Marriage

Original Text: 
Marianne Moore, Observations (New York: The Dial Press, 1924): 73-81. PS 3525 O5616 O28 1924 Robarts Library. [Reprint of Poems (London: The Egoist Press, 1921), with some additions.]
1This institution,
2perhaps one should say enterprise
3out of respect for which
4one says one need not change one's mind
5about a thing one has believed in,
6requiring public promises
7of one's intention
8to fulfill a private obligation:
9I wonder what Adam and Eve
10think of it by this time,
11this firegilt steel
12alive with goldenness;
13how bright it shows --
15committing many spoils,"
16requiring all one's criminal ingenuity
17to avoid!
18Psychology which explains everything
19explains nothing
20and we are still in doubt.
21Eve: beautiful woman --
22I have seen her
23when she was so handsome
24she gave me a start,
26in three languages --
27English, German and French
28and talk in the meantime;
29equally positive in demanding a commotion
30and in stipulating quiet:
31"I should like to be alone;"
32to which the visitor replies,
33"I should like to be alone;
34why not be alone together?"
35Below the incandescent stars
36below the incandescent fruit,
37the strange experience of beauty;
38its existence is too much;
39it tears one to pieces
40and each fresh wave of consciousness
41is poison.
43the central flaw
44in that first crystal-fine experiment,
45this amalgamation which can never be more
46than an interesting possibility,
47describing it
48as "that strange paradise
50the choicest piece of my life:
51the heart rising
52in its estate of peace
53as a boat rises
54with the rising of the water;"
55constrained in speaking of the serpent --
56that shed snakeskin in the history of politeness
57not to be returned to again --
58that invaluable accident
59exonerating Adam.
60And he has beauty also;
61it's distressing -- the O thou
62to whom, from whom,
63without whom nothing -- Adam;
65something colubrine" -- how true!
66a crouching mythological monster
67in that Persian miniature of emerald mines,
68raw silk -- ivory white, snow white,
69oyster white and six others --
70that paddock full of leopards and giraffes --
71long lemonyellow bodies
72sown with trapezoids of blue.
73Alive with words,
74vibrating like a cymbal
75touched before it has been struck,
76he has prophesied correctly --
77the industrious waterfall,
78"the speedy stream
79which violently bears all before it,
80at one time silent as the air
81and now as powerful as the wind."
83on the uncertain footing of a spear,"
84forgetting that there is in woman
85a quality of mind
86which is an instinctive manifestation
87is unsafe,
88he goes on speaking
89in a formal, customary strain
91seals, promises,
92the evil one suffered,
93the good one enjoys,
94hell, heaven,
95everything convenient
96to promote one's joy."
97There is in him a state of mind
98by force of which,
99perceiving what it was not
100intended that he should,
102in seeing that he has become an idol."
103Plagued by the nightingale
104in the new leaves,
105with its silence --
106not its silence but its silences,
107he says of it:
110to make it go on
111lest it should fly off;
112if he does nothing, it will sleep;
113if he cries out, it will not understand."
114Unnerved by the nightingale
115and dazzled by the apple,
117effectual to extinguish fire,"
118compared with which
119the shining of the earth
120is but deformity -- a fire
122as long as life itself,"
123he stumbles over marriage,
125to have destroyed the attitude
126in which he stood --
127the ease of the philosopher
128unfathered by a woman.
131reduced to insignificance
132by the mechanical advertising
133parading as involuntary comment,
134by that experiment of Adam's
135with ways out but no way in --
136the ritual of marriage,
137augmenting all its lavishness;
138its fiddle-head ferns,
140its hippopotamus --
141nose and mouth combined
142in one magnificent hopper,
144that huge bird almost a lizard,"
145its snake and the potent apple.
146He tells us
148that will gaze an eagle blind,
150climbing the trees
151in the garden of the Hesperides,
152from forty-five to seventy
153is the best age,"
154commending it
155as a fine art, as an experiment,
156a duty or as merely recreation.
157One must not call him ruffian
158nor friction a calamity --
159the fight to be affectionate:
161until it has been tried
162by the tooth of disputation."
163The blue panther with black eyes,
164the basalt panther with blue eyes,
165entirely graceful --
166one must give them the path --
169as a bear doth,
170causing her husband to sigh,"
171the spiked hand
172that has an affection for one
173and proves it to the bone,
174impatient to assure you
175that impatience is the mark of independence
176not of bondage.
179mixed and malarial
180with a good day and bad."
181"When do we feed?"
182We occidentals are so unemotional,
183we quarrel as we feed;
184one's self is quite lost,
185the irony preserved
188with little laughter
189and munificence of humor
190in that quixotic atmosphere of frankness
192but at five o'clock
193the ladies in their imperious humility
194are ready to receive you";
195in which experience attests
196that men have power
197and sometimes one is made to feel it.
199to have a wife
200with hair like a shaving-brush?
201The fact of woman
203but every poison.'"
205of stars, garters, buttons
206and other shining baubles' --
207unfit to be the guardians
208of another person's happiness."
209He says, "These mummies
210must be handled carefully --
212a couple of shins and the bit of an ear';
213turn to the letter M
214and you will find
216that severe object
217with the pleasing geometry
218stipulating space and not people,
219refusing to be buried
220and uniquely disappointing,
221revengefully wrought in the attitude
222of an adoring child
223to a distinguished parent."
224She says, "This butterfly,
225this waterfly, this nomad
226that has `proposed
228What can one do with it?
229There must have been more time
230in Shakespeare's day
231to sit and watch a play.
232You know so many artists are fools."
233He says, "You know so many fools
234who are not artists."
235The fact forgot
237while some have obligations,"
238he loves himself so much,
239he can permit himself
240no rival in that love.
241She loves herself so much,
242she cannot see herself enough --
243a statuette of ivory on ivory,
244the logical last touch
245to an expansive splendor
246earned as wages for work done:
247one is not rich but poor
248when one can always seem so right.
249What can one do for them --
250these savages
251condemned to disaffect
252all those who are not visionaries
253alert to undertake the silly task
254of making people noble?
257only because she has seen enough of him" --
258that orator reminding you,
259"I am yours to command."
261it is more than a day's work
262to investigate this science."
263One sees that it is rare --
264that striking grasp of opposites
265opposed each to the other, not to unity,
267has dwarfed the demonstration
268of Columbus with the egg --
269a triumph of simplicity --
271of frightening disinterestedness
272which the world hates,
273admitting:
274"I am such a cow,
275if I had a sorrow,
276I should feel it a long time;
277I am not one of those
278who have a great sorrow
279in the morning
280and a great joy at noon;"
281which says: "I have encountered it
282among those unpretentious
283protegés of wisdom,
284where seeming to parade
285as the debater and the Roman,
286the statesmanship
288persists to their simplicity of temper
289as the essence of the matter:
291now and forever;'
292the book on the writing-table;
293the hand in the breast-pocket."

Notes

14] "'of circular traditions': Francis Bacon" [Moore's note, 102]. English minister of state, essayist, and scientist (1561-1626). Back to Line
25] "write simultaneously: Scientific American; January 1922; Multiple Consciousness or Reflex Action of Unaccustomed Range. `Miss A ------ will write simultaneously in three languages, English, German, and French, talking in the meantime. (She) takes advantage of her abilities in everyday life, writing her letters simultaneously with both hands; namely, the first, third, and fifth words with her left and the second, fourth, and sixth with her right hand. While generally writing outward, she is able as well to write inward with both hands.'" [Moore's note, 102] Back to Line
42] "`See her, see her in this common world': `George Shock'" [Moore's note, 102] Back to Line
49] "`unlike flesh, stones': Richard Baxter; The Saints' Everlasting Rest; Lippincott, 1909" [Moore's note, 102]. Richard Baxter (1651-91), American Puritan devotional writer. Back to Line
64] "`something feline, something colubrine': Philip Littell; Books and Things; Santayana's Poems; New Republic, March 21, 1923. `We were puzzled and we were fascinated, as if by something feline, by something colubrine.'" [Moore's note, 102]. George Santayana (1863-1952), US poet, whose selected Poems were published in London by Constable in 1922. Philip Littell's Books and Things (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1919; PS 3523 .I825B6).
colubrine: snakelike. Back to Line
82] "`treading chasms': Hazlitt; Essay on Burke's Style" [Moore's note, 103]. William Hazlitt (1778-1830), English literary critic. Back to Line
90] "`past states': Baxter" [Moore's note, 103] Back to Line
101] "`he experiences a solemn joy': Anatole France; Filles et Garçons; Hachette. A Travers Champs; `le petit Jean comprend qu'il est beau et cette idée de pénètre d'un respect profond de lui-même. ... Il goûte une joie pieuse à se sentir devenu une idole.'" [Moore's note, 103] Back to Line
108] "`it clothes me with a shirt of fire': The Nightingale; a poem in Armenian by Dr Hagop Boghossian of the Department of Philosophy of Worcester College, Massachusetts" [Moore's note, 103] Back to Line
109] "`he dares not clap his hands': Edward Thomas; Feminine Influence on the poets; Martin Secker, 1910. `The Kingis Quair -- To us the central experience is everything -- the strong unhappy king, looking out of the prison window and seeing the golden-haired maiden in rich attire trimmed with pearls, rubies, emeralds and sapphires, a chaplet of red, white and blue feathers on her head, a heart-shaped ruby on a chain of fine gold hanging over her white throat, her dress looped up carelessly to walk in that fresh morning of nightingales in the new-leaved thickets -- her little dog with his bells at her side.'" [Moore's note, 103]. Edward Thomas (1878-1917), English poet, wrote Feminine Influence on the Poets (London: M. Secker, 1910; end T464 F44 1910 Fisher Rare BookLibrary). The Kingis Quair is a poem by James I, king of Scotland (1394-1437). Back to Line
116] "`illusion of a fire': Baxter" [Moore's note, 103] Back to Line
121] `as high as deep': Baxter [Moore's note, 103] Back to Line
124] "`very trivial object': Godwin: `marriage is a law and the worst of all laws ... a very trivial object indeed.'" [Moore's note, 103]. Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97), wife of William Godwin (1756-1836), and author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Back to Line
129] Hymen: Greek god of marriage. Back to Line
130] "`a kind of overgrown cupid': Brewer; Dictionary of Phrase and Fable" [Moore's note, 103]. Ebenezer Cobham Brewer (1810-97), author of Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Back to Line
139] opuntias: prickly pears. Back to Line
143] "`the crested screamer': remark in conversation; Glenway Wescott" [Moore's note, 103]. Glenway Wescott (1901-) is an American poet. Back to Line
147] "`for love that will gaze an eagle blind': Anthony Trollope; Barchester Towers, Vol. II" [Moore's note, 103]. Back to Line
149] Hercules: the eleventh of the twelve labours of Hercules, the son of Zeus and Alcmena, was to obtain the golden apples in the garden of Zeus' wife Hera, a place guarded by a dragon that Hercules had to kill. Back to Line
160] "`Nor truth can be fully known': Robert of Sorbonne" [Moore's note, 103]. Back to Line
167] Dian: goddess of chastity. Back to Line
168] "`darkeneth her countenance as a bear doth': Ecclesiasticus; Women Bad and Good -- An Essay; Modern Reader's Bible; Macmillan" [Moore's note, 103-4] Back to Line
177] "`Married people often look that way': C. Bertram Hartmann" [Moore's note, 104]. Back to Line
178] "`seldom and cold': Baxter" [Moore's note, 104] Back to Line
186] "`Ahasuerus tête à tête banquet': George Adam Smith; Expositor's Bible" [Moore's note, 104] Back to Line
187] "`Good monster, lead the way': The Tempest" [Moore's note, 104]. Back to Line
191] "`Four o'clock does not exist': la Comtesse de Noailles; Femina, December 1921. le Thè: `Dans leur impérieuse humilité elles jouent instinctivement leurs rôles sur le globe.'" [Moore's note, 104] Back to Line
198] "`What monarch': `The Rape of the Lock'; a satire in verse by Mary Frances Nearing with suggestions by M. Moore" [Moore's note, 104]. Back to Line
202] "`the sound of the flute': A. Mitram Rhibany; The Syrian Christ. Silence on the part of women -- `to an Oriental, this is as poetry set to music' although `in the Orient as here, husbands have difficulty in enforcing their authority'; `it is a common saying that not all the angels in heaven could subdue a woman.'" [Moore's note, 104] Back to Line
204] "`men are monopolists': Miss M. Carey Thomas, President Emeritus of Bryn Mawr College. Founders address, Mount Holyoke College, 1821: `Men practically reserve for themselves stately funerals, splendid monuments, memorial statues, membership in academies, medals, titles, honorary degrees, stars, garters, ribbons, buttons and other shining baubles, so valueless in themselves and yet so infinitely desirable because they are symbols of recognition by their fellow craftsmen of difficult work well done.'" [Moore's note, 104] Back to Line
211] "`the crumbs from a lion's meal': Amos: 3; 12. Translation by George Adam Smith: Expositor's Bible" [Moore's note, 104] Back to Line
215] "`a wife is a coffin': quoted by John Cournos from Ezra Pound" [Moore's note, 104] Back to Line
227] "`settle on my hand': Charles Reade; Christie Johnston" [Moore's note, 104]. Charles Reade (1814-84), author of Christie Johnstone. A Novel (London: R. Bentley, 1853). Back to Line
236] "`some have rights': Burke. `Asiatics have rights; Europeans have obligations.'" [Moore's note, 104] Back to Line
255] petrine: characteristic of Peter, the apostle on whom Christ founded his church. Back to Line
256] "`leaves her peaceful husband': Simone A. Puget; Change of Fashion; advertisement, English Review, June, 1914. `Thus proceed pretty dolls when they leave their old home to renovate their frame, and dear others who may abandon their peaceful husband only because they have seen enough of him.'" [Moore's note, 104-5] Back to Line
260] "`Everything to do with love is mystery': F. C. Tilney; The Original Fables of La Fontaine; Dutton. Love and Folly: Book XII, No. 14." [Moore's note, 105] Back to Line
266] cycloid: circular. Back to Line
270] charitive: kind, generous.
Euroclydon: see Paul Coones, Euroclydon: A Tempestuous Wind (Oxford, 1986; PN 56 W49C66 Robarts Library). Back to Line
287] Daniel Webster (1782-1852), US orator statesman. Back to Line
290] "`Liberty and Union': Daniel Webster" [Moore's note, 105] Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1923
Publication Notes: 
Manikin, no. 3 (1923).
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.
Rhyme: