Poetry (Marianne Moore)

In “Poetry” (1919), Marianne Moore engages directly in a debate with Tolstoy and William Butler Yeats, quoting Tolstoy’s dislike of “business documents and / school-books” and Yeats’s condemnation of “literalists of / the imagination,” before defending the roots of poetry in the literal, businesslike raw material of everyday life, her equivalent of Eliot’s “variety and complexity.”

In its original version (1919), the poem offers a defense of poetry along the lines of Stevens’s later quest for a “poem of pure reality.” As she revised the poem over the years, however, Moore cut out the lists of possible subjects for poetry and condensed the poem to just its three original opening lines. The condensation represented in a sense a return to the miniature forms of imagism, but now seeming to contain the whole relation of poetry to the social world in just three lines:

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.[1]

  1. ↑ This page has been adapted from Pericles Lewis’s Cambridge Introduction to Modernism (Cambridge UP, 2007), pp.150-151.

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