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A Grave -- Marianne Moore

Carrying on our guest theme, another poem from David Wright
(Poem #986) A Grave
 Man looking into the sea,
 taking the view from those who have as much right
 to it as
            you have to it yourself,
 it is human nature to stand in the middle of a
 but you cannot stand in the middle of this;
 the sea has nothing to give but a well excavated
 The firs stand in a procession, each with an
 emerald turkey-
            foot at the top,
 reserved as their contours, saying nothing;
 repression, however, is not the most obvious
 characteristic of
            the sea;
 the sea is a collector, quick to return a
 rapacious look.
 There are others besides you who have worn that
 look --
 whose expression is no longer a protest; the fish
 no longer
            investigate them
 for their bones have not lasted:
 men lower nets, unconscious of the fact that they
            desecrating a grave,
 and row quickly away -- the blades of the oars
 moving together like the feet of water-spiders as
 if there were
            no such thing as death.
 The wrinkles progress among themselves in a
 phalanx -- beautiful
            under networks of foam,
 and fade breathlessly while the sea rustles in
 and out of the
 the birds swim throught the air at top speed,
 emitting cat-calls
            as heretofore --
 the tortoise-shell scourges about the feet of the
 cliffs, in motion
            beneath them;
 and the ocean, under the pulsation of lighthouses
 and noise of
 advances as usual, looking as if it were not that
 ocean in which
            dropped things are bound to sink --
 in which if they turn and twist, it is neither
 with volition nor
-- Marianne Moore
I can't resist an invitation to contribute more poems on this theme, if theme
it is, and I notice that the minstrels haven't had Marianne Moore yet. You'll
find as a heaping helping of commentary on this poem at

According to a note by Chris ) on his Marianne
Moore Home Page , "A Grave" was written shortly after the sinking of the
Lusitania and after Moore's brother Warner joined the Navy as a chaplin and
went out to sea. The sea was one of Moore's favorite topics, but she was also
very much aware of the sea as a grave. The sea, for Moore, was both beautiful
and deadly. Once, when she and her mother were standing together admiring the
sea, a man came and stood in from of them, Moore's mother remarked about how
people seem to feel the need to stand in the middle of things instead of
stepping back to get the full picture, and this incident became part of the
poem. (Source: Marianne Moore: A Literary Life by Charles Molesworth)

David Wright        Seattle Public Library


  [broken link] has a biography of Moore and
  some notes on exploring her poetry

45 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

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