–the spectrum, that
spectacular and humble animal the fish,
whose scales turn aside the sun’s sword with their polish.


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 be-
cause 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 some-
thing 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 – case after case
could be cited did
one wish it; nor is it valid
to discriminate against “business documents

school-books”; all these phenomena are important.
One must make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half
the result is not poetry,
nor till the autocrats 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,
in defiance of their opinion –
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 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 bellbuoys,
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.

– Marianne Moore

Editor’s Note: The layout of Ms. Moore’s poems here are not consistent with the original.  I was unable to manage that in this WordPress theme. I believe all her poems are in the public domain at this point.  Her Amazon Page is HERE.  If you haven’t made a study of her, there’s no time like the present.

Marianne Moore (1948 by Carl Van Vechten, Van Vechten Collection at Library of Congress / Public Domain

MARIANNE MOORE (1887 – 1972) was a  premier American modernist poet, critic, translator, and editor. Her poetry is notable for formal innovation, precise diction, irony and wit. Poetry may be her most famous poem, followed by The Grave.

Poetry expresses Ms. Moore’s hope for poets who can produce “imaginary gardens with real toads in them”. It also expressed her idea that meter, or anything else that claims the exclusive title “poetry”, is not as important as the delight in language and precise, heartfelt expression in any form. Moore’s meter was radically separate from the English tradition. She wrote her syllabic poems after the advent of free verse, which encouraged to try previously unusual meters.


Marianne Moore credited the poetry of Dame Edith Sitwell as “intensifying her interest in rhythm and encouraging her rhythmic eccentricities” In response to a biographical sketch in 1935, Moore indicated “a liking for unaccented rhyme, the movement of the poem musically is more important than the conventional look of lines upon the page, and the stanza as the unit of composition rather than the line.” Later in her Selected Poems of 1969, she also commented in regard to her poetic form, that “in anything I have written, there have been lines in which the chief interest is borrowed, and I have not yet been able to outgrow this hybrid method of composition”.

Moore often composed her poetry in syllabics, she used stanzas with a predetermined number of syllables as her “unit of sense”, with indentation underlining the parallels, the shape of the stanza indicating the syllabic disposition, and her reading voice conveying the syntactical line. Her syllabic lines from Poetry illustrate her position: poetry is a matter of skill and honesty in any form whatsoever, while anything written poorly, although in perfect form, cannot be poetry.

Jamie Dedes. I’m a freelance writer, poet, content editor, and blogger. I also manage The BeZine and its associated activities and The Poet by Day, an info hub for writers meant to encourage good but lesser-known poets, women and minority poets, outsider artists, and artists just finding their voices in maturity. The Poet by Day is dedicated to supporting freedom of artistic expression and human rights and encourages activist poetry.  Email for permissions, commissions, or assignments.

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Recent and Upcoming in Digital Publications Poets Advocate for Peace, Justice, and Sustainability, How 100,000 Poets Are Fostering Peace, Justice, and Sustainability, YOPP! * The Damask Garden, In a Woman’s Voice, August 11, 2019 / This short story is dedicated to all refugees. That would be one in every 113 people. * Five poems, Spirit of Nature, Opa Anthology of Poetry, 2019 * From the Small Beginning, Entropy Magazine (Enclave, #Final Poems), July 2019 * Over His Morning Coffee, Front Porch Review, July 2019 * Three poems, Our Poetry Archive, September 2019

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