Poetry Review: “Poetry” by Marianne Moore

Marianne Moore

Marianne Moore

If you approach Marianne Moore the same way as you approach most poets you will be quickly frustrated. Her poetry is more difficult, confounding, and requires more work than that of most poets, even other Modernists. She was a poetic experimenterencyclopedist, and iconoclast.

One of the things that make her difficult on the surface is that she eschewed traditional poetic form and meter, believing that the true essence of poetry lay not in such outward “traditionalities” (to coin a phrase) but in a precise and luminous delight in language.

Her most famous poem is “Poetry.” Here she makes her case for the kind of poetry she is longing to read and write,… and the the kind of poets she is longing for. She is also making the case for why poetry, this most frivolous of things, really can and does matter.

Moore like many poets constantly re-wrote and redacted her poems, especially late in her life. When you find a poem by her you like, you may also find many, many versions of it. Her famous poem “Poetry” is no exception.


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
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
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.

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