By Marianne Moore
I was pleasantly surprised by this poem. I don’t know why I was surprised – Moore’s writings have treated me rather favourably – but I had not considered art in such an interesting way before. Let me explain.
The title is rather self explanatory, but an excellent choice to juxtapose the simplicity of an image with the extravagance of the commentated-upon art form. A glass bottle in the shape of a fish looks rather simple, one might even say basic, but making a glass bottle is something relatively few people know how to do.
The second stanza is your usual ode. I don’t know why, but this stanza didn’t really hit me with any oomph. It’s not that it’s bad, it just didn’t seem to be my cup of tea today. However, if you have any thoughts on the stanza, I would love to read them, see if I can’t read it in a new light.
However, the first stanza hit me like a stampeding buffalo. I would like to quickly break it down into four talking points. The first is the choice of the word, “thirst”. Artists are often asked why they create, and a satisfactory answer is very rarely given. I’ve gotten to the point where I just say, “I don’t know”, when people ask why I write poetry (it’s almost art). So seeing this choice of word is perhaps the most poignant explanation I’ve seen yet; it’s somewhere between a necessity and desire, or a combination of the two.
The second talking point I’d like to mention is the second-line phrase, “patience from the first”. I’m not saying I’m a patient man (I’ve started more scripts than I’d care to count), but when I have that thirst to write a poem, my patience can last until it’s completion quite comfortably. I feel the patience depends on the passion; i.e. a novelist will take the necessary time to finish a novel while a sculptor will take the necessary time to finish a bust. Regardless, it is a necessary point in artistry.
The next point is this idea of a wave, a part of the whole briefly held aloft for a moment of focus. It’s not a revolutionary idea that art is meant to reflect or comment on experience or society, but it’s a beautiful metaphor for it.
Quite related to the previous point is this idea of “essential perpendicularity”. Again, the wave is a perfect image of this point. Moore had a plethora of words to choose from, but the chosen two were perfect. Art is not reality. Thus, it must not fall on the same line as reality, else it is simply experience. However, the point of art is to discuss reality (at whatever level that may be), so must be connected. Art is not a world in and of itself, so must not fall on a disconnected parallel line alongside reality. The line of art must not be the line of reality, but must intercept reality for the sake of understanding. Thus, “essential perpendicularity”.