Adventures in Ethics and Science

Poetry by 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
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 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, then you are interested in poetry.

(From Alan Trachtenberg and Benjamin De Mott, eds., America in Literature, Volume Two, Wiley, 1978.)

Comments

  1. #1 Bill Hooker
    April 25, 2006

    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. [...]

    I’m all for the idea that this is poetry in the “elevated and especially graceful or expressive language” sense, but what are the extra linebreaks doing? They are not cues for reading — try reading it aloud, then read the “prose formatted” version; the latter is actually easier, to my mind. What I dislike, Ms Moore, is the use of linebreaks just to signal “this is a poem, it is, reeeeally it is!”.

  2. #2 jepalmer
    April 25, 2006

    For the record, having had this poem memorized for many years – yes, there is a significant difference between how it’s read with the linebreaks, and without them. “Easier” is not necessarily better.

    And that’s why I found it a little disturbing reading the original post: in my browser window, at least, the linebreaks are not all in the right places!

  3. #3 Bill Hooker
    April 25, 2006

    “Easier” is not necessarily better.

    Right, I was unclear there. I meant, easier to read with a natural, pleasant cadence. I find trying to read it with attention to the line breaks rather awkward.

    Looks like it might be just me, though, since your view is the opposite, and likely more widespread than mine: I’m no expert, and that poem has certainly lodged where it is hard to get rid of.

  4. #4 Alan Bender
    April 27, 2006

    “the line breaks are not…” leaves so much to be said that I don’t know whare to start, perhaps here

    Standing in the Elephant’s Corner

    Poetry is for the single minded
    All the metaphors look like leaves
    one of these figurative trees
    unless we mean death
    beauty, or a silopsistic geez Louise
    word with special meaning

    Exploring the back yard pretentiously
    as if it had something to say about,
    about “about” or about “perhaps”
    the meaning–

    That is left to the higher ones
    who spout ignominiously
    small wisdom in large phrases

    Of course they stay on the subject
    hold fast to the page
    far from the forest of its beginnings
    where life is
    bigger than its symbol

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