To a Steam Roller

Marianne Moore’s “To a Steam Roller” playfully teases a piece of construction equipment. It is also, on a deeper level, a meditation on perception and beauty. The poem’s guiding image is that of a steamroller that presses loose rocks down into smooth concrete roads. The steamroller serves as a metaphor for the kind of person who flattens the details of the world into broad ideas. The steamrollers among us are the cerebral thinkers—the academics and critics—as well as the merely inattentive. Moore’s speaker represents the poets and artists of the world, those who perceive the world in all of its detail and variation. To the poet’s eye, there is far greater value and beauty to be found in the “sparkling chips of rock” than in the smooth surfaces into which they are crushed. In a sense, the poem is a call to live a life of wonderment and careful observation. In “To a Steam Roller,” Moore employs her stylistic trademarks: an unusual syllabic-verse form, a blend of musical and prosaic language, and a witty sensibility.

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