“silence,” by marianne moore

I actually posted this poem a year ago in an entry about a somewhat, but not completely, unrelated subject. The post wasn’t very good, either, and my Spanish was way worse then than it is now.

Anyway I’m not the biggest poetry fan, but I did study literature in college so I had to take some classes in it. I inevitably found some good ones and remembered them. This is one that I liked, from my Modern Poetry Since 1950 class with Professor MacGowan:


My father used to say,
“Superior people never make long visits,
have to be shown Longfellow’s grave
or the glass flowers at Harvard.
Self-reliant like the cat—
that takes its prey to privacy,
the mouse’s limp tail hanging like a shoelace from its mouth—
they sometimes enjoy solitude,
and can be robbed of speech
by speech which has delighted them.
The deepest feeling always shows itself in silence;
not in silence, but restraint.”
Nor was he insincere in saying, “Make my house your inn.”
Inns are not residences.

Marianne Moore, 1951

Recently I was hanging out with someone who cares about etiquette enough to talk about it. It made me think of this poem, of how to define decency, of poise, of the idea of word versus deed. Somewhere along the line, maybe in Modern Poetry class, I developed a sense that following etiquette properly, being decent, entails not talking about it.

I was going to say Moore’s father is breaking this maxim of silence with the line “superior people never,” but I guess as her father, he’s allowed. To instruct his daughter on how she ought to act.

Not sure what my excuse is for talking about it… I’m a blogger? I’m sharing a nice poem?

From the collection of glass flowers at Harvard (Hahvahd):


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