Skip to main content

In 1935 Marianne Moore published a 29-line poem entitled "Poetry" (a slightly shortened version of a poem originally published in 1919) which included a detailed list of "important" and "genuine" phenomena worthy of being given a "place" within poetry. Also in 1935, Moore published a 3-line version of the "same" poem, which I quote in its entirety:

I, too, dislike it.

    Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in

    it, after all, a place for the genuine. (Selected 266-67)

By the appearance of The Complete Poems of 1967, the (earlier) long poem had become an endnote to the (later) short poem. The long poem, with its famous definition of poems as "imaginary gardens with real toads in them," together with its revisions, thus ends up enacting rather than prescribing the processes of selection, exclusion and inclusion by which poetry is constituted as a site or an enclosure for what is "real." All the messy details of "elephants pushing," "wild horse[s] taking a roll," "business documents and schoolbooks" which filled up the long version of "Poetry" are exiled from the homiletic simplicity of the condensed "Poetry." Yet the long version finds a new "place" as an addendum to its successor, setting into playa complex and paradoxical dialog between original and supplement, essence and detail, aphorism and description, restraint and excess, inside and outside—a dialog for which Moore's favorite staging ground throughout her poetry is the "imaginary garden" of Eden. What goes inside and what stays outside of "Poetry" raises the larger question of what—and who—belongs inside and outside of Poetry.


From "The Many-Armed Embrace: Collection, Quotation, and Mediation in Marianne Moore's Poetry." SAGETRIEB 12.2