Armor’s Undermining Modesty
At first I thought a pest
must have alighted on my wrist.
It was a moth almost an owl,
its wings were furred so well,
with backgammon-board wedges interlacing
on the wing—
like a cloth of gold in a pattern
of scales with a hair-seal Persian
sheen. Once, self-determination
made an axe of a stone
and hacked things out with hairy prawns. The consequence –
Arise, for it is day.
Even gifted scholars lose their way
through faulty etymology.
No wonder we hate poetry,
and stars and harps and the new moon. If tributes cannot
give me diatribes and the fragrance of iodine,
the cork oak acorn grown in Spain;
the pale-ale-eyed impersonal look
which the sales-placard gives the bock beer buck.
What is more precise than precision? Illusion.
Knights we’ve known,
like those familiar
now unfamiliar knights who sought the Grail, were
ducs in old Roman fashion
without the addition
of wreaths and silver rods, and armor gilded
They did not let self bar
their usefulness to others who were
different. Though Mars is excessive
is being preventive,
heroes need not write an ordinall of attributes to enumerate
what they hate.
I should, I confess
like to have a talk with one of them about excess,
and armor’s undermining modesty
instead of innocent depravity.
A mirror-of-steel uninsistence should countenance
objectified and not by chance,
there in its frame of circumstance
of innocence and altitude
in an unhackneyed solitude.
There is a tarnish; and there, the imperishable wish.
In the BBC 100 collection. Recording used by permission of the BBC, from 'A Look At The Poetry of Marianne Moore' 12-03-1972.