Friday, July 16, 2010

`A Flash of Splendour'

While writing an essay on Marianne Moore I remembered a poem by David Ferry, “Poems of Marianne Moore,” collected in Of No Country I Know (1999):


“Let her look at a stone:
The stone becomes an apple,
The apple of her eye.

Nor is it the only stone:
Her eye becomes a hand
To hold the apple up,

Gently for the mind,
Which is the truest eye,
Kindly to look upon.”


“To squeeze from a stone its juice,
And find how sweet it is,
Is her art’s happiness.”

Ferry compactly, almost fable-fashion, describes Moore’s art and sensibility. Like a good painter or botanist, her vision is acute, bolstered by discipline, attentiveness and imagination. Moore sees more than most of us, and what she sees she loves as a gift of creation – “The apple of her eye.” The eye is the mind’s hand and we contemplate the world’s apples with this “truest eye,” the limber, receptive mind.

Ferry plays with the proverb/cliché “You can’t squeeze blood from a stone.” Moore squeezes, instead, its sweetness – its rightness and beauty. This is happiness and I place Moore among the happy poets, a celebrator ready with gratitude. In another poem, “Rereading Old Writing,” Ferry, a less sunny but hardly gloomy writer, says “writing / Is a way of being happy.” In a letter of consolation and encouragement she wrote in 1952 to a friend (and childhood friend of T.S. Eliot), the artist Edward McKnight Kauffer, Moore says:

“…there is a flash of splendour [the apple] apart from the pretext [the stone]; and when a thing snares the imagination, it is because of a secret excitement which contributes something private – an incontrovertible to admire afresh at each sight, like the bloom and tones of a grape or the glitter of Orion as one emerges into the dark from the ordinariness of lamplight.”

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