Cristanne Miller: On "Sojourn in the Whale"

"Sojourn in the Whale" appears to claim that women (represented by the Irish) may "rise" without doing battle. The poem ends with indirect dialogue between the British ("men") and Ireland ("you," a woman).

Here is the poem's conundrum. The last lines, and the woman's smile, imply that she knows more than the men who criticize her. Having "been compelled' to perform impossible deeds for centuries ("thread[ ] / the points of needles," "spin / gold thread from straw") and having not just survived but abundantly "lived and lived on every kind of shortage," she knows with absolute clarity her own endurance and strength. Yet if water rises "automatically," there is no need for thorns or weapons.

In the context of other poems, however, such a passive reading becomes implausible, and the poem's analogy between women and nature seems more problematized than problematic. According to "Roses Only," the natural woman has both intellect and "thorns"; according to "Those Various Scalpels," women are capable of aggression and weaponry far beyond that natural state; and according to all of Moore's poems, one is limited in one's effectiveness and success by one's determination and wit--not by "nature." The "rise" predicted in "Sojourn" may occur because a woman--or at least a New Woman--"automatically" responds with whatever "weapons or scalpels" she has at her command; her nature, as it were, may appear the same but has changed in its determination to respond. Unlike most of Moore's poems, this one predicts revolution. Inspired by the resurgence of Irish rebellion against British colonialism in 1916, this poem suggests the necessity or "nature" of the downtrodden to rise.

From Marianne Moore: Questions of Authority. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995. Copyright © 1995 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

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Title Cristanne Miller: On "Sojourn in the Whale" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Cristanne Miller Criticism Target Marianne Moore
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 31 Oct 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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