A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
This institution, perhaps one should say enterprise out of respect for which one says one need not change one's mind about a thing one has believed in, requiring public promises of one's intention to fulfill a private obligation: I wonder what Adam and Eve think of it by this time, this firegilt steel alive with goldenness; how bright it shows -- "of circular traditions and impostures, committing many spoils," requiring all one's criminal ingenuity to avoid! Psychology which explains everything explains nothing and we are still in doubt. Eve: beautiful woman -- I have seen her when she was so handsome she gave me a start, able to write simultaneously in three languages -- English, German and French and talk in the meantime; equally positive in demanding a commotion and in stipulating quiet: "I should like to be alone;" to which the visitor replies, "I should like to be alone; why not be alone together?" Below the incandescent stars below the incandescent fruit, the strange experience of beauty; its existence is too much; it tears one to pieces and each fresh wave of consciousness is poison. "See her, see her in this common world," the central flaw in that first crystal-fine experiment, this amalgamation which can never be more than an interesting possibility, describing it as "that strange paradise unlike flesh, gold, or stately buildings, the choicest piece of my life: the heart rising in its estate of peace as a boat rises with the rising of the water;" constrained in speaking of the serpent -- that shed snakeskin in the history of politeness not to be returned to again -- that invaluable accident exonerating Adam. And he has beauty also; it's distressing -- the O thou to whom, from whom, without whom nothing -- Adam; "something feline, something colubrine" -- how true! a crouching mythological monster in that Persian miniature of emerald mines, raw silk -- ivory white, snow white, oyster white and six others -- that paddock full of leopards and giraffes -- long lemonyellow bodies sown with trapezoids of blue. Alive with words, vibrating like a cymbal touched before it has been struck, he has prophesied correctly -- the industrious waterfall, "the speedy stream which violently bears all before it, at one time silent as the air and now as powerful as the wind." "Treading chasms on the uncertain footing of a spear," forgetting that there is in woman a quality of mind which is an instinctive manifestation is unsafe, he goes on speaking in a formal, customary strain of "past states," the present state, seals, promises, the evil one suffered, the good one enjoys, hell, heaven, everything convenient to promote one's joy." There is in him a state of mind by force of which, perceiving what it was not intended that he should, "he experiences a solemn joy in seeing that he has become an idol." Plagued by the nightingale in the new leaves, with its silence -- not its silence but its silences, he says of it: "It clothes me with a shirt of fire." "He dares not clap his hands to make it go on lest it should fly off; if he does nothing, it will sleep; if he cries out, it will not understand." Unnerved by the nightingale and dazzled by the apple, impelled by "the illusion of a fire effectual to extinguish fire," compared with which the shining of the earth is but deformity -- a fire "as high as deep as bright as broad as long as life itself," he stumbles over marriage, "a very trivial object indeed" to have destroyed the attitude in which he stood -- the ease of the philosopher unfathered by a woman. Unhelpful Hymen! "a kind of overgrown cupid" reduced to insignificance by the mechanical advertising parading as involuntary comment, by that experiment of Adam's with ways out but no way in -- the ritual of marriage, augmenting all its lavishness; its fiddle-head ferns, lotus flowers, opuntias, white dromedaries, its hippopotamus -- nose and mouth combined in one magnificent hopper, "the crested screamer -- that huge bird almost a lizard," its snake and the potent apple. He tells us that "for love that will gaze an eagle blind, that is like a Hercules climbing the trees in the garden of the Hesperides, from forty-five to seventy is the best age," commending it as a fine art, as an experiment, a duty or as merely recreation. One must not call him ruffian nor friction a calamity -- the fight to be affectionate: "no truth can be fully known until it has been tried by the tooth of disputation." The blue panther with black eyes, the basalt panther with blue eyes, entirely graceful -- one must give them the path -- the black obsidian Diana who "darkeneth her countenance as a bear doth, causing her husband to sigh," the spiked hand that has an affection for one and proves it to the bone, impatient to assure you that impatience is the mark of independence not of bondage. "Married people often look that way" -- "seldom and cold, up and down, mixed and malarial with a good day and bad." "When do we feed?" We occidentals are so unemotional, we quarrel as we feed; one's self is quite lost, the irony preserved in "the Ahasuerus tкte а tкte banquet" with its "good monster, lead the way," with little laughter and munificence of humor in that quixotic atmosphere of frankness in which "Four o'clock does not exist but at five o'clock the ladies in their imperious humility are ready to receive you"; in which experience attests that men have power and sometimes one is made to feel it. He says, "what monarch would not blush to have a wife with hair like a shaving-brush? The fact of woman is not `the sound of the flute but every poison.'" She says, "`Men are monopolists of stars, garters, buttons and other shining baubles' -- unfit to be the guardians of another person's happiness." He says, "These mummies must be handled carefully -- `the crumbs from a lion's meal, a couple of shins and the bit of an ear'; turn to the letter M and you will find that `a wife is a coffin,' that severe object with the pleasing geometry stipulating space and not people, refusing to be buried and uniquely disappointing, revengefully wrought in the attitude of an adoring child to a distinguished parent." She says, "This butterfly, this waterfly, this nomad that has `proposed to settle on my hand for life.' -- What can one do with it? There must have been more time in Shakespeare's day to sit and watch a play. You know so many artists are fools." He says, "You know so many fools who are not artists." The fact forgot that "some have merely rights while some have obligations," he loves himself so much, he can permit himself no rival in that love. She loves herself so much, she cannot see herself enough -- a statuette of ivory on ivory, the logical last touch to an expansive splendor earned as wages for work done: one is not rich but poor when one can always seem so right. What can one do for them -- these savages condemned to disaffect all those who are not visionaries alert to undertake the silly task of making people noble? This model of petrine fidelity who "leaves her peaceful husband only because she has seen enough of him" -- that orator reminding you, "I am yours to command." "Everything to do with love is mystery; it is more than a day's work to investigate this science." One sees that it is rare -- that striking grasp of opposites opposed each to the other, not to unity, which in cycloid inclusiveness has dwarfed the demonstration of Columbus with the egg -- a triumph of simplicity -- that charitive Euroclydon of frightening disinterestedness which the world hates, admitting: "I am such a cow, if I had a sorrow, I should feel it a long time; I am not one of those who have a great sorrow in the morning and a great joy at noon;" which says: "I have encountered it among those unpretentious protegйs of wisdom, where seeming to parade as the debater and the Roman, the statesmanship of an archaic Daniel Webster persists to their simplicity of temper as the essence of the matter: `Liberty and union now and forever;' the book on the writing-table; the hand in the breast-pocket."
Marianne Moore (1887 – 1972) was an American modernist poet, critic, translator, and editor. Her poetry is noted for formal innovation, precise diction, and wit. Harriet Monroe, her editor at Poetry, described Moore’s poems as having “an elliptically musical profundity”.