Tuesday 12 December 2023

Moore's Steam Roller

 This morning I happened upon this poem by Marianne Moore, intriguingly titled 'To A Steam Roller'. It is not, needless to say, an address to a piece of road-making equipment but a springy, pithy little poem about a more general and pervasive tendency  – very much apparent in the academic/critical mind – to crush the glittering particulars of life into a flattened, generalised amalgam. This is, of course, to be resisted.

The illustration
is nothing to you without the application.
   You lack half wit. You crush all the particles down
      into close conformity, and then walk back and forth 
         on them.

Sparkling chips of rock
are crushed down to the level of the parent block.
   Were not 'impersonal judgment in aesthetic
      matters, a metaphysical impossibility,' you

might fairly achieve
It. As for butterflies, I can hardly conceive
   of one's attending upon you, but to question
      the congruence of the complement is vain, if it exists.


  1. "You lack half wit" is one of the funniest lines in American literature. Kenneth Koch devotes about 500 words to this brief poem in his "Making Your Own Days" book without crushing all the particles down into close conformity, establishing conclusively that he is no steam roller.

  2. Thanks so much, Jeff. Good old Kenneth Koch – I've now ordered Making Your Own Days from AbeBooks...