A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Poem of the Day: Marianne Moore

What Are Years?    

   What is our innocence, 
what is our guilt? All are 
   naked, none is safe. And whence 
is courage: the unanswered question, 
the resolute doubt -- 
dumbly calling, deafly listening -- that 
in misfortune, even death, 
      encourages others 
      and in its defeat, stirs 

   the soul to be strong? He 
sees deep and is glad, who 
   accedes to mortality 
and in his imprisonment rises 
upon himself as 
the sea in a chasm, struggling to be 
free and unable to be, 
      in its surrendering 
      finds its continuing. 

  So he who strongly feels, 
behaves. The very bird, 
   grown taller as he sings, steels 
his form straight up. Though he is captive, 
his mighty singing 
says, satisfaction is a lowly 
thing, how pure a thing is joy. 
      This is mortality, 
      this is eternity. 
-- Marianne Moore

Marianne Moore was famous for her three-cornered hat and her love of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and if she's famous at all today, it's probably for her poem about poetry called "Poetry," which is in almost every anthology used in introduction-to-poetry courses. It's the one with the line about "imaginary gardens with real toads in them." So people were shocked when the 1967 edition of The Collected Poems of Marianne Moore was published and she had revised "Poetry" to read as follows, in its entirety: 

I, too, dislike it.
    Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in 
    it, after all, a place for the genuine.

I suspect a lot of poets would like to cut the hell out of their anthology pieces, especially if they're always being asked "What did you mean by ...?" 

I find a lot of Moore's poems a little too arch and clever, but there are three or four that I really cherish. Her poem "Peter" is one of the few poems about a cat to rival Christopher Smart's. "What Are Years?" is often read as a simple inspirational poem of the "stand up straight, wash your hands, eat your vegetables" variety. And to some extent it is just that. But there's real emotional anguish leading to the recognition that "satisfaction is a / lowly thing" that comes only to the humble. She has found in it a place for the genuine: She knows why the caged bird sings.   

No comments: