Saturday, 1 October 2022

Litmosphere - Summary of Poetry by Marianne Moore

 Marianne Moor published the first version of 'Poetry' in 1919 and revised it many times for the next six decades. Employing the techniques of modernist poetry, Moore expands her idea of writing and reading poetry. In the poem, she differentiates genuine poetry from poetry produced by half poets and rejects existing ideas on poetic compositions and declares that genuine poetry can be produced on any mundane topics.

About the Author

Marianne Moore was born in 1887 in Kirkwood, Missouri, USA. Raised in the house of her Presbyterian grandfather, Moore published her early poems in popular literary journals like The Egoist, Poetry Magazine etc...She edited the American literary journal The Dial from 1925 to 1929. She brought out Collected Poetry in 1951 which won Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award.

Moore's poetry is known for linguistic precision, keen descriptions and acute observations of people, places, animals and art. She is a disciplined craftsman who advocates restraint, modesty and humour.

Outline of the Poem

The poem begins with the speaker joining a conversation on reading poetry. The poet shares the reader's dislike for poetry and feels that there are more important things to do than reading poems. It is clear that the speaker's dislike for poetry is only a lover's discord and when s/he starts reading, the contempt for reading gives way to genuine poetry. S/he then discovers in it genuine feelings and sensations and an appeal to the senses; thus poetry evokes sensual responses from readers such as making hands grasp, eyes dilate and hair rise. The poem becomes important because it is useful in getting touch with one's own feelings and not because it can be given high sounding interpretation by critics. When the poem becomes too derivative (not original) and it is not derived from personal experiences, it becomes unintelligible and reader can not appreciate it as the speaker says "we do not admire what we can not understand (line 9-11)".

In the following section, the speaker depicts the all encompassing nature of poetry and states that poetry can be made out of extremely ordinary experiences of the human and non human beings. Poetry can be produced out of the everyday activities of animals such as the bat in its upside down position, the pushing of elephants, rolling of wild horses, tireless wolf under a tree, quick movements of the skin of a critic engaged in study(hence immobile). The speaker continues to say that poetry can be made out of absolutely anything (living and non living objects) such as ball fan, the statistician, business documents and school books and there is no room for discrimination. The speaker warns that these things will not result in poetry if they are dragged (by force) into poetry by half poets.

In this section, the poet develops her concept of genuine poetry using oxymoronic and paradoxical phrases. She uses the phrase 'literalists of imagination' to refer to poets and the phrase is a combination of 'literal depiction' and imagination. This idea is made more explicit in the line "imaginary gardens with real toads in them" in which the poet asks to make a fine balance between the imaginative and real.

In the final section, the poet assures the readers that they are interested in poetry if they look for rawness of the raw materials of poetic composition i.e. genuine experiences,  imagination and linguistic expression.


In the poem 'Poetry', Marianne Moore addresses the common distaste for poetry and clearly defines her idea of reading and writing poetry.  According to her, poetry can help readers to get in touch with their emotions and feelings. She lists instances of emotions evoked by poetry such as love, fear and wonder. She does not approve poetry that are not original and stresses that poetry should be original and useful.

As a celebrated American modernist poet, she does not romanticize poetry and states that anything (living and non-living) can be the subject matter of poetry. She then objectively lists diverse themes of poetry such as the rolling of wild horses to business documents and school books. She dispels all traditional concepts regarding the composition of poetry and finds poetry in the mundane and the trivial. 

She warns poets not to drag the topics into prominence by giving them undue importance and special treatments. She stands for linguistic precision and acute observation. Moore practice of poetry involves imparting moral and intellectual insights from the close and accurate observation of objective details.  

Moore uses modernist technical devices such as paradoxes to define her idea of good poetry. According to her, good poetry should combine the form and the substance, the real and the imaginative. Putting her own phrase in quotation, Moore states that poetry should create "imaginary gardens with real toads" in them. Quoting an oxymoronic expression from WB Yeats remark on William Blake, she defines a writer as a blend of literalism (portray something literally) and imagination. 

A reader is interested in poetry if he s/he looks for fresh raw materials in poetry. By raw material, the poet means authentic feeling and imaginative expression combined with genuine experiences.

Litmosphere - Text and Glossary of Poetry by Marianne Moore


Marianne Moore (1887-1972)

I too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle.
   Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers that there is in
   it after all, a place for the genuine.
      Hands that can grasp, eyes
      that can dilate, hair that can rise
         if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because they are
   useful; when they become so derivative as to become unintelligible, the
   same thing may be said for all of us—that we
      do not admire what
      we cannot understand. The bat,
         holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless wolf under
   a tree, the immovable critic twinkling his skin like a horse that feels a flea, the base—
   ball fan, the statistician—case after case
      could be cited did
      one wish it; nor is it valid
         to discriminate against “business documents and

school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must make a distinction
   however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry,
   nor till the autocrats among us can be
     “literalists of
      the imagination”—above
         insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them, shall we have
   it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand, in defiance of their opinion—
   the raw material of poetry in
      all its rawness, and
      that which is on the other hand,
         genuine, then you are interested in poetry.


Fiddle: the noun fiddle has three implications here. The first is, fiddle is a musical instrument which evokes pleasure. Poetry too is like fiddle which pleases its readers. Second is, fiddle refers to fidgeting with something in a restless way. The process of writing a poem involves a lot of fidgeting. Thirdly, fiddle also refers to small sum; in this sense the speaker refers to poetry as something worthless.

Line 4-6: The speaker describes various physical responses poetry is capable of producing such as hands grasping, eyes dilating and hair rising.

high-sounding interpretation: this refers to criticism which often present literature in high sounding interpretation.

Line 11-19: the speaker offers a detailed list of raw materials which can poetry.

literalist of the imagination: this phrase is drawn from of W B Yeats' remarks about William Blakes. A literalist uses language to create a lifelike object in the readers imagination. Similarly. A poet is a literalist of imagination who stirs the imagination through precise, evocative imagery.

Imaginary gardens with real toads in them: the speaker states genuine poets are capable of creating imaginary gardens in the mind of readers with real -producing effects of the real-toads in it.

Line 26-30: the speaker of the poem reaffirms that the two ingredients for real poetry is genuine raw materials, that is genuine language and form.

Saturday, 24 September 2022

Analysis of the Poem To Posterity by Louis MacNeice

Click here to listen the poem To Posterity

The poem 'To Posterity' is taken from the collection of poetry titled Visitations by Louis MacNeice published in 1957. Written six years before his death, the poem shares poet's thoughts on the future of books and the role of new media in shaping the perceptions of the future generations

About the Author

Louis MacNeice was born in 1907 in Belfast and he had a troubled childhood. His father, a bishop of Anglo-Irish church of Ireland, favored Home Rule and stood against the Protestant bigotry and violence in Northern Ireland. When he was six, his mother was taken to a nursing home due to severe depression and died there the next year. He found his days in English schools and colleges an escape from the miserable life with his puritan rector father and stepmother. Later, he abandoned his baptismal first name and his father's faith and lost his Irish accent.

In the 1930s, MacNeice became a member of the Auden group of poets. Though he provided the best critical statement of the poetic aim and achievements of his friends, he did not share the political commitment of the group. He wrote slower, relaxed and balanced verses in which long reasonable discussions on life, ethics and politics were held.

Outline of the Poem

The poem captures a moment in future in which books suddenly seize up (meaning stop moving) and some other less difficult media such as radio, tv or social media take their place. The speaker wonders how this would affect the way people look at the world around them. The poet acknowledges the role of books in creating the world view of his generation and wonders whether future generations would have similar sense of colour and taste created by the new media. He also wonders whether the new media would kindle imagination as the books did. As usual, the poet dose not provide any answer and leave the poem open for discussion.


To Posterity is a near prophetic poem in which the poet predicts the disappearance of print culture and the emergence of technologically advanced media like radio, television and internet media. Written in 1950s, the poet was aware of the gaining presence of new media and resultant reframing of human perceptions. It is interesting to note that he has used the phrasal verb 'seize up' to describe the freezing/immobility of the books. This is usually used to describe the immobility/inactivity of machines. This shows that the poet considers books as a product of mechanical production and is open to the emergence of new less difficult media.

The central idea of the poem is to contrast the sense perceptions and imagination framed by the new media with that of the books. MacNeice is known for evading any political/ideological positions among the Auden group of poets and he does not come to any conclusion in the poem. He poses the question whether the new media would frame sense perceptions and imagination as good as the way books did.

The poem has gained attention over the years as the domination of electronic/internet media have reshaped the world view of generation after MacNeice and the poem portrays the musings of the poet. His selection of words like 'media', which was a less common word in the 1950s, gives the poem a technological air and the futuristic elements of the poem derive out of this.