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We know from the earlier letters of Moore's about her second visit to New York City that the image of a sojourn in the whale had great resonance for her. Among other things, it conveyed the ability to persist against adversity, to have a period of confusion become in fact a trial and thus a new opportunity; in short, it was an image of revelation through darkness. Such adversity can be instructive for an individual or for a country. Here she uses the image to describe the country of her foreparents, but also allegorically to suggest a self-portrait. The feminine temperament and the ability, even the urgency, to rise automatically against obstacles were—if not patently part of Moore's character at this time—at least values that she aspired to in finding her place in the world. This poem was written at least two years before the Bryn Mawr visit, occasioned in part by the Easter Rebellion in Dublin and the ensuing civil strife, but she tells Warner that it is one of the two poems she chose to read aloud during the reunion. Its imagery of water rising against an obstacle contrasts sharply with Yeats' famous image of the patriot's heart turned to stone, in his "Easter 1916."


From Marianne Moore: A Literary Life. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1990. Copyright © 1990 by Charles Molesworth.