THOSE VARIOUS SCALPELS
various sounds, consistently indistinct, like intermingled echoes
struck from thin glasses successively at random--
the inflection disguised: your hair, the tails
fighting-cocks head to head in stone--
like sulptured scimitars repeating the curve
of your ears in reverse order: your eyes
flowers of ice and snow
sown by tearing winds on the cordage of disabled ships: your raised
an ambiguous signature: your cheeks, those rosettes
of blood on the stone floors of French châteaux,
with regard to which the guides are so affirmative--
your other hand
a bundle of lances all alike, partly hid by emeralds from Persia
and the fractional magnificence of Florentine
goldwork--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
cathedral tower of uniform
and at the same time diverse appearance--a
species of vertical vineyard, rustling in the storm
of conventional opinion--are they weapons or scalpels?
Whetted to brilliance
by the hard majesty of that sophistication which is superior to
these things are rich instruments with which to experiment.
But why dissect destiny with instruments
more highly specialized than the tissues of destiny itself?
First published in 1917
the savage's romance,
accreted where we need the space for commerce--
the center of the wholesale fur trade,
starred with tepees of ermine and peopled with foxes,
the long guard-hairs waving two inches beyond the body of the pelt;
the ground dotted with deer-skins--white with white spots,
"as satin needlework in a single color may carry a varied pattern,"
and wilting eagle's-down compacted by the wind;
and picardels of beaver-skin; white ones alert with snow.
It is a far cry from the "queen full of jewels"
and the beau with the muff,
from the gilt coach shaped like a perfume-bottle,
to the conjunction of the Monongahela and the Allegheny,
and the scholastic philosophy of the wilderness.
It is not the dime-novel exterior,
Niagra Falls, the calico horses and the war-canoe;
it is not that "if the fur is not finer than such as one sees others wear,
one would rather be without it"--
that estimated in raw meat and berries, we could feed the universe;
it is not the atmosphere of ingenuity,
the otter, the beaver, the puma skins
without shooting-irons or dogs;
it is not the plunder,
but "accessibility to experience."
Moore moved to New York in 1918 & published this
poem in 1921
These poems can be found in The Poems of Marianne Moore,
ed. Grace Schulman. NY: Viking, 2003, & in the inaccurately named The
Complete Poems of Marianne Moore. NY: Penguin, 1981.