Poem of the week: To a Snail by Marianne Moore

Precise observations of this humble creature provide a droll allegorical critique of style.

By Carol Rumens, published in The Guardian, 10 July 2017

To a Snail

If “compression is the first grace of style,”
you have it. Contractility is a virtue
as modesty is a virtue.
It is not the acquisition of any one thing
that is able to adorn,
or the incidental quality that occurs
as a concomitant of something well said,
that we value in style,
but the principle that is hid:
in the absence of feet, “a method of conclusions”;
“a knowledge of principles,”
in the curious phenomenon of your occipital horn.

Marianne Moore was a tireless and unforgiving editor of her own work. In the new edition of the collected poetry, Heather Cass White revises the author’s revisions, omissions, and re-orderings, to retrieve the texts as they were first printed, and in order of composition.

There are two poles in editorial thought on poets’ revisions. One holds that authors’ final revisions are sacrosanct, the other favours restoration. Dispute seems redundant: let’s have both! Originals are crucial, integral to understanding a writer’s place in history and her emergence. But revisions provide another valuable, evolutionary, narrative. First words, last words, interim words: if the poet is good enough, let’s have the variorum edition in all its glory. Continue reading “Poem of the week: To a Snail by Marianne Moore”


AP Lit Question 1 (poetry), a NINE

Rachel M. Harper’s “The Myth of Music” weaves together a narrative of a childhood and of a cultural heritage as a whole ─ how music was and is entwined with black history and every aspect of the speaker’s life. Detailed metaphors of various musical tools and elements create the elaborate memory of a musically enhanced childhood. Furthermore, the combination of such images or metaphors with more specific anecdotes or memories creates a poem with a form of continuous time and music ─ one that binds memory and music together. Continue reading “AP Lit Question 1 (poetry), a NINE”