Monday, June 21, 2021

Marianne Moore*

Marianne Moore (1887―1972) is a Presbyterian whom the Poetry Foundation calls, “One of America’s foremost poets." In 1918 she moved to New York City, and became an assistant at the New York Public Library. Her poems had started appearing in journals, and then her first collection, Poems (1921), was put together and published by H.D. without her knowledge.

She was widely admired by other poets. In 1925 William Carlos Williams wrote an essay about her, saying that through her particular focus, “in looking at some apparently small object, one feels the swirl of great events.”

T.S. Eliot, wrote in the introduction to her Selected Poems (1935), “Living, the poet is carrying on that struggle for the maintenance of a living language, for the maintenance of its strength, its subtlety, for the preservation of quality of feeling, which must be kept up in every generation … Miss Moore is, I believe, one of those few who have done the language some service in my lifetime.”

And John Ashbery, expressed on the back of the Penguin edition of her Complete Poems (1967), “More than any modern poet, she gives us the feeling that life is softly exploding around us, within easy reach.”

The following poem arises from the opening of Psalm 1.

Blessed Is The Man

who does not sit in the seat of the scoffer―
-------the man who does not denigrate, depreciate, denunciate;
-------------who is not “characteristically intemperate,”
who does not “excuse, retreat, equivocate; and will be heard.”

(Ah, Giorgione! there are those who mongrelize
-------and those who heighten anything they touch; although it may
-------------------well be
-------------that if Giorgione’s self-portrait were not said to be he,
it might not take my fancy. Blessed the geniuses who know

that egomania is not a duty.)
-------“Diversity, controversy; tolerance”―that “citadel
-------------of learning” we have a fort that ought to armor us well.
Blessed is the man who “takes the risk of a decision”―asks

himself the question: “Would it solve the problem?
-------Is it right as I see it? Is it in the best interests of all?”
-------------Alas. Ulysses’s companions are now political―
living self-indulgently until the moral sense is drowned,

having lost all power of comparison,
-------thinking license emancipates one, “slaves who they themselves
-------------------have bound.”
-------------Brazen authors, downright soiled and downright spoiled, as
-------------------if sound
and exceptional, are the old quasi-modish counterfeit,

mitin-proofing conscience against character.
-------Affronted by “private lies and public shame,” blessed is the author
-------------who favors what the supercilious do not favor―
who will not comply. Blessed the unaccommodating man.

Blessed the man whose faith is different
-------from possessiveness―of a kind not framed by “things which
-------------------do appear”―
-------------who will not visualize defeat, too intent to cower;
whose illumined eye has seen the shaft that gilds the sultan’s tower.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Marianne Moore: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.