Marianne Moore: Poetry

March 14, 2011

“Four Quartz Crystal Clocks” and Primates

“The lemur student can see

That an aye-aye is not

An angwan-tibo, potto, or loris.”

Kenyon Review 2 (Summer, 1940), 284-5,  ll 27-29

Moore uses examples of small primates to illustrate her call for scientific knowledge in this poem about “hoped-for accuracy”:

AYE-AYE

Aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis), rare squirrel-like primate of Madagascar, the sole

Aye-aye

living representative of the family Daubentoniidae. Nocturnal, solitary, and arboreal, most aye-ayes live in rainforests, but some have been discovered more recently in the dry forests of western Madagascar.

The aye-aye is about 40 cm (16 inches) long, excluding the bushy 55- to 60-cm tail. Covered with long, coarse, dark brown or black fur, it has a short face, large eyes, and ever-growing incisors like those of rodents. Its hands are large, and its fingers, especially the third, are long and slender. All the fingers have pointed claws, as do the toes except for the large opposable flat-nailed great toes. The aye-aye constructs a large ball-like nest of leaves in forked tree branches and feeds mainly on insects and fruit. It locates wood-boring insect larvae by tapping the tree with the long third finger, apparently listening for the hollow sound of the channels the grubs make through the wood, and then uses this finger to extract the insects. It also uses the third finger to dig the pulp out of fruit. The female bears a single young. The aye-aye is critically endangered and protected by law. Successful breeding colonies have been established in a few zoos outside Madagascar. –Encyclopedia Britannica Online

ANGWANTIBO

Angwantibo

Two related but much smaller primates called angwantibos (Arctocebus calabarensis and A. aureus) live only in the rainforests of west-central Africa. They measure 24 cm (9.5 inches) long and are yellowish in colour, with a long, thin snout. Like the potto, they are tailless, but the third finger as well as the second is reduced to a tiny stub. They too feed on small insects and other slow-moving invertebrates. Pottos and angwantibos are related to the lorises of Southeast Asia; together they constitute the family Lorisidae. –Encyclopedia Britannica Online

 

POTTO

Potto

Primates are generally categorized into three groupings—monkeys, apes, and prosimians. Typically thought to be more primitive than other primates, prosimians tend to be small and nocturnal. The big-eyed potto  (Perodictus potto) certainly fits the bill. Using clamp-shaped hands and feet, with opposable thumbs and big toes, the potto climbs slowly and carefully through the rainforest canopy, and rarely comes down from the trees. If danger is near, the potto holds very still to blend in, and can hold its position for hours. If attacked, the potto tucks down its head and projects the bony processes between its shoulder blades that act as a shield. It can also inflict a nasty bite.

They grow up to 1.3 feet, weigh between 1.7 and 3.7 pounds, live more than 25 years in tropical forests on a diet of fruit, insects and other small animals. –The Cincinnati Zoo

LORIS

Slow Loris

Loris –any of about eight species of tailless or short-tailed South and Southeast Asian forest primates. Lorises are arboreal and nocturnal, curling up to sleep by day. They have soft gray or brown fur and can be recognized by their huge eyes encircled by dark patches and by their short index fingers. They move with great deliberation through the trees and often hang by their feet, with their hands free to grasp food or branches.

The slender loris (Loris tardigradus, now generally classified as two or more species) of India and Sri Lanka is about 20–25 cm (8–10 inches) long and has long, slender limbs, small hands, a rounded head, and a pointed muzzle. It feeds mostly on insects (predominantly ants) and is solitary. The female usually bears a single young after five or six months’ gestation.

Slow loris. The five slow lorises (genus Nycticebus) are more robust and have shorter, stouter limbs, more-rounded snouts, and smaller eyes and ears. They are found in Indonesia and on the Malay Peninsula. The smallest species (N. pygmaeus), restricted to forests east of the Mekong River, is about 25 cm long; the larger N. coucang and its relatives, widespread in Southeast Asia, are about 27–37 cm long. Slow lorises move more slowly than slender lorises; they feed on insects, small animals, fruit, and vegetation. The females bear one (sometimes two) young after about six months’ gestation. Lorises are related to the pottos and angwantibos of Africa; together they constitute the family Lorisidae.

Lorises are often hunted for food, used in traditional medicines, or collected for the pet trade. Many species are vulnerable to habitat loss as their living space is converted into agricultural or grazing land. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), all species except the gray slender loris (L. lydekkerianus) are considered threatened, and three species—the red slender loris (L. tardigradus nycticeboides), the dry-zone slender loris (L. tardigradus tardigradus), and the Javan slow loris (N. javanicus)—are classified as endangered. –Encyclopedia Britannica Online

3 Comments »

  1. This train of thought — clocks and animals — always makes me think of creationism. I wonder to what extent she thought that Darwin might be wrong about evolution. Do you recall anything in her extensive notes that might have tended to look into that correlation? Many pastors are still creationist, or still have punctuated equilibrium as their paradigm. I always think she must have been thinking like this as she examined the various wonders of the natural worlds. The aye-aye is a funny little thing, quite cute! I know the loris (Corso has a poem with the pygmy tarsier in it).

    Comment by Kirby Olson — March 19, 2011 @ 6:22 pm |Reply

    • There is one reference to Darwin in Complete Prose,from a Dial comment of March, 1927: “Pressure of business modifies self-consciousness and genuine matter for exposition seems to aid effectiveness; in for instance, Darwin’s scientific descriptions.” I don’t know what that says about creationism/evolution. I suppose the science she learned at Bryn Mawr had something to do with her views, but that would take some investigation. How about it?

      Comment by moore123 — March 21, 2011 @ 12:29 pm |Reply

      • Very interesting about the little primates.

        I can’t recall MM ever commenting on evolution per se, but she did admire Darwin, as indicated in the quotation from Complete Prose. I’ve also never found evidence that she believed in a literal interpretation of the Bible, as creationists do.

        The lines about the primates recall those in “England” where she says, “Does it follow that because there are poisonous toadstools / which resemble mushrooms, both are dangerous?” They are also consistent with the overall theme of “The Labors of Hercules.”

        For Moore, I believe, accuracy (whether of science or the artistic imagination) is an antidote to stereotypes, prejudice, and oppression.

        Comment by Linda Leavell — August 11, 2011 @ 4:33 pm


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