Roses Only

- 1887-1972

You do not seem to realise that beauty is a liability rather than
   an asset—that in view of the fact that spirit creates form we are justified in supposing
     that you must have brains. For you, a symbol of the unit, stiff and sharp,
   conscious of surpassing by dint of native superiority and liking for everything
self-dependent, anything an

ambitious civilisation might produce: for you, unaided to attempt through sheer
   reserve, to confute presumptions resulting from observation, is idle. You cannot make us
     think you a delightful happen-so. But rose, if you are brilliant, it
   is not because your petals are the without-which-nothing of pre-eminence. You would look, minus
thorns—like a what-is-this, a mere

peculiarity. They are not proof against a worm, the elements, or mildew
   but what about the predatory hand? What is brilliance without co-ordination? Guarding the
     infinitesimal pieces of your mind, compelling audience to
   the remark that it is better to be forgotten than to be remembered too violently,
your thorns are the best part of you.

More by Marianne Moore

The Paper Nautilus

   For authorities whose hopes
are shaped by mercenaries?
   Writers entrapped by
   teatime fame and by
commuters' comforts?  Not for these
   the paper nautilus
   constructs her thin glass shell.

   Giving her perishable
souvenir of hope, a dull
   white outside and smooth-
   edged inner surface
glossy as the sea, the watchful
   maker of it guards it
   day and night; she scarcely

   eats until the eggs are hatched.
Buried eight-fold in her eight
   arms, for she is in
   a sense a devil-
fish, her glass ram'shorn-cradled freight
   is hid but is not crushed;
   as Hercules, bitten

   by a crab loyal to the hydra,
was hindered to succeed,
   the intensively
   watched eggs coming from
the shell free it when they are freed,—
   leaving its wasp-nest flaws
   of white on white, and close-

   laid Ionic chiton-folds
like the lines in the mane of
   a Parthenon horse,
   round which the arms had
wound themselves as if they knew love
   is the only fortress
   strong enough to trust to.

He "Digesteth Harde Yron"

   Although the aepyornis
   or roc that lived in Madagascar, and
the moa are extinct,
the camel-sparrow, linked
   with them in size--the large sparrow
Xenophon saw walking by a stream--was and is
a symbol of justice.

   This bird watches his chicks with
   a maternal concentration-and he's
been mothering the eggs
at night six weeks--his legs
   their only weapon of defense.
He is swifter than a horse; he has a foot hard
as a hoof; the leopard

   is not more suspicious.  How
   could he, prized for plumes and eggs and young
used even as a riding-beast, respect men
   hiding actor-like in ostrich skins, with the right hand
making the neck move as if alive
and from a bag the left hand strewing grain, that ostriches

   might be decoyed and killed!  Yes, this is he
whose plume was anciently
the plume of justice; he
   whose comic duckling head on its
great neck revolves with compass-needle nervousness
when he stands guard,

   in S-like foragings as he is
   preening the down on his leaden-skinned back.
The egg piously shown
as Leda's very own
   from which Castor and Pollux hatched,
was an ostrich-egg.  And what could have been more fit
for the Chinese lawn it

   grazed on as a gift to an
   emperor who admired strange birds, than this
one, who builds his mud-made
nest in dust yet will wade
   in lake or sea till only the head shows.

	.	.	.	.	.	.	.

   Six hundred ostrich-brains served
   at one banquet, the ostrich-plume-tipped tent
and desert spear, jewel-
gorgeous ugly egg-shell
   goblets, eight pairs of ostriches
in harness, dramatize a meaning
always missed by the externalist.

   The power of the visible
   is the invisible; as even where
no tree of freedom grows,
so-called brute courage knows.
   Heroism is exhausting, yet
it contradicts a greed that did not wisely spare
the harmless solitaire

   or great auk in its grandeur;
   unsolicitude having swallowed up
all giant birds but an alert gargantuan
   little-winged, magnificently speedy running-bird.
This one remaining rebel
is the sparrow-camel.

Spenser's Ireland

has not altered;--
   a place as kind as it is green,
   the greenest place I've never seen.
Every name is a tune.
Denunciations do not affect
	the culprit; nor blows, but it
is torture to him to not be spoken to.
They're natural,--
    the coat, like Venus'
mantle lined with stars,
buttoned close at the neck,-the sleeves new from disuse.

If in Ireland
   they play the harp backward at need,
   and gather at midday the seed
of the fern, eluding
their "giants all covered with iron," might
 there be fern seed for unlearn-
ing obduracy and for reinstating
the enchantment?
   Hindered characters
seldom have mothers
in Irish stories, but they all have grandmothers.

It was Irish;
   a match not a marriage was made
   when my great great grandmother'd said
with native genius for
disunion, "Although your suitor be
	perfection, one objection
is enough; he is not
Irish."  Outwitting
    the fairies, befriending the furies,
whoever again
and again says, "I'll never give in," never sees

that you're not free
   until you've been made captive by
   supreme belief,--credulity
you say?  When large dainty
fingers tremblingly divide the wings
 of the fly for mid-July
with a needle and wrap it with peacock-tail,
or tie wool and
    buzzard's wing, their pride,
like the enchanter's
is in care, not madness.  Concurring hands divide

flax for damask
   that when bleached by Irish weather
   has the silvered chamois-leather
water-tightness of a
skin.  Twisted torcs and gold new-moon-shaped
 lunulae aren't jewelry
like the purple-coral fuchsia-tree's.  Eire--
the guillemot
   so neat and the hen
of the heath and the
linnet spinet-sweet-bespeak relentlessness?  Then

they are to me
   like enchanted Earl Gerald who
   changed himself into a stag, to
a great green-eyed cat of
the mountain.  Discommodity makes
 them invisible; they've dis-
appeared.  The Irish say your trouble is their
trouble and your
    joy their joy?  I wish
I could believe it;
I am troubled, I'm dissatisfied, I'm Irish.

Related Poems

Beauty

            Je suis belle, ô mortels! comme un rêve de pierre
           (Baudelaire)

These poisoned sensations have to be
Accepted if they’re to be
Overcome. Looking
Up calories on my phone

Not that I’m counting 
Don’t even like numbers
It’s something vestigial
It comes in bad minutes

To teach my body something's in control
Something little & unholy, wrong idea
Of information, chiseling a transparent minute
Into myself with the afterimage of a form

If I did this kind of thing
On the bigger machine it’d be
Worse. Worse
Things than this are bombing

The world. A terrible
Fate is coming to power tomorrow. I’m reading
The early poems of Sherman Alexie. Desolation
Of secular life. I remember the luxury of speculating

All mystical traditions grew up
In the souls of a disciplined few
Turned in on themselves while under
Occupation by tyrants. That was then. This

Morning I could see one comfort: to become rock
Hard. Could imagine one comfort:
To have become rock. I had no
Imagination. I had his. I had theirs. “Formalism

& grammar are ways to be thin...” masochism
Merely thought of, the idea of a calorie
Most boring way to feel womanly doing itself to me
This morning I was panicking, burning, I was desperate

Scanning the body of my bedfellow
Its beautiful cheeks & chin
& long smooth abdomen
My silence growing fat like an old fruit

Still making me sick
It makes me sick I longed
For the wrong thing
I longed for death. I dreamed of stone

sent by hand

19 January 2017