Poetry

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
         all this fiddle.
     Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
         discovers that there is in
     it after all, a place for the genuine.
         Hands that can grasp, eyes
         that can dilate, hair that can rise
             if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
         they are
     useful; when they become so derivative as to become
         unintelligible, the
     same thing may be said for all of us—that we
         do not admire what
         we cannot understand. The bat,
             holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless
         wolf under
     a tree, the immovable critic twinkling his skin like a horse
         that feels a flea, the base-
     ball fan, the statistician—case after case
         could be cited did
         one wish it; nor is it valid
             to discriminate against “business documents and

school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must
         make a distinction
     however: when dragged into prominence by half poets,
         the result is not poetry,
     nor till the autocrats among us can be
         “literalists of
         the imagination”—above
             insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them,
         shall we have
     it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand, in defiance
         of their opinion—
     the raw material of poetry in
         all its rawness, and
         that which is on the other hand,
             genuine, then you are interested in poetry.

Footnotes

  1. In these final lines, Moore’s speaker reaffirms the two ingredients for real poetry: “the raw material of poetry”—in other words, language and form—and “that which is… genuine”—in other words, powerful evocations of the world which raise the hair and induce pupil dilations. The poem slowly works its way to make this claim, revealing at the end this central idea.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. The phrase “in the meantime” points to the failure of poets to become true “literalists of the imagination.” However, the phrase carries an optimistic tone: this is a matter of when, not if.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. In one of the poem’s most striking images, Moore proposes the goal for poetic creation: “imaginary gardens with real toads in them.” The gardens are the landscape in the reader’s mind in which the poem unfolds. The “real toads” represent the objects the poet hopes to evoke: not literally real, but as vivid as language can render. Of all things, Moore chooses the toad for its peculiarity. The “real toads” are all the more vivid and particular in our minds for their strangeness.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. Moore suggests the ideal approach is to be a “literalist of the imagination,” a poet who stirs the imagination through precise, evocative imagery. Such a literalist uses language to create a lifelike object in the reader’s imagination—be it a bat or a wild horse—rather than to offer an abstract statement about it.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. Moore’s ingredients for true poetry are “the raw material of poetry”—that is, language and technique—as well as an attention to the genuine. The fault of the “half poets” lies not in their misdirected attentions but in their loose grasp of the raw material. A half poet cannot make poetry, even out of genuine subjects such as the “wild horse taking a roll.”

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. The verb “dragged” applies to the “phenomena” listed in the previous stanza. The contrast between these two words is striking: “phenomena” means “ideas”; “dragged” implies moving heavy objects. Moore’s diction here conveys the speaker’s broadest claim that poetry ought to render its subjects “real” in the mind. The purpose of poetry is to make ideas into objects, to give them weight.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. The image of the critic gets to the heart of the poem’s claim. The critic is “immovable” in the sense of being unable to be moved emotionally. The critic is too busy with the pursuit of “high-minded interpretation.” However, the critic is nonetheless “twinkling his skin”: a skin-tingling sensation overtakes him as he reads. Even for the critic there is “a place for the genuine,” for pure feeling.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. In an intriguing use of enjambment, Moore leaves the word “tireless” hanging at the end of the line right after the description of the wild horse’s “roll.” This associatively evokes the roll of a tire, even though “tireless” means something else entirely given the context provided in the next line.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. These lines describe poetry from an affective perspective. When encountering poetry which captures the “genuine,” the reader experiences a physical response: the hair stands up, the eyes dilate, etc. As Moore’s speaker goes on to explain, these reactions are “useful” in themselves, not merely as fodder for interpretation. These unconscious reactions, arising from language which stirs the depths of our imaginations, are the whole point.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. The speaker begins the poem from a position of “perfect contempt” for poetry. This contempt is really more of a lover’s complaint, because the speaker spends the rest of the poem seeking the ideal and the good in poetry. This initial tone of skepticism is merely a starting place, an attitude to contrast the prescriptive hopefulness which slowly builds as the poem works towards its conclusion.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. The noun “fiddle” is cleverly used here. It represents a triple entendre, referring to poetry in several metaphorical senses. Poetry is “all this fiddle” in the musical sense, a fiddle being a violin. Like music, poetry is entertainment, and thus can be seen as unimportant. “Fiddle” also refers to the act of fiddling, of fussing about with something—an act with which all poets are familiar. Last, a “fiddle” refers to small sum, the word being slang for a sixteenth of a British pound. Once again, the point is that poetry is not worth much.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. The noun “insolence” means having a prideful, haughty, or overbearing disposition. It generally describes a person’s behavior that makes apparent their contempt for inferiors. The noun “triviality” means the quality of being common or basic. Using these two disdainful nouns to refer to the autocrats’ behavior, the speaker implies that these “half-poets” have overwhelming flaws of character that they must contend with in order to make good poetry.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. An “autocrat” is a person who has absolute controlling authority or influence. An “autocrat” is also an absolute monarch or ruler. The use of this word suggests that those who consume art and have the influence to control culture are not only unimaginative but despotic.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. Notice that the speaker lists many things that constitute the genuine subjects of poetry. However, she lists them without adding poetic descriptions to them. This type of list underscores her point: with a genuine subject and the raw material of poetry, she can create an image in the mind of her reader rather than creating a complicated metaphor onto which the reader can place overwrought interpretation. This list can be read as a metaphysical moment in which the speaker enacts the type of poetic expression for which she advocates.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  15. The pronoun “it” that the speaker claims to dislike refers to “poetry,” the title of this poem. The adverb “too” suggests that the speaker is agreeing with an unknown person’s complaints about poetry and that the entire poem will be an extended explanation, or justification, of her dislike for poetry. This setup makes the poem appear more conversational, as if the audience were participating in a conversation with friends or colleagues.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff