My father used to say,
“Superior people never make long visits,
have to be shown Longfellow’s grave
or the glass flowers at Harvard.
Self-reliant like the cat—
that takes its prey to privacy,
the mouse’s limp tail hanging like a shoelace from its mouth—
they sometimes enjoy solitude,
and can be robbed of speech
by speech which has delighted them.
The deepest feeling always shows itself in silence;
not in silence, but restraint.”
Nor was he insincere in saying, “Make my house your inn.”
Inns are not residences.
It’s about time we had some Marianne Moore on the site.
Robert Phillips, writing about Moore in a poem, says: “On the bookshelf / her poems tick like quartz crystals, / precise as the world’s exactest clock”. It’s this precision, this sense of almost finicky detail, the makes Moore’s poems memorable.
This one starts off casually, conversationally. The comparison to the cat is made, and then explained almost as an afterthought; yet that throwaway line (“the mouse’s limp tail hanging like a shoelace from its mouth”) is unforgettably vivid, making the image of the cat come alive with that brilliant “shoelace”. And then the poem, which started off as a rant against annoying visitors, suddenly turns out to have a deeper principle. “The deepest feeling always shows itself in silence” Moore writes, then immediately corrects herself “not in silence, but restraint”. Lovely.
Note: Robert Phillips quote taken from the poem ‘Late Reading’ which appears in Spinach Days (John Hopkins Press, 2000)