If yellow betokens infidelity,
I am an infidel.
I could not bear a yellow rose ill will
Because books said that yellow boded ill,
White promised well;
However, your particular possession-
The sense of privacy
In what you did-deflects from your estate
Offending eyes, and will not tolerate
By Marianne Moore
I’m going to be nice and quick about this one, partially because the first stanza is so bloody brilliant, partially because I haven’t got a scooby what the second stanza means.
The first stanza is simple, yet beautiful. Yellow is a colour found throughout nature; it is not intrinsically good, nor intrinsically bad, nor intrinsically symbolic of infidelity. It is yellow, just yellow. I’ve read someone say this is in reference to gender, someone else say this is in reference to race; Bonnie Costello (don’t worry, neither have I) posited that this is left intentionally ambiguous. Personally, this particular piece of poetry is the style of poetry I love most: something both entirely ambiguous and potentially universal.
In my own world view, I would extend this to the notion of disability. It is to my shame that, as a man with a disability, I still harbour preconceived (or preconditioned?) ideas regarding people who live with disabilities. Yet, I have seen dozens of examples (and heard of dozens more) of people living with disabilities, and far surpassing my ignorant and limited expectations. I would like to be one of Moore’s infidels one day.
The second stanza is where I get confounded. I’ve done a little research, and it turns out this poem was originally written in response to Robert Browning and his narrative poem, ‘The Ring and the Book’. It’s apparently thought that this was a reference to Browning’s estate being fenced so that he could plant whatever colour roses he wanted without worry of “offending eyes”. I dunno; this stanza doesn’t mean a hell of a lot to me, and I’m not entirely sure how universal this sentiment is.
Regardless, I will not forget that first stanza for some time. In fact, I write this two days after the mass shooting in Christchurch. At a time where hate has caused such a horrific act, hate caused by simple and exaggerated ignorance, this stanza seems somewhat more poignant than it did a week ago.