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In her poems about amphibious creatures (these include the salamander, the chameleon, the dragon, and the basilisk), Moore once again elaborates on a physical trait that has for her the same symbolic value it has for Browne, who writes in hisReligio:

We are onely that amphibious piece between a corporall and spirituall essence, that middle frame that linkes those two together, and makes good the method of God and nature.... thus is man that great and true Amphibium, whose nature is disposed to live not onely like other creatures in divers elements, but in divided and distinguished worlds: for though there bee but one [world] to the sense, there are two to reason; the one visible; the other invisible.

For Moore, who reminds us in a 1965 Harper's Bazaar piece that "amphi" means "both," amphibiousness becomes a metaphor for man's--and in "The Pangolin," of course, she follows Browne in using that noun generically--uniquely double position in creation. Because he is a creature like others, man inhabits the visible world with its "divers elements"; because he is the rational creature, he also inhabits that other, invisible world. just as she evokes the human capacity for spiritual endurance by describing erect objects or animals, Moore at times evokes humankind's dual nature by describing amphibious animals.


From An Enabling Humility: Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop, and the Uses of Tradition. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1990. Copyright © 1990 by Jeredith Merrin.