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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James Joyce’s Chamber Music

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These are sections 3-30 of James Joyce’s long poem, Chamber Music, which comprised his first book. Published in 1907, Joyce of course became famous for his novels and short stories and his poetry has unfortunately been largely forgotten.

The Poetry Foundation has written that Chamber Music was noticed by Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, “and included in Pound’s influential Imagist Anthology of 1914. Pound wrote of Chamber Music: “the quality and distinction of the poems in the first half…is due in part to their author’s strict musical training…the wording is Elizabethan, the metres at times suggesting Herrick.’ Known as a lyric poet, Joyce based some of his poems on songs. His poems have been set to music by composers including Geoffrey Moyneux Palmer, Ross Lee Finney, Samuel Barber, and Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd, as well as the group Sonic Youth.”


Chamber Music
Sections 3-30 of 36 total

III

At that hour when all things have repose,

O lonely watcher of the skies,

IV

When the shy star goes forth in heaven

All maidenly, disconsolate,

V

Lean out of the window,

Goldenhair,

VI

I would in that sweet bosom be

(O sweet it is and fair it is!)

VII

My love is in a light attire

Among the apple-trees,

VIII

Who goes amid the green wood

With springtide all adorning her?

IX

Winds of May, that dance on the sea,

Dancing a ring-around in glee

X

Bright cap and streamers,

He sings in the hollow:

XI

Bid adieu, adieu, adieu,

Bid adieu to girlish days,

XII

What counsel has the hooded moon

Put in thy heart, my shyly sweet,

XIII

Go seek her out all courteously,

And say I come,

XIV

My dove, my beautiful one,

Arise, arise!

XV

From dewy dreams, my soul, arise,

From love’s deep slumber and from death,

XVI

O cool is the valley now

And there, love, will we go

XVII

Because your voice was at my side

I gave him pain,

XVIII

O Sweetheart, hear you

Your lover’s tale;

XIX

Be not sad because all men

Prefer a lying clamour before you:

XX

In the dark pine-wood

I would we lay,

XXI

He who hath glory lost, nor hath

Found any soul to fellow his,

XXII

Of that so sweet imprisonment

My soul, dearest, is fain–

XXIII

This heart that flutters near my heart

My hope and all my riches is,

XXIV

Silently she’s combing,

Combing her long hair

XXV

Lightly come or lightly go:

Though thy heart presage thee woe,

XXVI

Thou leanest to the shell of night,

Dear lady, a divining ear.

XXVII

Though I thy Mithridates were,

Framed to defy the poison-dart,

XXVIII

Gentle lady, do not sing

Sad songs about the end of love;

XXIX

Dear heart, why will you use me so?

Dear eyes that gently me upbraid,

XXX

Love came to us in time gone by

When one at twilight shyly played