Saturday, September 4, 2010

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 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 twinkling 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.

Marianne Moore deftly deals with various aspects of poetry and writing poems in the poem, ‘Poetry’. She discusses about what good poetry does, the possible content of poetry, bad poetry and bad poems in the guise of good poems, and she also has a dig at critics. At the same time she shrewdly avoids defining poetry in clear terms. Instead she defines poetry in terms of what it should avoid being.

She opens the poem subtly with the words, ‘I, too, dislike it’ echoing the sentiments of a good number of people’s dislike for poetry as like them she believes that there are things more important than all this ‘fiddle’ or play with words. Yet the irony is that she, like the others, reads poetry.

But she concedes that in spite of reading a poem with ‘a perfect contempt’, one ‘discovers’ in it ‘genuine’ feelings and emotions and an appeal to the senses. The poem becomes important because it is ‘useful’ in getting in touch with one’s feelings and not because (here is where Moore has a dig at critics) a ‘high-sounding interpretation’ can be given to them. In fact, if a poem becomes too derivative, i.e. not original, and is not derived from true personal experience it becomes ‘unintelligible’. Just as ‘we do not admire / what we cannot understand’ we cannot appreciate unintelligible poetry.

She goes on to say that almost anything can become the subject of poetry, as varied as a ‘bat holding on upside down’, ‘the immovable critic’, ‘the statistician’ or ‘business documents’. What she warns poets is not to drag them into prominence by giving them undue importance and special treatment.

Moore then attempts at giving guidelines for what good poets should try to do while composing poems. She uses oxymoronic and almost paradoxical phrases to state her case. The words ‘literalists of imagination’ and ‘imaginary gardens with real toads in them’ define how a poet should attempt to write good poetry. He should strike a balance between reality and imagination. ‘Imagination’ is opposed to ‘literalism’ but the oxymoronic phrase conveys subtly the need to balance reality and imagination. Similarly ‘imaginary gardens’ are opposed to ‘real toads’ in them. Again the odd juxtaposing of words exquisitely presents the need to maintain balance. Then one avoids ‘insolence’ and ‘triviality’ in one’s poems.

Moore concludes her poem by addressing the reader as well. She makes this conclusion from what she has been saying. She feels that the reader is interested in poetry if he demands ‘rawness’ in the poems he reads. Authenticity in feeling and imaginative expression coupled with raw experience is what a reader should look for in poetry. This poem by Moore in some sense meets the standards she has set about poetry and writing poems.

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