Peter

Original Text: 
Marianne Moore, Observations (New York: The Dial Press, 1924): 51-52. PS 3525 O5616 O28 1924 Robarts Library. [Reprint of Poems (London: The Egoist Press, 1921), with some additions]
2    he sleeps his time away -- the detached first claw on his foreleg which corresponds
4        or katydid legs above each eye, still numbering the units in each group;
6in unison like the porcupine's quills -- motionless. He lets himself be flat­
7    tened out by gravity, as it were a piece of seaweed tamed and weakened by
8    exposure to the sun; compelled when extended, to lie
9        stationary. Sleep is the result of his delusion that one must do as
10            well as one can for oneself; sleep -- epitome of what is to
11him as to the average person, the end of life. Demonstrate on him how
12    the lady caught the dangerous southern snake, placing a forked stick on either
13    side of its innocuous neck; one need not try to stir
14        him up; his prune shaped head and alligator eyes are not a party to the
15            joke. Lifted and handled, he may be dangled like an eel or set
16up on the forearm like a mouse; his eyes bisected by pupils of a pin's
17    width, are flickeringly exhibited, then covered up. May be? I should say,
18    might have been; when he has been got the better of in a
19        dream -- as in a fight with nature or with cats -- we all know it. Profound sleep is
20            not with him, a fixed illusion. Springing about with froglike ac­
21curacy, emitting jerky cries when taken in the hand, he is himself
22    again; to sit caged by the rungs of a domestic chair would be unprofit­
23    able -- human. What is the good of hypocrisy? It
24        is permissible to choose one's employment, to abandon the wire nail, the
25            roly-poly, when it shows signs of being no longer a pleas­
26ure, to score the adjacent magazine with a double line of strokes. He can
27    talk, but insolently says nothing. What of it? When one is frank, one's very
28    presence is a compliment. It is clear that he can see
30            the published fact as a surrender. As for the disposition
31invariably to affront, an animal with claws wants to have to use
32    them; that eel-like extension of trunk into tail is not an accident. To
33    leap, to lengthen out, divide the air -- to purloin, to pursue.
34        to tell the hen: fly over the fence, go in the wrong way -- in your perturba­
35            tion -- this is life; to do less would be nothing but dishonesty.

Notes

1] "A black-and-white cat owned by Miss Magdalen Hueber and Miss Maria Weniger" [Moore's note, p. 97] Back to Line
3] fronds: leaves. Back to Line
5] shadbones: bones of a fish important as food. Back to Line
29] those: "thoes" in original text. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1924
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.
Rhyme: