Thursday, 15 November 2018

Moore's Years

Marianne Moore was born, in the Presbyterian manse of Kirkwood, Missouri, on this day 131 years ago. But what are years? Or rather –

What Are Years?

   What is our innocence,
what is our guilt? All are
   naked, none is safe. And whence
is courage: the unanswered question,
the resolute doubt —
dumbly calling, deafly listening—that
in misfortune, even death,
    encourages others
    and in its defeat, stirs


   the soul to be strong? He
sees deep and is glad, who
   accedes to mortality
and in his imprisonment rises
upon himself as
the sea in a chasm, struggling to be
free and unable to be,
    in its surrendering
    finds its continuing.


   So he who strongly feels,
behaves. The very bird,
   grown taller as he sings, steels
his form straight up. Though he is captive,
his mighty singing
says, satisfaction is a lowly
thing, how pure a thing is joy.
    This is mortality,
    this is eternity.



And what is this poem? I'd say that its imaginative origins might lie in the kind of verses of bracing moral exhortation that were so popular in America in the nineteenth (and indeed into the twentieth) century. She takes the materials of such work, marinades them in her idiosyncratic imagination and language, ties them into a knot, and – behold – when she unties the knot, something entirely new and different has been made. We find we are somewhere else.



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