Essentials: Marianne Moore’s ‘Observations’

Observations by Marianne Moore

The Dial Press 1925

“supertadpoles of expression”

Often undermining “plain American speech which cats and dogs can read,” Marianne Moore’s modernism is deeply complex and persistently beautiful, and Observations is possibly the best and definitely the least adulterated example of her exotic genius.  Moore’s American debut was also the first collection selected, edited and approved by Moore herself. It promptly received the Dial Award and subsequent acclaim.  Among the many truly great poems found in Observations is her mind-bending “An Octopus,” her early extended version of “Poetry,” and “Marriage,” a rumination on the subject that characteristically bounds from convolutedly prosaic (“This institution / perhaps one should say enterprise / out of respect for which / one says one need not change one’s mind / about a thing one has believed in”) to consonantal (“One must not call him ruffian / nor friction a calamity / the fight to be affectionate”) to humorously metrical (“He says, ‘What monarch would not blush / to have a wife / with hair like a shaving-brush’”).  Observations is a circus of a book, and Moore is its ringleader—sometimes smirking, sometimes serious, but somehow turning hippopotamuses, elephants, zebras, and octopuses into an important and inherent part of the American idiom, and despite H.D.’s early opinion of Moore as an anachronism, nearly every poem in Observations warrants mention, testifying to the unrelenting timeliness of Marianne Moore’s originality.

–PJ Gallo

Find Observations here and in Becoming Marianne Moore.

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PJ Gallo lives in Durham, North Carolina. His poems have recently appeared in Bat City Review, H_NGM_N, Independent Weekly, Roanoke Review and elsewhere. He is a co-editor of the weekly online poetry journal LEVELER.