Monday, 16 September 2013

Anthology 6

The mane of a horse from Keats's Parthenon frieze turns up in Marianne Moore's The Paper Nautilus, a poem 'about' a curious squid (named the Argonaut by Aristotle) that sports a beautiful, paper-thin, Nautilus-like shell.
Oblique, playful and endlessy allusive, with a truly unique voice, Moore never takes an obvious course, but somehow always arrives exactly where her poem needs to be. ('Chiton-folds' here is especially clever, by the way, referring at once to chiton the Greek garment and chiton the marine mollusc, while paving the way to that Parthenone mane and to that beautiful ending.)

THE PAPER NAUTILUS

For authorities whose hopes
are shaped by mercenaries?
   Writers entrapped by
   teatime fame and by
commuters' comforts?  Not for these
   the paper nautilus
   constructs her thin glass shell.

   Giving her perishable
souvenir of hope, a dull
   white outside and smooth-
   edged inner surface
glossy as the sea, the watchful
   maker of it guards it
   day and night; she scarcely

   eats until the eggs are hatched.
Buried eight-fold in her eight
   arms, for she is in
   a sense a devil-
fish, her glass ram'shorn-cradled freight
   is hid but is not crushed;
   as Hercules, bitten

   by a crab loyal to the hydra,
was hindered to succeed,
   the intensively
   watched eggs coming from
the shell free it when they are freed,--
   leaving its wasp-nest flaws
   of white on white, and close-

   laid Ionic chiton-folds
like the lines in the mane of
   a Parthenon horse,
   round which the arms had
wound themselves as if they knew love
   is the only fortress
   strong enough to trust to.

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