Not Flowers


Marianne Moore throwing a pitch, 1968

From Poetry:

She has no heirs. She has several epigones but their detail-laden lacquered ships for me don’t float. She flares singular, exemplary, a diamond absolute the American East forged in a pressure chamber we have yet fully to excavate.

It is said that, for all her formality, Marianne Moore spoke exactly the same to everyone — child, adult, servant, ceo, baseball player, college president. She was a true democrat.

If her contemporaries often turned to myth (The Waste Land, Ulysses), to a new mode of modern enchantment, Moore made it new via a reverse enchantment: unlike Orpheus, she does not make the stones sing but rather sings the stones:

I sense your glory.
For things that I desire and have not got:
For things I have that I wish I had not,
You compensate me,

—From Flints, Not Flowers

Hear this refusal to swoon, this song of lack, this almost New-Englandy logic of flinty compensation. This bald rhythmic reckoning with, dispossession of, “things.” In such a poem, an early poem, it is as if Moore moves behind Eliot’s idea of the “objective correlative”—the object adequate to emotion, to a complex of thought and feeling—to show us the process by which “flints” might become that object, selected over and against “flowers.” For, as Milton said, and Moore surely knew, “reason is but choosing.”

Which in Moore’s case often means negating: “Flints, Not Flowers.”

The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing.” So goes the title of a much later poem. What could be a fey little announcement—how enchanting the mind!—is in Moore a diagnosis: the mind enchants: it casts spells, sings songs, projects its magic on and through the object world and other creatures. The poems tack between a submission to and a critique of this enchantment. They are anti-Orphic more than Orphic—yet one has to know the power of Orpheus to create a poetics opposed to it.

“My Marianne Moore”, Maureen M. Mclane, Poetry