Perspective: ‘Reticence and Volubility’ BY MARIANNE MOORE

“When I am dead,”
The wizard said,
“I’ll look upon the narrow way
And this Dante,
And know that he was right
And he’ll delight
In my remorse,
Of course.”
“When I am dead,”
The student said,
“I shall have grown so tolerant,
I’ll find I can’t
Laugh at your sorry plight
Or take delight
In your chagrin,

By Marianne Moore

There’s a quote I’ve lived a lot by over the last three or four years (maybe more; time moves faster than it used to). The philosopher Michel de Montaigne once said, “We are, I know not how, double in ourselves, so that what we believe, we disbelieve, and cannot rid ourselves of what we condemn.” I usually take this to the level of religion, but this poem has me thinking about it in a new way.

What I’ve read about Moore is that she was a very private person, even in her writings. I’m not entirely sure that’s true, based on this poem. It seems to me that she laid herself bare on the page, only didn’t make herself obvious. Who’s this Merlin? I reckon it’s Moore. This Dante? Moore. I initially assumed she was referring to the obvious mythical characters, but the more I read this poem, the more autobiographical it feels. Moore is student, Moore is teacher, as are we all.

Whenever I’ve been drunk, I’ve been fairly voluble. Else times, I’m fairly reticent. And I can be somewhere in between at times as well. All the while, I’m trying to understand which is the better way, whatever that might mean. I’m not saying Moore and I are the same person by any stretch of the imagination (for example, she can write poetry), but I do feel as though this is a common question for all people: is the way I live the right way? Am I better as an introvert or an extrovert? Should I speak or reconsider?

Regardless of what conclusion one may come to, Moore seemed quite content at this point in her life to disregard the possibility of conclusion. Moore viewed this division of the self as lifelong inner turmoil. Moreover, each side of her seems to feel the other will turn out to be the correct way of being; she is constantly at war with herself regardless of the time.

Either that, or this is in fact a short dialogue between a wizard and a theologian. Either which way, whether personally or interpersonally, it is a truth that we truly “cannot rid ourselves of what we condemn”, so we may as well learn to live a full life given what we have.

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