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Marianne Moore's "Poetry"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Marianne Moore

Introduction and Text of "Poetry"

Structurally, the five versagraphic* movements of Marianne Moore's poem, "Poetry," resemble a traditional five-paragraph essay that makes a claim, that is, it provides a thesis, then supports the thesis with evidence. The speaker claims that poetry is important and then suggests why it is therefore worth "liking."

(*Versagraph is a term I coined for use in my poem commentaries. It is the conflation of "verse" and "paragraph," the unit of free verse that corresponds to "stanza.")

The poem strings itself out in a bizarre shape on the page, hardly resembling a poem or a piece of prose. Each versagraphic movement possesses only two lines that rime: lines 6 and 7 rime in the first, second, and fourth movements. The third movement has no rime and only seven lines. The fifth movement also has only seven lines, but it does have the rime in lines 5 and 6.

Because the word processing system used by this Web site will not permit non-traditional spacing, please visit "Poetry" to experience the poem as the poet meant for it to be visualized.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Poetry

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
they are
useful. When they become so derivative as to become
unintelligible,
the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand: the bat
holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless
wolf under
a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse
that feels a flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician—
nor is it valid
to discriminate against “business documents and

school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must make
a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the
result is not poetry,
nor till the poets among us can be
“literalists of
the imagination”—above
insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, “imaginary gardens with real toads in them,"
shall we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness and
that which is on the other hand
genuine, you are interested in poetry.

Reading of Moore's "Poetry"

Commentary

Because poems require a different, more concentrated, form of reading, many folks find poetry reading frustrating.

First Movement: Commiserating with the Poetry Haters

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a

The speaker begins by surmising that her reader is not a poetry fan and therefore dislikes the stuff. By claiming to dislike it also the speaker commiserates with her reader. The speaker admits that there are more important things in life than poetry.

However, the speaker asserts that even though she does not like the stuff, even has "a perfect contempt for it," she admits to having found the genuine it. The speaker has called poetry "all this fiddle" while stating she has contempt for it, but then admits that there may just be some qualities in it that could be useful.

Second Movement: Making Poetry Too Hard to Understand

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
they are
useful. When they become so derivative as to become
unintelligible,
the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand: the bat
holding on upside down or in quest of something to

The speaker then avers that some critical interpretation has caused poetry to have a bad reputation. By making poetry seem like a high-brow art that is unavailable to the ordinary reader, teachers, critics, and scholars have made it appear that poetry is too hard for the common reader to understand.

People do not like what they cannot understand. Therefore, even poets may be to blame for failure to connect with readers. Postmodernism has left readers out of the equation. It seems that poets write only for other poets nowadays. When poetry loses the genuine, it fails to communicate.

Third Movement: A Different Kind of Reading

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless
wolf under
a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse
that feels a flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician—
nor is it valid
to discriminate against “business documents and

Things like "elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless / wolf under / a tree" may provide valid subject matter, if handled genuinely. And other texts such as "business documents and // school-books" require a certain kind of reading just as poetry does. That different kind of reading makes all the difference in understanding any style of writing.

The most deplorable of all are the effusions of young writers who have mistaken poetry for a lump of clay to be fashioned anyway they choose. We have all heard the old chestnut, "A poem can mean anything you want it to mean." That kind of sentiment is responsible for the near disappearance of the art from the reading world.

Fourth Movement: Poetasters Sliming the Art

school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must make
a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the
result is not poetry,
nor till the poets among us can be
“literalists of
the imagination”—above
insolence and triviality and can present

The speaker in the fourth movement meets head on the issue of "half-poets" vs true poets. The poetasters of the poetry world have slimed the art nearly beyond recognition. Moore was writing during a time when postmodernism was taking hold, and she recognized the poverty that movement was bringing with it.

Moore's speaker asserts that only "insolence and triviality" result from the lack of "literalists of the imagination." Inventing and shaping an imaginary reality are very different activities form spewing forth nonsense and verbal garbage, as so much modern and postmodern poets were doing.

Fifth Movement: Life of the Mind

for inspection, “imaginary gardens with real toads in them,"
shall we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness and
that which is on the other hand
genuine, you are interested in poetry.

The life of the mind must exist in a constantly examined world: an "imaginary garden[ ] with real toads in [it]." A genuine poem has much to offer, if the poet has remained true to his/her craft, taken it seriously, and worked to shape the clay of imaginary brainstorming.

The speaker in "Poetry" concludes, "if you demand on the one hand, / the raw material of poetry in / all its rawness and / that which is on the other hand / genuine, you are interested in poetry." A poem needs care just an essay requires the care of revision until all the parts communicate the message clearly and earnestly. And clear and earnest writing, even in "poetry" will always be appreciated.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes