Margaret Holley: On "Sojourn in the Whale"

Probably Moore's most overtly feminist poem is "Sojourn in the Whale," a piece that was apparently composed around the time of the poet's first serious literary foray to New York City. This trip in December of 1915, on which she met future friends and editors like Alfred Kreymborg and visited Alfred Stieglitz's studio "291," was described in a letter to her brother as a "Sojourn in the Whale." The poem's opening theme of attempting the apparently impossible—"Trying to open locked doors with a sword" (MM 90)—suggestive of the young poet's attempt to gain entry to the literary world, is met with the conventional expectation: "'There is a feminine temperament in direct contrast to ours / / which makes her do these things. . . . compelled by experience, she will turn back; / / water seeks its own' level'" (90). The poet's response to this challenge in return is as coolly and solidly defiant as we have in literature:

and you have smiled. "Water in motion is far 

from level." You have seen it, when obstacles happened to bar 

the path, rise automatically. (90)

From "Portraits of Ladies in Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop." Sagetrieb Vol. 6, No. 3.

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