Those Various Scalpels

By Marianne Moore 1887–1972 Marianne Moore
various sounds, consistently indistinct, like intermingled echoes
   struck from thin glasses successively at random—
       the inflection disguised: your hair, the tails of two
   fighting-cocks head to head in stone—
       like sculptured scimitars repeating the curve of your   
               ears in reverse order:   
                                                                        your eyes,
             flowers of ice and snow

sown by tearing winds on the cordage of disabled ships: your
       raised hand
an ambiguous signature: your cheeks, those rosettes
   of blood on the stone floors of French châteaux,
with regard to which the guides are so affirmative—
          your other hand

a bundle of lances all alike, partly hid by emeralds from Persia
    and the fractional magnificence of Florentine
       goldwork—a collection of little objects—
sapphires set with emeralds, and pearls with a moonstone, made fine
   with enamel in gray, yellow, and dragonfly blue;
      a lemon, a pear

and three bunches of grapes, tied with silver: your dress, a magnificent square
cathedral tower of uniform
   and at the same time diverse appearance—a
species of vertical vineyard, rustling in the storm
   of conventional opinion—are they weapons or scalpels?
       Whetted to brilliance

by the hard majesty of that sophistication which is superior to opportunity,
these things are rich instruments with which to experiment.
    But why dissect destiny with instruments
    more highly specialized than the components of destiny

Source: The Poems of Marianne Moore (Penguin Books, 2005)

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Poet Marianne Moore 1887–1972

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic


 Marianne  Moore


One of American literature’s foremost poets, Marianne Moore’s poetry is characterized by linguistic precision, keen and probing descriptions, and acute observations of people, places, animals, and art. Her poems often reflect her preoccupation with the relationships between the common and the uncommon, as well as advocate discipline in both art and life, and espouse restraint, modesty, and humor. She frequently used animals as a . . .

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POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic


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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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