15 November 2005

A difficult paradox

Linda Leavell on "Marianne Moore, the James family, and the politics of celibacy":
Her mother explained one of the inspirations for ["Marriage"]: "One day when skating in Central Park, and coming to a statue of ... Daniel Webster, [Marianne] noted the words inscribed, ... Liberty and Union, now and forever,' and thought his notion was as appropriate to the family as to the state." (48) "Liberty and union" is the paradox of American democracy, and of family love, that Moore returns to again and again. It is significant that in "Marriage" she deletes the third phrase of Webster's famous quotation--"Liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable"--because it would upset the balance in favor of "union." [...]

Repeatedly her poetry resists categories, resists stereotypes, resists expectations, resists, in short, unions. To lean against the prevailing wind of erotic desire and of most lyric poetry demands "gusto" (Complete Prose 420-26) on Moore's part, if not "criminal ingenuity" (Complete Poems 62). And yet what she chooses ultimately is not the myth of the solitary artist or lone American pilgrim. Self-sufficiency can be as egotistical as "love in the mistaken sense of greed." Rather, her model of national and personal identity lies in the difficult paradox of "liberty and union," each impossible without the other.
(Via wood s lot)

from "Marriage"
Below the incandescent stars
below the incandescent fruit,
the strange experience of beauty;
its existence is too much;
it tears one to pieces
and each fresh wave of consciousness
is poison.
"See her, see her in this common world,"
the central flaw
in that first crystal-fine experiment,
this amalgamation which can never be more
than an interesting possibility,
describing it
as "that strange paradise
unlike flesh, gold, or stately buildings,
the choicest piece of my life:
the heart rising
in its estate of peace
as a boat rises
with the rising of the water;"
constrained in speaking of the serpent --
that shed snakeskin in the history of politeness
not to be returned to again --
that invaluable accident
exonerating Adam.
~ Marianne Moore, born on this day in 1887

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