Poetry Monday: Marianne Moore

We generally read or memorize one poem each week and spend a few moments learning about the poet’s life. I try to place each poet in time and location, along with any interesting information that makes them memorable. I’m hoping to make poetry a semi-regular posting here.

Marianne Moore
(1887 – 1972)

Marianne Moore was an American Modernist poet with sharp wit. She graduated from one of the “Seven Sisters”  – Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. Ms. Moore made her living as a teacher in Pennsylvania and later as a library assistant in New York City. She wrote poetry throughout her life and beginning in 1915 her works began appearing in a number of literary magazines. She was awarded the Pulitzer prize, the National Book Award, and the Bollinger Award for her book Collected Poems (1951).

Her most well-known poem is titled Poetry. She was almost notorious for frequently revising her poetry. Poetry, for example, in its original incarnation was 32 lines. She revised it several times, eventually down to just three lines. I believe that the original poem is far more thought-provoking and ‘real’ than the final revision; her most evocative lines in the original have been omitted.  Take for instance this often quoted line:

Imaginary gardens with real toads in them.

The writer’s job, she seems to say, is to bring real life, sometimes ugly as toads, into the world of the imagination. Unlike the school-books and business documents she mentions earlier in the poem, poetry is a combination of the imagination and reality. Both are important but their role is quite different.

Here’s an audio recording of Moore I found reciting her poem Bird-Witted.

Our poem for the week is a much shorter quatrain with an AABB rhyme scheme.  I feel like this poem says a lot about what drove Marianne Moore. If you tell me that I can not do something you only make me more determined to do it, or at least try. A notion that is quite apropos for the homeschooling family.

I May, I Might, I Must

If you will tell me why the fen
appears impassable, I then
will tell you why I think that I
can get across it if I try.

EJ and I read through the poem, checked our vocabulary to be sure we knew what all the words meant. He didn’t know what a fen was so we looked it up and added it to his vocabulary box. Then we discussed the structure of the poem and what he thought the poem was about. During the week he worked on memorizing the poem.

Here he is on Friday reciting the poem:

I hope EJ enjoyed learning about this author and poem, but even if he didn’t I really did. Poetry is not something I have much knowledge of so I get the advantage of learning right along with him.


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