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"Sojourn in the Whale," a poem that is anything but modest and deferential, offers more direct insight into the person behind the poems and into the fictive discourse at the core of those poems. The title of the poem is significant in itself since it is the same one Moore gave to her serial account (in letters to her brother) of a trip to New York City in 1915. Determined to succeed as a poet and to meet whoever might help her to achieve that goal, Moore prepared for the task as diligently and deftly as though she were "trying to open locked doors with a sword." The poem opens with those words, but goes on to show that such impossible tasks seem to accomplish themselves. Power and success follow from essential confidence. The poem is ostensibly addressed to Ireland, whose tasks have included "threading the points of needles" and "planting shade trees upside down." "Swallowed by opaqueness," Ireland has "lived and lived on every kind of shortage" and has "been compelled by hags to spin / gold thread from straw." But Ireland's most impressive qualities are tenacity and inward calm. Speaking directly to Ireland, Moore identifies the secret of that country's power. It is clear that Ireland stands for a person as well as a country: . . .

"Spenser's Ireland" thus shows that imagination offers escape both from discouragement and, on a whim, from discommodity.


From Marianne Moore: Subversive Modernist. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986. Copyright © 1986 by University of Texas Press.