Thursday, March 21, 2013

Marianne Moore -- counting syllables

     Currently (until 28 April, 2013) at the National Portrait Gallery is an exhibit of video and audio portraits of a selection of American Poets -- browsing on the gallery's website I found here today (and related to the exhibit) a recording Marianne Moore's "Bird-Witted."
     Marianne Moore (1887-1972) was one of my first-loves in poetry.  Her line in "Poetry" about presenting for inspection "imaginary gardens with real toads in them" became my goal also.  And when I discovered that her poems frequently were constructed by counting syllables I began to consider that strategy.  These opening stanzas of "The Fish," found in its entirety at, illustrate Moore's interesting stanza-designs based on syllable-count-patterns.

              The Fish     by Marianne Moore   

1            wade
3            through black jade.
9                 Of the crow-blue mussel-shells, one keeps
6                 adjusting the ash-heaps; 

8 or 9                opening and shutting itself like

1            an
3            injured fan.
9                 The barnacles which encrust the side
6                 of the wave, cannot hide
8                      there for the submerged shafts of the

1            sun,
3            split like spun
9                 glass, move themselves with spotlight swiftness
6                 into the crevices—
8                      in and out, illuminating

        . . .

Please go to for the whole of this poem and for others by Moore.  The site also offers a varied selection of her work.  Moore's poem "Four Quartz Crystal Clocks" was posted in this blog on 9 September 2010.

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