Marianne Moore’s A Grave

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Marianne Moore’s poem, “A Grave,” is a virtuosic display of restless and discursive analysis, making the activity and soul of the sea a metaphor for death; so appropriate for her description of a vast, complex force consuming all things, itself a non-entity, taking all other things as naive objects themselves, never known, never remembered.

Yale professor Langdon Hammer mentions the opening of this poem as a possible reference to the Friedrich painting below, Wanderer Above the Sea and Fog.  He spoke of an incident in Moore’s life when her mother and she stood at the shore, and Marianne’s mother quelled the girl’s irritation by responding with a line Moore uses here, “it is human nature to stand in the middle of a thing.”  (Note: Hammer has a course on Modernist poetry that I enjoyed to no end and should not be missed.  You can see it free here.)

Friedrich Wanderer Sea

Hammer points out that A Graveyard is made up of two stanzas, with no line break, of 11 lines each.  Each of these two stanzas begin with a 7 syllable line.  Some may suggest that this is an anti-Christian poem, protesting against the dominance of Christian theology, and the person of Christ, as being at the center of the universe.  Is Christ lifted on the cross merely the habit of man to put himself at the center of all things, staring into the Sublime?  Perhaps that is an undercurrent of the poem.  Perhaps these stanzas employ Biblical numerology (11 disciples, 7 for the day of eternal life) to pose an emotional counter-argument suggesting that all are subsumed by a death which erases even their bones into a void.

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