Women Poets:              
Mina Loy, Marianne Moore, Lorine Niedecker 


& Anthologies    
Schedule       Updates     guidelines   biblio


Aleta Kovensky: Paper: Peacocks & Desert Rats  /  Rebekah Dyer: Anthology: Supplemental Reading for English 205  

Eleanor Graves: Paper: Cubism & Collage in Those Various Scalpels  /  Lindsay Stover Felix: Anthology: Cubism

Laura Portalupi: Anthology for MFA Exam: Syllabics & Collage   /   Reba Elliott: untitled paper: Moore's use of quotation  / 

Aleta Kovensky: Peacocks & Desert Rats:
A Look at Marianne Moore's Poetry & the Modern Visual Arts

            In Marianne Moore and the Visual Arts, Linda Leavell presents an approach to Moore’s poetry that explores the manner in which the aesthetic and philosophical issues that engaged the visual artists of the Modern period are reflected in her work. Leavell approaches Moore’s work chronologically, demonstrating how changes in her poetry reflect different artistic movements within Modernism. Engaging Leavell’s critical system to look at two of Moore’s animal poems - one from the series of portraits of the late teens and another from the series of long animal poems of the thirties - will reveal a shift in Moore’s work from a poetry that resonates with Cubism, to work that is more reflective of the aesthetics and philosophy associated with Functionalism and straight Photography.        

             “To the French Peacock” is representative of Moore’s early animal portraits in that the poem employs an animal as a vehicle for portraiture of a particular person, in this case, the French playwright Moliere.  In Leavell’s estimation, the early animal portraits function primarily in the tension between form and subject.  Leavell introduces the threefold objectification of collage as a means for better understanding the underlying aesthetic of Moore’s art.  These three poles of objectification - the object painted, the painted object, and the non-painted object are modified for application to poetry as the subject of the poem, the form of the poem, and the “non-poetic” object.  Moore’s complex geometric stanza with its pattern of syllabics and rhyme works like the Cubist’s geometric planes; it “pulls form and content apart to draw attention to each.” (Leavell 73)  The poem’s typographical patterning draws attention to its presence on the page, just as the patterning of syllabics and rhyme in the stanzas - 15a 10a 12x 12x 8x 10b 8b 4c 15c  is intricate but can only be detected visually due to the lack of a consistent correlation between syntactic breaks and line breaks.  Syllabic meter and rhyme, normally audible qualities of verse, here become spatial concepts insomuch as they “separate themselves from the rhythmic and syntactic flow of the sentence.” (Leavell 69)  Lines such as “you but trod the pace/of liberty in market-place/and court. Moliere,/“ demonstrate how Moore‘s prose cadence works to obscure the complexity of her stanza‘s patterns when read aloud. The reader, like the viewer of the cubist painting, is forced to look at the work of art, in this case, at the words on the page, not just through it to the thing or concept represented. (Leavell 64) 

            Jeanne Heuving has noted the manner in which the poem “plays with the multi-valencies of literal and symbolic registers.”(Heuving146)  In Leavell’s critical system, this is further evidence of the poems relationship to cubism.  Just as the Cubists toy with elements of reality and illusion,” Moore’s poem plays with fluctuations between the abstract and the literal.   Additionally, the abundance of contradictory terminology noted by Heuving in phrases such as “black opalescence” and “jewelry of sense” functions to break up the fluidity of the imagery much like the Cubist image constructed of intersecting planes breaks up the visual image of the painted subject. (68) 

            In this poem, as in nearly all her early portrait poems, Moore writes in the form of direct address to her subject.  The artistic “I” is in opposition to the subject, “you” mirroring the tension between imagination and reality within the poem, and the tension between form and subject that Leavell describes.  Although the poem exists primarily in this tension between form and subject, Moore’s use of quotation brings in another aspect of Cubism that is not frequently displayed in her portrait poems.  The third pole in the three fold objectification of art, the “non-poetic object,” enters the picture.  Leavell reads Moore’s use of quotation as an expression of the same type of aesthetic ideas employed by Picasso and Braque in their development of collage. (102)  With the incorporation of outside  texts into the poem, Moore, like the Cubists who applied pieces of paper and cloth to the canvas,  attempts to further reinforce the physical presence of the artwork itself, to force the reader/viewer to look at the work.  The quotations also enhance the disjunctive quality of the poem, and disrupt the unity of the speaker’s voice in a manner reminiscent of the Cubist’s attempt to shatter the solidity of forms.  Many of Moore’s later poems incorporate a more drastic use of quotation, bringing together bits and pieces of text and even overheard speech from an astonishingly wide variety of sources.  The quotations here, according to Moore’s notes, are from a biography of Moliere - making their incorporation into the poem less radically disjunctive than in many of her later works.  Nonetheless, her introduction of prose text from a fairly mundane source does function to undermine the tradition of high art in a way similar to the Cubist’s attempt to subvert elite tradition by pasting pieces of newspaper onto the canvas.

            Moore would go on to dramatic experimentation with the pull of the “non-poetic object” in the late teens and early twenties, expanding her use of quotations and even abandoning her complex stanzas for free verse. (Leavell 103)  However, by the time she wrote the animal poems of the thirties, she had greatly diminished her use of quotation and returned to formal stanzas.  In “The Jerboa,” for example, quotations are absent, but the intricate stanza returns.  Line breaks and even stanza breaks are liberated from syntax; the rhyme scheme, though elaborate, (aa xx bb cc) melts away in the prose cadences of the verse when read aloud, making it detectable only on the printed page.  Here, the pull of the “non-poetic” object has receded and the tension between form and subject remains dominant. 

            Whereas many of the early animal portraits function as metaphoric descriptions of an individual, Leavell reads the animal poems of the thirties differently.  Unlike some critics who see these works as self-portraits, Leavell finds no specific person behind the animals of the later poems. (81) In Leavell’s critical system, the animal poems of the thirties function metonymically rather than metaphorically. (207)  She cites the work of Roman Jacobson, who differentiates between metaphor and metonymy by categorizing metaphor as based on the principle of substitution, and metonymy as based on the principle of contiguity. (206)  In Jacobson’s estimation, metaphor allows for a symbolic richness and depth in which multiple layers of meaning resonate from the image.  Metonymy, in contrast, working through the principle of contiguity, creates images that rest on a single point of connection. (Jacobson in Leavell 207)  The difference can be illustrated in the contrast between the more metaphoric function of the peacock with the more metonymic jerboa.  The peacock works as a macrocosm, a rich symbol for Moliere resonating in multiple layers of meaning.  The playwright is evoked by the image of animal in a variety of ways - with its flamboyance, pride, beauty, and colorful excess for example. The image of the jerboa, however, does not function symbolically.  It represents nothing other than itself. Yet in representing itself, it serves to exemplify certain principles.  The jerboa's efficient physique, uniquely suited to the “translucent mistake/of the desert” reflects the Functionalist ideal of the marriage of form and function; the animal’s ability to honor,

       the sand by assuming its color

     closed upper paws seeming one with the fur

     in its flight from a danger.

combines this Functionalist principle with Moore’s interest in self-protection. The animal does not symbolize, so much as illustrate these concepts, and beyond the singular point of intersection between concept and animal, the image does not resonate.  The other imagery within the poem functions in a similar manner - “match-thin hind legs” or “gold-foil wings” for example.  The match and leg or the foil and wings intersect only on the level of physical appearance; there is no deeper metaphoric connection. 

            “Jerboa” also differs from “To the Peacock of France” in its resonance with the visual arts.  According to Leavell’s critical system, the later animal poems reflect the ideas embodied in straight photography and the spirit of Functionalism. Straight photography emerged as an attempt to overcome the pictorial photographer’s tendency to mimic painting, and to establish the validity of photography as an art form. The spirit of this straight photography is metonymic in Leavell’s view, especially as compared with the more metaphoric nature of pictorial photography and painting. (210)  While the straight photograph “connects the viewer contiguously with the moment preserved in the photograph,” the painting or pictorial photograph on the other hand, “substitutes the artist’s interpretation and reflection upon the subject for the immediate experience. “ (Leavell 210)  An emphasis on precision and focus, and a disdain for retouching also helped define the straight photography movement. (Leavell 201)

            Functionalism, originally an architectural movement, also emphasized precision in art.  A utilitarian concern with simplicity and an advocacy for the unification of form and function were crucial to the Functionalist aesthetic.  Leavell notes that as the “precisionist aesthetic” of Functionalism and straight photography “was at its peak, Moore moved further and further away from the poetic.” (204)  Her employment of prose cadences had been growing since the late teens, and by the time she began her animal poems of the thirties, she was regularly incorporating “the vocabularies of science” into her verse. (Leavell 205) The acute detail in her description of the jerboa reveals a near rapture with scientific precision: 

                        the underside’s white,

                          though the fur on the back

                          is buff brown like the breast of the fawn-breasted

                              bower bird. 


                        the nap directed

                          neatly back and blending

                          with the ear which reiterates the slimness

                          of the body. 

Leavell reads this enthusiasm for exactitude as part of Moore’s aesthetic interest in the prose of advertisements, travel books and technical manuals. (203)  Moore was also attracted to these “non-poetic” sources because of their usefulness, which is in part a reflection of their ability to persuade.  Leavell quotes Moore’s admiration for “the advertiser’s art of educating visualization.” (209)  While some critics find a turn toward “overstatement” in the more singular voice of this later poetry, within Leavell’s critical system the change can be read as a philosophical turn toward a more Functionalist aesthetic, one that placed particular emphasis on the morality and usefulness of art.(Heuving 144, Leavell 211)  

Some of this sense of morality can be observed in the contrast between the two separate parts of the poem.  In the poem’s opening section, under the heading “Too Much,” Moore introduces a world of excessive opulence and exploitation; in the second section, titled “Abundance” she presents the simple and efficient utility of the jerboa in his barren desert habitat.   The humans of “Too Much” are princes, pharaohs, and kings who make “toys for themselves” and exploit animals, slaves, freedmen, and dwarfs for their amusement.  They “put/ baboons on the necks of giraffes to pick/fruit” and have “their men tie/hippopotami.”  With their “yarns dyed with indigo, and red cotton” and garments of “fine twilled thread like silk-/worm gut,” they present the antithesis of Functionalist aesthetic.  Surrounded by such superfluous excess of ornament, they are incapable of reaching the moral ideal that Moore refers to as “respect for essence of the thing.” (Leavell 211)  Real artistic seeing is an embodiment of this respect, and is central to the morality that permeates the ideas of straight photography and Functionalism. (Leavell 210)   Leavell quotes the photographer Paul Strand as he urges a new cooperation “between science and art to create ‘a new religious impulse’” (211) The root of this impulse is a quest for truth and an emphasis on seeing as a means toward understanding.  For Leavell, Moore’s work of the thirties and forties demonstrates that she shares this concept of the “morality of learning to see.” (211)  In “The Jeroba,” Moore seems to suggest that an inability to see, and therefore to respect the essence of the thing, can lead not only to a penchant for useless decoration but to social oppression as well. Moore is, like the advertisers she admires, making her work useful by engaging in “educating visualization.” (Moore in Leavell 209)

            Yet this concern with morality does not mean that Moore has lost her sense of humor.  With her characteristic wit, she composes the poem so that form unites function even in the syllabics of the stanzas.  The jerboa who bounds across the desert has his movements mirrored in the structure of Moore’s stanzas. (Slatin 206)   Each stanza in the poem begins with a five syllable line and ends with a seven syllable line, and all the stanzas indent lines progressively, two at a time. Thus the poem moves from stanza to stanza just as the jerboa traverses the desert, “By fifths and sevenths/in leaps of two lengths.”  Even the visual form of the poem on the page - its many short stanzas made up of alternately short and long lines, suggests the hopping gait of the small animal.  When attention is paid to the right margin, the lines form a pattern of jumping curves.

            The application of Leavell’s critical approach to Moore’s “To the Peacock of France” and “The Jerboa” illuminates a distinct change in the poet’s aesthetic. The nature of this change in Moore’s work is reflected in the contrast between the radical experimentation with multiple perspectives that characterizes Cubism, and the emphasis on simplicity and utilitarian precision associated with Functionalism and straight photography.  Moore’s shift from a poetry that encourages the disjunctive presence of diverse voices and viewpoints to that with a more singular voice, concerned with moral usefulness is brought into focus through its connection to the visual arts.  The difference between the metaphoric nature of painting and the more metonymic images of photography is also a useful means of approaching her movement from portraits centered on animal metaphors to the metonymic images of the later animal poems.  Even the animals she chose as her subjects reflect the change in aesthetic - the peacock with its multicolored multi-eyed feathers which radiate different colors depending on how they are viewed and the plain brown jerboa with its simple, useful physique. If the value of a critical system is measured in terms of its ability to provide insight into the art it engages, then Leavell’s approach to Moore has ample value.

<>Works Cited
Heuving, Jeannne.  Omissions are not accidents:  gender in the art of Marianne Moore.  Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1992. <>
Leavell, Linda.  Marianne Moore and the Visual Arts.  Baton Rouge:  Louisiana State UP, 1992.     
Slatin, John. The Savage’s Romance:  The Poetry of Marianne Moore.  University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1986.

Rebekah Dyer: Selected Poems of Marianne Moore: Supplemental Reading for English 205

English 205 is a required course for all students at ECPI College of Technology. The course examines effective means of critical and creative thinking in the humanities. Course lectures and readings from the text address topics such as absolute versus relative values, language and thought, perception versus reality, and inferring versus judging. The text and supplemental readings also explore issues associated with gender and authority as well as intercultural issues that students will inevitably face in everyday life. The goal of English 205 is to foster an environment wherein students are comfortable to openly discuss difficult issues and not only hear, but actively listen to, ideas presented by their instructor and peers.

I instructed the above course numerous times, and I always relied on outside materials to enhance the lectures, class discussions, and group work/assignments. If I were to teach this course again, I would integrate the poetry of Marianne Moore, not only because her poetry is very cerebral and challenges one’s thinking and reasoning abilities, but because many of her poems are directly related to topics and issues examined throughout the Critical Thinking course.

Poems contained in this anthology are those that I have selected for supplemental reading in English 205. The reasons for their selection and how each correlates to the course content and objectives are provided below.

Perception and Truth

The study of perception is fundamental to English 205. The text introduces the definition of perception early on as: “…actively selecting, organizing, and interpreting what is experienced by your senses” (Chaffee 148). Within the context of perception, students are asked to think about their individual “lenses” – the angles from which they view the world. A large part of discussions and readings about perception involve how we may not always see what we think we see and how our perspective influences our perceptions and our belief systems. Also involved in perception studies are discussions of absolute truth and whether or not there is such a thing or if everything we see is relative to individual consciousness.

A plethora of Moore’s poems could be read in light of ideas of perception and truth, as the poet presented multiple points-of-view and seems to struggle with polarities between perception and reality throughout her work. Three poems that I believe best represent ideas regarding perception and truth, however, are the following:

  • “When I Buy Pictures” is a poem that I would assign first, as it is a good “teeth-cutting” Moore poem. Though none of her poems are exactly straightforward, it is apparent that this poem is about “looking at” or rather “looking through” a painting – aesthetic vs. real value in artwork. This poem would prod students to think about what they really see when they look at art, or any picture for that matter. Do they “take it in hand as a savage would take a looking glass”?
  • “A Grave” is not just a grave man looking into the sea. As with just about all of Moore’s poems, there is more to it than first meets the eye – more than we initially perceive. Moore toys with point-of-view in the poem and ultimately challenges us to think about what we repress, such as the inevitable idea of death, which is personified in the sea itself. In this poem, Moore suggests that our waking moments are only surface moments, and we must ultimately face the truth, even if that truth comes with death. Perhaps Moore is also saying that death is our only absolute truth in life.
  • “An Octopus” is not really about an octopus at all. Our senses are “deceived” from the very first line of this poem. Reading this poem is indeed like climbing a mountain, as it is has so many elevations of perception and meaning. Steeped with imagery and dense with allusion and metaphor, this poem has more arms to grab onto than an octopus. Attempting to interpret this poem may be a slippery slope, but it’s a great poem to examine in light of just how many perspectives one can have in both a realistic (the climbing of Mt. Ranier) and metaphorical (the octopus as feminine, Henry James, etc.) sense. In this poem, Moore also alludes to the Truth, but whether one finds the truth by the poem’s conclusion is relative to the individual reader.

Language and Thought

To build upon the study of perception and truth, part of Critical Thinking involves exploring the symbolic nature of language. Do we say what we mean and mean what we say? Perhaps not always, but language, both verbal and nonverbal, is the primary tool used by humans to clarify thinking, to communicate, and to influence other people. As part of the study of language and how what we say or write is perceived by others, there is the examination of word sense: semantic, pragmatic, syntactic, and perceptual meanings as well as an analysis of the emotional effects of language in regional/colloquial expressions and emotive words.

What better author to read than Moore when studying language and how it relates to thought? Besides being a walking lexicon, Moore carefully crafts many of her poems so that the syntax and the words create meaning in and of themselves based upon how they are arranged on the page. Some of the poems that I feel best portray her creative use of the English language to invoke meaning in her work are as follows:

  • “Those Various Scalpels” carefully dissects the syntax of the words on the page so that your reading is much “like sculptured scimitars repeating the curve of your ears in reverse order.” This poem is on the cutting edge of imagery with images of sharp objects juxtaposed with a catalogue of imagery that seems like a medieval tapestry. Questions asked in the poem, though they do not necessarily relate to the imagery, are food for thought, especially the final question of the poem: “But why dissect destiny with instruments/more highly specialized than the tissues of destiny itself?” Regardless of the answer, if there is an answer to this question, this poem is a wonderful example of syntactical meaning and the symbolic nature of language.
  • “Poetry,” is a commonly anthologized Moore poem, and it is an excellent examination of how language is used to communicate. Sometimes, there is miscommunication such as when poets write things that are “…so derivative as to become unintelligible.” Moore seems to advocate that language is most creative and most beautiful, at least in the written form, when it has realistic elements but still leaves room to the imagination, as she put it: “imaginary gardens with real toads in them.”
  • England is a playful poem about the English language and its nuances. An example of this is when Moore writes: “…The letter a in psalm and calm, when/pronounced with the sound of an a in cradle, is very noticeable….” She also delights in the fact that there is much double entendres in the English language. Though lighthearted in tone, there is a didactic message about language and how it reinforces, somewhat establishes, identity and a sense of belonging/pride in one’s culture.


The study of gender and relationships in Critical Thinking involves the examination of gender and sexuality in both historical and modern times. Some questions used as springboards for discussion are as follows: What traits are attributed to being “manly,” past and present? What attributes are associated with being a woman? Do men and women have equality in today’s society? Are gender and sexuality the same? What does it mean to be androgynous? What makes a “happy” couple? What ingredients go into making a healthy relationship?

Marianne Moore was a suffragist and, in many ways, a woman ahead of her times. Though sometimes cleverly disguised, her works contain feminist overtones that are worthy of examination. Her portrayal of relationships between males and females, like in the poem “Marriage,” is also worthy of analysis by critical thinkers.

  • “Sojourn in the Whale” would be considered a feminist poem or a poem about women and their temporary stay in darkness. The doors of opportunity, opened to men in her era, were shut in the faces of women, and locked doors could only be opened with a “sword” – a phallic symbol. However, the end of the poem shifts in power and in tone, restoring hope for women, as Moore writes of the “water in motion” (symbol for women/suffrage movement), “You have seen it, when obstacles happened to bar/the path, rise automatically.”
  • “Marriage” is not a poem about a happy marriage, to say the least. The relationship between Adam and Eve is not one made in Paradise or heaven, but in hell. The destructive nature of the quotes that become the dialogue between Adam and Eve is one of many devices that Moore employs to paint a bleak portrait of the institution of marriage, which she might just as well call an “enterprise.” The poem is not hopeful in the end, nor is there much unity in the poem at all, which could represent the idea that Moore thought there could be no unity between the opposite sexes. Perhaps her vision of unity was more of an androgynous one.
  • “Roses Only” might well have been entitled “Roses Only?” The rose, a symbol for the feminine, is not at all just a rose, nor is the poem about roses in the literal sense. Rather, this poem addresses the objectification of women wherein “beauty is a liability rather than an asset.” This is a struggle that women still face today – being seen as sex objects rather than being admired for their intellectual abilities. Moore, clearly an intelligent woman herself, was a proponent of women hitting the books rather than having the “look,” as her lingering last line proclaims “your thorns are the best part of you.”

Intercultural Issues

The final weeks of Critical Thinking culminate with a discussion of what it means to judge without being judgmental. This doesn’t mean having an “anything goes” philosophy, but willingness to listen to and understand the viewpoints and lifestyles of others is imperative if one is to become a critical thinker.

One of Moore’s poems that heralds the need for tolerance and having an open mind is the following:

    <>“Labors of Hercules” is the EPO – Equal Poetic Opportunity, as just about every social injustice imaginable is brought to light. This poem is about intolerance, such as might arise from “fourteen-carat ignorance.” Erasing this ignorant mindset that spurns prejudice may very well take the strength of an epic hero like Hercules. But, Moore is certainly an advocate against social injustice in this poem, and her message is clearly for tolerance. No wonder Langston Hughes called Moore “the most famous Negro poet in America.”


Eleanor Graves: Cubism & Collage in Those Various Scalpels 

Eschewing the labels of conventional, formal poetics, Moore characterized her compositional process as “rhymed stanza,” “pattern,” “mathematics,” “symmetry,” “arrangement,” and “architecture” (Moore qtd. in Leavell, 70). In and around the year 1915, Moore’s relationship to formal elements in poetry took on a dynamic and distinctive shape from her earlier work with rhymes and stresses that were more regular. Rhyme, syllabics, alliteration and assonance continued to play key roles in her writing and in her unique method of constructing stanzas, often marked by a relationship between indentation, syllable count, and rhyme. The changes that occurred were in allowing these elements to fluctuate and be irregular and to influence the poem at the level of content.

            The ways Moore attends to form positions her on a parallel track to visual artists who experimented with cubism. Like the cubists, who “virtually eliminated the illusion of depth behind the picture plane” so as to draw our attention to the physical surface of the painting – that we are looking at a canvass of paint – Moore in her writing was interested in the “complex spatial relationship between the illusion behind the canvas and the physical fact of the canvas itself.” In other words, Moore was concerned with the experience of looking at her poems as well as through to the level of content and exposed the relationship between the “surface” and the “meaning” of her poems.   

Moore’s poem Those Various Scalpels (attached), written between 1915 and 1919, is called her “most cubist poem” by Linda Leavell in her essay “Surfaces and Spatial Forms” (75).  Indeed, there is evidence to support positioning the poem both in the “analytic” phase of cubism, where the image is broken by geometric planes which are then placed in various angles against each other, maintaining some illusion of depth and a sense of the original image; and the more abstract phase called “hermetic” cubism where the planes of images are so densely placed that the surface seems impenetrable, the object is almost completely dissolved into abstraction and becomes almost unrecognizable. Through an exploration of Moore’s use of form, sound, and image, Those Various Scalpels demonstrates a mode of writing that utilizes the principles of cubism. A further elaboration of these principles also reveals aspects of collage that are very exciting for their implications in the interactive experience of reading poetry.

Leavell writes “both Moore and the cubists force us to look at the structure of language and of visual images in new and startling ways, and both call attention to the structure of their work by abstracting it” (74). In an earlier version of Scalpels, Leavell tells us that there are words divided between lines and sentence breaks where it seems “the scalpels themselves suggest the way Moore’s lines dissect her sentences” (75). In the later, revised version the broken words are no longer, but the structure of the poem is still very much divided up into various planes. The line breaks and stanzas interrupt sentence structure. But then, what is a sentence in this poem that links phrase after phrase with colons and commas? Punctuation becomes another, more internal, plane upon which the poem is abstracted. The effect of grammatical structure will come up again in the discussion of collage, but the function is similar in the context of cubism. Colons imply a direct relationship, the two things on either side are being equated to each other. But this is not a conventional equation. For example, one side of the colon displays a poet’s delight in alliteration and the other presents unique and unusual imagery, as is the case in the first stanza:


various sounds, consistently indistinct, like intermingled echoes

    struck from thin glasses successively at random –

         the inflection disguised: your hair, the tails of two

    fighting-cocks head to head in stone –

         like sculptured scimitars repeating the curve of your ears in reverse order: your eyes,

              flowers of ice and snow (lines 1-7)

Along with the alliteration in the opening lines of the stanza, by line four, “the inflection disguised: your hair, the tails of two,” the reader is also having to incorporate a third plane: the conceptual, “the inflection disguised.” With a colon between them, the poet indicates she wants us to receive the elements in tandem. The effect of these planes set against each other is a break from conventional ways of relating to a poem. The reader must consider the multiple angles of the aural, visual (imagistic), conceptual, as well as structural levels of the poem all at once.

            From another approach, one which is learned from reading other poem’s by Moore, we can see her play with, instead of rhyme, internal echoes. Leavell notes how “the typically graceful, fluid aspects of the woman – her hair, her eyes, her cheeks, her hands, her dress – are described in “lapidary” terms” (74). She uses rocks as the cubists used angles: “a cubist nude forces viewers to realize at once that a nude is more geometrical than they had thought and also that it is essentially not geometrical” (74). The echoing of the word “stone” in the third and fourth lines of the first three stanzas as well as a host of other gems and metals is not a typical association with the feminine. Moore emphasizes hard angles, particularly in the description of the dress: “a magnificent square / cathedral tower of uniform” (lines 19-20). Like “intermingled echoes,” stones recur throughout the poem, as do several other images:  “flowers of ice and snow” and the “the rosettes / of blood”; the “tearing winds” and the “storm / of conventional opinion”; the “bunches of grapes” and the “vertical vineyard” (75). These pairings contribute to a level of content that is feminist in its implications, that challenges the reader to see the feminine in harsh and hard imagery that is at once striking and, with its sharp weaponry, dangerous.

            The relationships of the aforementioned pairings as well as the ongoing catalogue of juxtaposed images points to another mode of creating associated with the visual arts, collage. In Charles Altieri’s article “The Objectivist Tradition,” the author quote Louis Zukofsky’s exploration of representation in objectivist writing: “Writing occurs which is the detail, not mirage, of seeing, of thinking with things as they exist, and of directing them along a line of melody. Shapes suggest themselves [...]” as opposed to representing something other (from “Sincerity and Objectification” 273-4). Similarly, things are “less metaphors for feeling than its direct equivalent in physical fact, so that nature and person’s nature are adequate vehicles for one another, echoed again in the overt energies of the writing” (31). The description of the figure in Scalpels is not metaphorical for feeling, it is a portrait that attempts to be a verbal equivalent of the physical fact. This physicality takes form and realizes its full expression by “overlapping energy fields” (Altieri, 31). These energy fields relate to the objectivist strategy which orients itself along the lines of immediate perception, as opposed to experiencing something through the filter of interpretation. Alliteration and assonance (lines 1-3, 7-8,10, 23, 26) appeals to the ear energy, so to speak, and is a physicality of the poem that can be immediately accessed. As well, the visual presentation of the poem, caters to the immediate visual aesthetic. Finally, given the particular grammatical construction of the poem, the imagery in the poem can also being received as collage thus becoming “a direct series of discrete objective notations fused into complex dimensions of interrelatedness not dependent on the interpretive will for dialectical synthesis” (31-2).  

            The materials of Moore’s collage are the clauses of images as objective notations. Moore’s use of colons, her unique grammatical construction, creates layers of interrelatedness and layering frames of reference intrinsic to collage poems (31-2). Again we return to the earlier pairings, this time in stanza two:

your raised hand

an ambiguous signature: your cheeks, those rosettes

           of blood on the stone floors of French chateaux,

with regard to which the guides are so affirmative –

              your other hand [...] (lines 8-12)

Those cheeks in line nine are not like rosettes of blood on stone floor. Moore presents the images somewhere between metaphor and metonymy without really being either one. Because of the uniqueness of the visual, that they don’t function as metonymy per se because they are not familiar, in fact they are dramatically unfamiliar, the reader must construct the image in her mind instead of relying on association. Reading a description such as “your raised hand / an ambiguous signature” on one side of the colon, and “your cheeks, those rosettes of blood”  on the other has the effect of looking at a diptych – two pictures side by side, related but not equal. The juxtaposition is intentional, and it is for the reader to experience directly.

            What Louis Zukofsky calls “the maximum of the real” in objectivist writing is the direct perception of the thing itself less the explication of meaning and making of universals. Altieri continues,

“and, most important, by defining “the maximum of the real” in terms of perception in discrete yet intensive relations dependent upon compositional acts, the poets reinterpret the nobility of acts of mind. Nobility inheres not in transcending facts but in constructing their relations into immediately satisfying wholes” (31-2). 

There is value in the experience itself without the extra step of evaluation; the experience of reading is immediately satisfying; the experience is lacking nothing, is whole, assumes that writing can actualize the “real.” On the level of formal structure, Moore was certainly interested in appealing to this aesthetic. Making the surface of the poem as valuable as the meaning contained in it plays with this notion of “real” because it appeals to our direct perception of the poem. On the level of content, Moore’s particular grammatical construction as a vehicle for description could be seen in and of itself as a kind of “real” experience as well. By not trying to duplicate or transfer the meaning of another experience by representation, Scalpels is its own field of experience.

            Altieri suggests that collage construction “enables images to become a form of thinking.” He elaborates, “two closely related principles – field and measure – define the nature and value of that thinking.” Meaning is dependent upon the relationships within a distinct field. “In Oppen’s terms, “things explain each other, / Not themselves” (qtd. in Altieri, 31-2). Measure is the term to describe the values created by the relationships within a field.

            When Moore is at her most obscure syntax in Scalpels, meaning is dependent upon the relationships of this distinct, grammatically challlenged, image based field. In stanzas three and four the ornaments of and around the body are juxtaposed but not in the same parallel situation as was created in the earlier stanzas with colons and commas. The grammar here does not direct us so much as it positions the images in close proximity to each other on the page.

a collection of little objects –

sapphires set with emeralds, and pearls with a moonstone, made fine

    with enamel in gray, yellow, and dragonfly blue;

         a lemon, a pear


and three bunches of grapes, tied with silver: your dress, a magnificent square

cathedral tower of uniform . . . (lines 15-20)

The “field” of this passage is dependent upon collage principle in that the reader must create “measure” between posited images. The value is in appreciating the aesthetic of this visual catalogue in and of itself.

            The last two lines of Those Various Scalpels resurface a speaker’s voice with a comment posed as a question. “why dissect destiny with instruments / more highly specialized than the tissues of destiny itself?” Leavell suggests that Moore is questioning her own experimentation with form and content and that this poem is a “playful self-parody” (74). But then how to explain the fact that Moore continues with her experiments? The tissues of destiny in and of themselves may not be specialized. Indeed, without poets and artists to create a sense of them, the tissues of destiny, the world as we know it, reality, is inconceivable. How can we experience anything without the instruments of perception? Moore, with her highly specialized tools, weapons or scalpels, dissects a reality into relating images, a field whose measure is alive and on the level of destiny, making for its readers, something highly valuable.

Works Cited

<>Altieri, Charles. "The Objectivist Tradition." The Objectivist Nexus: Essays in Cultural Poetics, ed. Rachel Blau DuPlessis & Peter Quartermain. University of Alabama Press, 1999. 25-36

Leavell, Linda. “Surfaces and Spatial Forms.” Marianne Moore and the Visual Arts. Louisiana State University Press, 1995. 56-95

Moore, Marianne. The Poems of Marianne Moore. ed. Grace Schulman. New York: Viking. 2003.

Lindsay Stover Felix: Anthology: Cubism 

<>This anthology focuses on Cubism’s influence on Marianne Moore’s poetry (and vice versa) during 1915–1925, her most experimental era. 

“To Military Progress” (1915)

The rhyme scheme inhabiting the syllabic-meter tercets demonstrates Moore’s Cubist “synthesis of the verbal and the visual” (Leavell 57) making “a traditionally auditory genre a more visual one” (68).  Readers hear and see the poem progress in halting steps, an effect created by the content and the line breaks that “define the spatial pattern of syllables and rhyme, a pattern that would not exist without them” (77). 

“To Statecraft Embalmed” (1915)

Even using rhyme scheme and syllabic meter, Moore pushes poetry further into a visual genre with short quotations, which are seen, rather than heard.  This Cubist collage method lends meaning to the poem as it “tends to have just one significant characteristic…easily incorporated into the strategy of the poem” (Diepeveen qtd. in Tichy).  Simultaneously, the quotations are objects in the poem, “preserve[ing] the thingness of words” and “verify[ing] the existence of the words in another reality” (Leavell 116).  The tension between meaning and object forces readers to “construct relationships between ‘planes’” (Tichy).

“Those Various Scalpels” (1917)                                                

Moore manipulates the aesthetic and the referential to express Cubism not in the free verse form, but in the content.  Appositive grammar elaborates a noun through other nouns, interrupts the reader, “constantly makes the reader look back” (Leavell 87), and creates fragmented images of grandeur, beauty, and violence that “force us to look at the structure of language and of visual images in new and startling ways” (74). 

“The Fish” (1918)

Moore expresses Cubism in both form and content.  The form’s “geometric, abstract stanzas break up the natural fluidity of prose sentences as [do] the geometric, abstract planes of cubism” (Leavell 74).  The content is affected as “the more the rhyme and syllabic meter separate themselves from the rhythmic and syntactic flow of the sentence, the more spatial they become” (69).  The tension between form and content is most obvious in the title, which acts as the poem’s first line. 

“Poetry” (1919)

Moore “uses poetry as a medium for speculation about poetry” (Slatin qtd. in Miller 27).  Moore disassembles “poetic pleasures” (e.g., “beautiful imagery,” “attractive framing,” and “female ideal”) and constructs logopoetic work of “diagnosis that undercuts poesy” (DuPlessis 77) using:

·         non-gendered images:  “Hands that can grasp, / eyes that can dilate, hair that can rise / if it must” (4–6);

·         heteroglossia (77):  the pedestrian “fiddle” (1) with the academic “derivative as to become unintelligible” (8);

·         “unpoetic” diction:  “base- / ball fan, the statistician” (14–15). 

“When I Buy Pictures” (1921)

Collage explores possession (of objects, words) and possessor.  Leavell states:  “An essential quality of assemblage is that ‘values alter facts,’ that the selected thing relinquish some of its individuality to the collector’s purpose… [Moore] recognizes that…imaginary possessions… become reflections of herself” (119).  In this free verse poem, the speaker/”I” vividly catalogs imagined possessions; at the end, both the “I” and the catalog are replaced by an indeterminate “it.”  

“A Grave” (1921)

Moore’s only free verse poem without a marked quotation, nor does it have an “I,” fittingly explores the illusion of volition.  The images “exist in the present tense of generic statements” (Leavell 89), which, combined with the lack of an “I’ to guide the images (and reader), suspends the images in time.  The Cubist poem is reflexive:  the suspended moment is collected by the sea, added to the grave.

“People’s Surroundings” (1922)

Although there is no “I,” Moore “inscribes herself in her verse” (Miller 33) in the vast catalog of objects, people, and places.  Because collage reflects the artist in the chosen pieces, “this poem is in some ways about creating a presence or personal voice out of things utterly beside (or outside) but nonetheless partly constituting the self” (37).

“Marriage” (1923)

Cubism explores concepts from several (often contradictory) standpoints.  Marriage is explored via gender, society, religion, and philosophy in this long, free verse poem.  Quotations are crucial to contradiction:  “When quotations are absorbed syntactically by the framing poem, a reader must deal with simultaneous contradictory signals” (Diepeveen qtd. in Tichy).  Appositive grammar and the tone, ranging from serious to tongue-in-cheek, intensify contradiction.

“An Octopus” (1924)

The proliferation of complex images, appositive grammar, and quotations pushes Cubism beyond “Marriage.”  Moore is seen in references to “history, myth, nature, art, class, profession, and gender rather than…individual experience or personality” (Miller 37) and, because Moore “sees an object’s or poem’s meaning as unstable, changing with the conditions and culture of its reader” (32), the meaning changes for, and as often as, the “I”, “you,” “one,” and “we.”

Works Cited

DuPlessis, Rachel Blau. Feminist Measures: Soundings in Poetry and Theory, ed. Lynn Keller & Cristanne Miller. University of Michigan Press, 1994.

Leavell, Linda. Marianne Moore and the Visual Arts. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995.

Miller, Cristanne. Marianne Moore: Questions of Authority. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995.

Tichy, Susan.  Moore: Instructor's Notes: Susan Tichy. 9 Jan. 2005. George Mason University. 8 Mar. 2005 <http://mason.gmu.edu/~stichy/MODERNQuoting.html>.

Laura Portalupi: Anthology:

To Military Progress                1915                            p. 81                           

<>The Fish                                  1918                            p. 127                          

Radical                                    1919                            p. 134                         

<>When I Buy Pictures               1921                            p. 144                         

New York                               1921                            p. 146                         

Marriage                                  1923                            p. 155                         

<> <>No Swan So Fine                    1932                            p. 189                         

The Pangolin                           1936                            p. 224                         

<>The Paper Nautilus                  1940                            p. 238                         

<>Blue Bug                                 1962                            p. 333                         

This short anthology comprises ten of Marianne Moore’s poems that I would study thoroughly in preparation for the MFA exam.  I selected these poems because they effectively capture Moore’s chief stylistic and thematic concerns and, when viewed as a collection, reflect her progression as a poet.  Most of these poems contain one of the two innovations most often attributed to Moore: a pattern based on syllable count per line and the merging of external quotations and her own words, which somewhat ironically facilitates a more precise presentation of her subject.  [Emphasis added]

In “To Military Progress,” Moore uses short lines and monosyllables to criticize the masculine pursuit of war, demonstrating her interest in examination of gender and society.  Moore addresses an ambiguous “you,” invoking fragments of war imagery to produce a visually abstract, yet extremely concise rebuke.  The consistent structure of each stanza, reinforced by end rhyme and syllable count, reflects Moore’s preference for the stanza, rather than the line, as a unit.  While the poem’s rhythm is suggestive of a nursery rhyme, it serves as powerful juxtaposition against the poem’s sinister content.

“The Fish” is an ideal example of Moore’s use of cubism due to the rigidly syllabic lines and surprisingly swift transitions between images and ideas.  Moore’s elaborate metaphors, which carry the reader in unexpected directions, and the structure of the poem, cause the reader to assume the cubist challenge of looking both at and through the page.  Moore forces the reader to examine language in a new way by fracturing words between lines to fit the syllabic count.  Unlike her later animal poems, the title of this poem serves as one fragment in her visual landscape rather than as an indication of the poem’s thematic nature.

“Radical” demonstrates Moore’s interest in the alternating of short lines and long lines as well as short sentences and long sentences.  She adheres strictly to the established syllable count of each line, even severing words between stanzas to do so.  Splitting a word between stanzas is simultaneously disruptive and unifying; our reading is interrupted by the presence of white space, but that white space assumes less power as a place for rest as the reader seeks the rest of the word.  Although perhaps an indirect self-portrait, the poem makes no reference to the poet herself, excepting the title.  This use of invisibility shows Moore’s ability to write a specular poem as a female.

“When I Buy Pictures” is an example of Moore’s long-line free verse that is rich with nouns and lacking in verbs, creating a collage of abstract images.  As Moore builds a muddled catalog by stacking metaphor upon metaphor, it becomes increasingly difficult to identify antecedents for the oft-employed pronoun “it.”  Although the poem begins with several references to “I,” the focus is quickly shifted to other images.  This shift exemplifies Moore’s tendency to embrace a comprehensive view while still identifying her own voice as a part of the whole.

New York” was written in the early twenties, when Moore’s poetry veered away from syllabics and stanzas in favor of free verse assemblage.  As a catalog describing what New York is and what it is not, the poem reflects Moore’s belief in antithesis as a way to attain precision.  She achieves heteroglossia by incorporating quotations into the poem, thus defining New York through a multiplicity of voices.  In contrast to her earlier work, phrase determines the line and as a result, almost every line is end-stopped.  The final line is mainly composed of a quotation, which provides a summary while also destabilizing the poem as an external voice.

“Marriage” has a unique form as a short-line free verse poem with no stanza breaks.  This form imitates the nature of marriage, as it is difficult for the reader to take pause while reading the poem once she has begun.  As a collage poem, Moore’s almost excessive use of quotation serves as a collection of voices that all contribute to her depiction of marriage as a complex, volatile institution.  Moore lessens her authority by refusing to establish a definitive view on marriage; the reader must take responsibility to construct his own interpretation based on Moore’s use of quotation and their original sources.  Because this free verse form lacks stanzas, the objects—or quotations—assume more significance for the reader during interpretation.

“No Swan So Fine” represents Moore’s return to syllabics and stanza form without breaking lines in the middle of words.  This tendency—an adherence to the pattern of syllabics without the defiant act of dividing a word between two lines—characterizes Moore’s poems of the thirties.  The poem is visually abstract, tying together the subjects of artifice and reality so intricately that Moore’s personal stance is uncertain.  In “No Swan So Fine,” Moore achieves precision through juxtaposition of images, encouraging the reader to derive clarity and meaning from the presence of antithesis. 

“The Pangolin” is a reverent meditation on this animal’s ability to balance between the artistic and scientific, the corporeal and spiritual.  Moore indirectly compares human nature to the pangolin’s by progressing from an examination of natural grace, or elegance, to supernatural grace.  She executes this shift subtly, yet certain phrases clearly refer to the human encounter with the spiritual, exemplifying Moore’s core beliefs as a Presbyterian.  While still not an explicit declaration of faith, “The Pangolin” is a tangible example of Moore’s fusion of art and faith, which she explored more freely in her later career.  Structurally, all but one of the stanzas contain 11 lines, and, although not rigidly syllabic, the counts are approximate, thus producing a gentle underlying rhythm to the poem.

“The Paper Nautilus” exhibits the balance of dichotomy that Moore valued, such as internal/external and self/other, as a means of favoring that liminal space where multiple options are possible and precise definition does not suffice.  In praising maternal love through the vehicle of a nautilus, the poem is an oblique portrait of Moore’s relationship with her own protective mother.  This affirmation of traditional feminine traits became a frequent focus for Moore during her later poetic career, which many critics consider an unfortunate surrender to convention.  Unlike her earlier poems, “The Paper Nautilus” maintains thematic unity in addition to the structural unity produced by fairly regular line breaks and syllable count.

“Blue Bug,” while not considered to be one of Moore’s major poems, exemplifies the increasingly conversational tone of her poems towards the end of her career.  In this organic form, the voice of the poet is more audible, the narrative stronger.  Moore’s occasional use of parentheses gives the enclosed words the feeling of an afterthought or side-note in the poet’s mind, suggesting a new willingness to divulge moments of personal reflection.

Reba Elliott: untitled paper: Moore's quoting poems via Diepeveen & T.S. Eliot

Moore’s use of quotations is significant to an understanding of her poetry and its place in contemporary literature. The functions of the quotations within the poems are salient to the functioning of the poems themselves. Moore’s choice of sources for the quotations has interesting repercussions for the body of Western literature. Leonard Diepeveen’s Changing Voices (particularly the chapter entitled “Poetic Voice in the Quoting Poem”) provides a flawed but adequate approach to the role of quotation in modernist poetry. This approach, which is centered on the concept of voice, can be applied to T. S. Eliot’s relating the fully aware author to literary history (“Tradition and the Individual Talent”) to explore the tension between the voices of the past and the present in Moore’s use of quotations. This tension is evident in “Blessed Is the Man.           

            Diepeveen is a sound choice for a brief critical examination of Moore’s work because his concept of voice foregrounds the fractured nature of the work. Moore’s poetry is shot through with contradictions: she is analytical and intuitive, she is highly gendered and resistant of gender, she is scholarly and consumed by the quotidian. Although Diepeveen’s emphasis is on the voices sponsored by quoted and non-quoted text, his idea that readers perceive a jostling of forms and identities in Moore’s poetry is applicable to many critical investigations. Because his focus on voice encourages readers to understand Moore’s work as a site of conflict, Diepeveen provides a good basis for an introductory examination.

The voice of “Poetic Voice in the Quoting Poem” is defined as the management of quotations, and it serves several functions (Diepeveen 96). It suggests personalities behind the words of the text (Diepeveen 96). It is an “arranging principle” through which

readers perceive the poem (Diepeveen 97). It is a vehicle for the nonparaphrasable “texture” of the poem (Diepeveen 3, 97).

The function of the voice as a personality represents the reader’s idea that one perspective has shaped each group of words, that words are connected unequivocally to individual sources (Diepeveen 98). The quality of being spoken is a salient feature of the voice. Spoken voice is exercised both in the quotations and in the non-quoted sections. In those areas of the poem that are either part of the reader’s cultural knowledge or designated typographically to be quotations, an awareness of a personality other than the poet’s is forced upon the reader. This awareness complicates the reader’s relationship to the personality of the poet (as perceived in non-quoted sections). Most importantly, the artifice of the writer as a reliably singular perspective is exposed. Second, the reader is led to question the relationship between voices, particularly the degree to which the poet’s personality shapes the selection and incorporation of the quotations.

By determining the relationships between quotations, readers “find the strategy that governs a poem’s unity” (Diepeveen 97). The pursuit of unity, Diepeveen argues, is a concern of nearly every reader. This concern is allied to the understanding of voice as personality. Readers seek authenticity, a single perspective from which the poem has been generated, a single lens through which meaning can be sighted. Understanding the voices of the quotations and the non-quoted words to be related to each other in some particular way gives the reader a strategy by which unity can be imposed upon the poem.

The quotations in the quoted poem are related very closely to the poem’s texture. As with texture, they are essentially idiosyncratic. The impact of a quotation is in its unparaphrasability. A quotation is an exact expression, and a historied expression. Its context, the associations its bears to the mind of the reader, is an important device in the creation of meaning in the poem.

Diepeveen’s arguing for quotation’s resulting in multiple uncertainties is an accurate reflection of the riddled logic that characterizes Moore’s work, and indeed much of modernism. However, there are some flaws in the way he sets out his argument. There is first a confusion of terminology. Although in the initial, grounding portion of his discussion he defines “voice” as the management of quotations, the performance of “voice” in the main of his discussion seems to refer variously to personality/original context or to one of the functions of quotation listed above. The inability to absolutely define “voice” provides major difficulties in understanding Diepeveen’s analysis, and this difficulty is compounded by some instances of his making fairly argumentive statements without any frame or justification for the statements. For instance, Diepeveen asserts that “the form and number of the voices” in Moore’s “Marriage” “profoundly suggest . . . Moore’s lack of allegiance to the topic” (Diepeveen 105). On first reading, it is difficult to understand how the presence of a large and intricately wrought body of quotation in a poem necessarily implies the poet’s lack of commitment to the topic of the poem--although it may, as Diepeveen states, suggest multiple perspectives on that topic. Unfortunately, Diepeveen does not provide any further discussion of this point. But

despite these rhetorical faults, Diepeveen’s defining the quoting poem as the confluence of idiosyncratic voices does provide the reader with a tool that allows him or her to grasp the many implications of quotation.

Like Diepeveen, T. S. Eliot is concerned with the placement of a literary work in multiple streams. The representative writer portrayed in “Tradition and the Individual Talent” produces work that is both a subject of relationship to the total body of production and an agent of realignment on that body. Eliot understands the present of production to be distinct from the accumulated past which informs production. Further, he conceives of the present production and accumulated past as being vital, and nearly anthropomorphic. The new work arises almost despite the author, whose mind is merely a “receptacle” for the “particles” of experience, which “unite to form a new compound,” the material of the poem; the past is a “living whole” (Eliot 55, 53). It is this characterization of the present and the past as distinct and as their own agents that embody Diepeveen’s definitions of voice. We can analyze Moore’s quotations—specifically, the sources and referents of the quotations—to discover the vocality of present and past in Moore’s work.

In assigning to a quotation a voice that is either of the present or of the past, I consider several definitions of temporality. The first is the era of the source’s creation; a quotation of Newsweek would be examined as an artifact of the present due to its very recent creation. The second type of temporality I consider is the era to which the topic of

the quotation belongs; if the Newsweek article discussed the shroud of Turin, the assignment of the quotation to the present or the past would be complicated.

            The third type of temporality I consider is based on an understanding of the cultured nature of quotations. I assign those quotations the topics of which refer to items of “low culture” to the present, and those that refer to “high culture” to the past. The reasoning for this is based on some modernists’ emphasis on incorporating the quotidian and the base, either as object or as means of representation, into art. This development is very recent, and is possibly even definitive of twentieth- and twenty-first-century art. Further, it is opposed to the understanding of canonical poets of the past (and poets of the present, such as Eliot, whose “uniform hostil[ity] to mass culture” leads them to emphasize their connection to the canonized past), who alluded to and quoted from high culture sources almost exclusively (Chinitz, 236). Because it is indicative of the theories and values of those artists who align themselves emphatically with the present, and because it exposes and is opposed to the values of past artists, the use of low culture quotations is a voice of the present. This low culture voice of the present performs very strongly in modernist poetry, including Moore’s, when considered in Diepeveen’s terms of personality, arranging principle, and texture.

In Moore’s “Blessed Is the Man,” the voice of the present confronts the voice of the past. This tension is expressed three ways. First, Moore has quoted sources from the distant past and from the contemporaneous present. Second, the topics of these sources range from people of the past to people of the present. Third, there is a muddying of high culture and low culture.

“Blessed Is the Man” contains eight quotations. The quotations are as near to the publication of the poem as four months (April to August, 1956) and as removed, in the case of the biblical quotations, as millennia. The eras of the topics of the quotations are similarly mixed. These range from the biblical epoch through the Renaissance (lines 5-9, Giorgione, ca. 1477-1510) to pronouncements on the work of a leading light of the atomic age (lines 4 and 10, James B. Conant, 1893-1978). Both the voice of the present and the voice of the past are spoken in the eras of quotations’ sources and in the topics these sources discuss.

The voices of present and past are amalgamated, and tension is heightened, when one quotation speaks in both voices. This occurs when a quotation is from a current source but relates a topic of the past. This amalgamation takes place in line 18, in which the quotation is from Moore’s own translation of the seventeenth-century fables of La Fontaine. It takes place also outside quotation, when Moore alludes to a contemporary Life magazine article, the topic of which is Giorgione.

The sources and topics of the quotations represent both high culture and low culture. The sources range from representatives of low culture, such as Life magazine and a presidential campaign manager (lines 5 and 3), through representatives of intellectual high culture, such as the journal Origin (line 12), to one of the foremost representatives of the western canon, the Bible (lines 1 and 26). Similarly, the topics of the quotations represent low culture, such as farming (lines 13-14), and high culture, such as poetry’s acting as Laocöon (line 12).

As with the tension between the past and the present being heightened when a

topic of the past is quoted from a present-day source, the amalgamation of low culture and high culture in one quotation emphasizes the conflict between these two voices. Low culture meets high culture in lines 13 through 14, when the president, a symbol of high culture, speaks about the needs of farmers, denizens of low culture. The amalgamation occurs again in lines five through nine, in which Life magazine discusses Giorgione.

The conflict in “Blessed Is the Man” between quotation’s voices of the past and the present is relevant to the subject of the poem. In “Blessed,” Moore compares the pseudo-intellectual relativism of the intelligentsia of the present with the rigorousness of writers and thinkers of the past. In this, the jostling of quotations’ voices of past and present is sensical. However, it is ironic that Moore applies a form of the relativism she abjures to her selection of quotations, which are drawn from and refer to items that are of interest only to one willing to cede a potential for validity to all things.

In choosing to incorporate low-culture quotations in her weighing of the changes in intellectualism, Moore is giving voice to the present. By this self-conscious reference to the present and this democratization of sources, she slightly realigns the relationships between the members of the body of western literature. Eliot’s fully participatory writer “must be aware that the mind” of literary culture “is a mind which changes, and that this change is a development which abandons nothing en route, which does not superannuate either Shakespeare, or Homer,” or the vocal present in Moore’s poetry (Eliot, 51).


Works Cited


<>Chinitz, David. “T. S. Eliot and the Cultural Divide.” PMLA Mar. 1995     236-247.  <>

Diepeveen, Leonard. Changing Voices: The Modern Quoting Poem.  Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1996.

<>Eliot, T. S. “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” The Sacred Wood:  Essays on Poetry and Criticism. London: University Paperbacks, 1969.






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