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 –

    our mis-set



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

be implicit,


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

or inlaid.


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.

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