flints, not flowers
by Marianne Moore
I sense your glory.
For things that I desire and have not got:
For things that I have that I wish I had not,
You compensate me,
Stones. The moth shan’t eat you up, rust shall not waste
You. How far more cunningly than Keats has placed
His toy, that poor hack
Flung you up as he walked round. Praise god, stones.
Initially God made that horse, his bones
And lasting glory.
* * *
Marianne Moore’s poetry is as dense as poetry can possibly be. I find her strangeness an occasional antidote to all that is scripted and nicety nice in the world. Sometimes I want scripted and even nice, but then I need a dose of meaningful strangeness. And Marianne Moore is so lady-like and prophetic in her prickly intellectual strangeness, and I approve of her very much.
Last night I got lost in her poetry. While doing so I also enjoyed reading the many humorous titles out loud, as I encountered them, to the husband in the room watching college football. I’ll give one example: “To Be Liked By You Would Be a Calamity.”
Is that not a great title?
So, the above poem is a puzzle that I cannot solve entirely, at least not today, because it is a poem written by Marianne Moore, and I am at home with children, and not at a library, and maybe just not intellectual enough, or maybe not even curious enough. And yes, I tried the internet, and it did not yield anything conclusive. And I only know so much about John Keats off the top of my head. Would she, could she, be calling him a hack poet? What toy is she referring to? Why the horse? I’ll keep the results of my highly unofficial google searches for combinations such as “Keats + horse” to myself and let others draw their own conclusions, hoping that if anyone out there has any conclusions, they will kindly share them in the comments section.
I think I have some ideas about the stones though. The way she is using the image seems to me an allusion to the Gospel passage about the stones crying out on the one hand, and maybe even (I’d like to think) the passage about God being able to raise children of Abraham out of stones on the other hand. (See, I am even too lazy to look these passages up so as to provide a chapter and verse reference.)
But I like the way she is using the stones. I like that she talks to them and has decided to favor them over flowers and everything else that we tend to desire even though we might lose it or must lose it or might decide five years later that it wasn’t really as great as we thought it was. And it seems that this would be an austere theme, but really it is comforting, because it involves accepting life on its own terms and deciding to be aware of the fact that there is a higher reality at work in the world that doesn’t always give us flowers but maybe wants to give us something better, if we can lift our vision ever so slightly above the envisioned flowers. And it probably does not go around making children of Abraham out of stones either. But it could, if it wanted to.