Marianne Moore: “Silence”

Marianne Moore

Silence

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
Born 15 November 1887

Image posted at Modern American Poetry

~ by matt on 15 November 2007.

7 Responses to “Marianne Moore: “Silence””

  1. Thanks for posting…I hadn’t remembered this poem. When did she write it? Those 3,000 Blaschka Glass Flowers are still on display at the Harvard Museum of Natural History –The exhibition first opened in 1891, and after so many years, these unbelievably realistic glass models of plants are still amazing over 155,000 museum visitors a year. They’re just a 6-7 minute walk from Harvard Square, so don’t miss seeing them if you’re ever in Boston.

  2. Thanks very much, Blue Magruder. I’ve not been to see the Blaschka Glass Flowers at Harvard for about 30 years and it’s time for me to return. The painstaking work of decades, of father and son, is truly jaw dropping.

    I believe Moore first published “Silence” in in her Observations (New York: The Dial Press, 1924). I transcribed the text from her 1951 Collected.

  3. The image of a cat carrying the limp tail of a mouse is striking. With the comparison of the tail to a shoe lace, the limpness is graphically portrayed. This image brings before our eyes the silence that the ‘superior’ cat enjoys in solitude. But the state of silence may sometimes be passive. Such a passive one is not talked about in the poem. That’s why the poet prefers the word ‘restraint’ to ‘silence’; the former word stands for the intensely active state of silence. In such a state, one’s emotions remain sincere and deep-rooted. Come into my house like such a powerful being and enjoy yourself for a while. I like this poem.

  4. Is this a sonnet?

  5. Thanks for your insights RWG Dattu. Ilove your reading of Moore’s poem. Thanks too, Wil–the poem works for me as a sonnet, not because it’s 14 lines long (as sonnets generally, though not always, are) but that it culminates in a “turn” in the final couplet (characteristic of the finest, Shakespearean, sonnets) which takes the poem to new heights. Matt

  6. […] Silence […]

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