Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, PEOPLE'S SURROUNDINGS, by MARIANNE MOORE

Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

PEOPLE'S SURROUNDINGS, by                 Poet's Biography
First Line: They answer one's questions
Last Line: Castles, palaces, dining-halls, theatres and imperial audience-chambers.
Subject(s): Facades; Appearances

they answer one's questions:
a deal table compact with the wall;
in this dried bone of arrangement,
one's "natural promptness" is compressed, not crowded out;
one's style is not lost in such simplicity:

the palace furniture, so old fashioned, so old fashionable;
Sèvres china and the fireplace dogs—
bronze dromios with pointed ears, as obsolete as pugs;
one has one's preference in the matter of bad furniture
and this is not one's choice:

the vast indestructible necropolis
of composite Yawman-Erbe separable units;
the steel, the oak, the glass, the Poor Richard publications
containing the public secrets of efficiency
on "paper so thin that one thousand four hundred and twenty pages make one
exclaiming so to speak, When you take my time, you take something I had meant to


the highway hid by fir trees in rhododendron twenty feet deep,
the peacocks, hand-forged gates, old Persian velvet—
roses outlined in pale black on an ivory ground—
the pierced iron shadows of the cedars,
Chinese carved glass, old Waterford,
lettered ladies; landscape gardening twisted into permanence:

straight lines over such great distances as one finds in Utah or in Texas
where people do not have to be told
that "a good brake is as important as a good motor,"
where by means of extra sense cells in the skin,
they can like trout, smell what is coming—
those cool sirs with the explicit sensory apparatus of common sense,
who know the exact distance between two points as the crow flies;
there is something attractive about a mind that moves in a straight line—
the municipal bat-roost of mosquito warfare, concrete statuary,
medicaments for "instant beauty" in the hands of all,
and that live wire, the American string quartette:

and Bluebeard's tower above the coral reefs,
the magic mousetrap closing on all points of the compass,
capping like petrified surf, the furious azure of the bay
where there is no dust and life is like a lemon-leaf,
a green piece of tough translucent parchment,
where the crimson, the copper, and the Chinese vermilion of the poincianas
set fire to the masonry and turquoise blues refute the clock;
this dungeon with odd notions of hospitality,
with its "chessmen carved out of moonstones,"
its mocking-birds, fringed lilies, and hibiscus,
its black butterflies with blue half circles on their wings,
tan goats with onyx ears, its lizards glittering and without thickness
like splashes of fire and silver on the pierced turquoise of the lattices
and the acacia-like lady shivering at the touch of a hand,
lost in a small collision of the orchids—
dyed quicksilver let fall

to disappear like an obedient chameleon in fifty shades of mauve and amethyst:
here where the mind of this establishment has come to the conclusion
that it would be impossible to revolve about one's self too much,
sophistication has like "an escalator," "cut the nerve of progress."

In these noncommittal, personal-impersonal expressions of appearance,
the eye knows what to skip;
the physiognomy of conduct must not reveal the skeleton;
"a setting must not have the air of being one"
yet with x-raylike inquisitive intensity upon it, the surfaces go back;
the interfering fringes of expression are but a stain on what stands out,
there is neither up nor down to it;
we see the exterior and the fundamental structure—
captains of armies, cooks, carpenters,
cutlers, gamesters, surgeons and armourers,
lapidaries, silkmen, glovers, fiddlers and ballad-singers,
sextons of churches, dyers of black cloth, hostlers and chimney-sweeps,
queens, countesses, ladies, emperors, travellers and mariners,
dukes, princes and gentlemen
in their respective places—
camps, forges and battlefields,
conventions, oratories and wardrobes,
dens, deserts, railway stations, asylums and places where engines are made,
shops, prisons, brickyards and altars of churches—
in magnificent places clean and decent,
castles, palaces, dining-halls, theatres and imperial audience-chambers.

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