Loads of Learned Lumber

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Marianne Moore, _Observations_

MY THANKS TO Linda Leavell, whose idea I am guessing it was to reissue this 1924/1925 volume as a separate publication. I read the Selected Poems and the Complete Poems back in grad school and enjoyed them, but it was H.D. I could not get enough of. The volume edited by Grace Schulman some years ago helped considerably, but reading Observations as a stand-alone gave me a Moore I could love as well as respect. This is the poet that one can understand Pound dedicating Personae to, or Eliot praising, or (looking at the back cover) drawing blurbs from John Ashbery and Jorie Graham.

The exacting metrical experiments, the precise syntax, the suspicion that animals might be more admirable than people, the Jamesian needle of irony it takes several seconds to detect, the balance of extravagance and restraint--

Sun, you shall stay
With us. Holiday
     And day of wrath shall be as one, wound in a device
           Of Moorish gorgeousness, round glasses spun
           To flame as hemispheres of one
               Great hourglass dwindling a stem. Consume hostility;
               Employ your weapons in this meeting place of surging enmity.

--this is what Edith Sitwell was going for, I think, except that she never managed to get there, and Moore does almost every time. (The stanza is from "Fear Is Hope," which did not make the cut in the 1935 Selected or the later Complete).

And then there is what I can only call the wisdom of "The Labors of Hercules." Even Wallace Stevens never quite managed to get there. (To say nothing of Pound and Eliot.)

Interesting to read "Marriage," that none-more-dry dismantling, now that we are on the other historical side of Obergefell v. Hodges, not to mention Maggie Nelson's Argonauts.

We're just a few years from the centenary of this volume, and it couldn't sound more contemporary.

What an amazing photograph on the cover, too--no white hair, no tricorne, but the cool gaze of someone who has seen through all of it, including you.

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