Marianne Moore: Poetry

April 27, 2012

“The Jerboa” and Dr. Ditmars

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 10:29 am

“[The jerboa] launching

As if on wings, from its match-thin hind legs”

“The Jerboa” Hound and Horn 7 (October-December 1932) 108-113, ll 117-118.

Moore offers a note to these lines, citing a highly respected source. Raymond L. Ditmars (1876-1942) served as curator of the New York Zoological Garden (The Bronx Zoo) for many years. Originally a herpetologist, he worked with mammals, insects, and other animals, building the zoo’s collection. His Animals I Have Known (available at describes various collecting trips, including one to Africa. There, he encountered the “Yellow Wind” outside Algiers, a violent sandstorm of the kind that jerboas routinely survive. [Amid tumultuous, blinding sand storms . . . ] it would seem as if all types of life would abandon such areas, but this is not the case. There are remarkable forms of adaptation. There are little rats called jerboas which run on long hind-legs as thin as a match. The forelimbs are mere tiny hands. They are fleet and coloured like the sand. They have a long balancing tail, with decorative pad of black and white fur at the tip. This tip is, in fact, more than decorative, as the pad is like a little snow-shoe to keep the end from sinking in the sand. The tail is carried in upward curve when the creatures run. When they stop it is rested on the ground so that the whole body is little tripod. The feet have furry pads to prevent their becoming imbedded in the soft sand. I kept one for several years, not giving it a drop of water. It fed on dry corn and loved stems of dry grass. The only moisture it had came from occasional bits of greens, of which it was not over fond.

–Raymond L. Ditmars. Strange Animals I Have Known. New York: Blue Ribbon Press, 1931, pp 274-75

1 Comment »

  1. It is very nice to know that the book is available online. I have a copy of it but the print is so tiny (9 pt.) that I could only read it with a microscope. Ditmars was a friend of Moore’s, I think. There are some letters to and fro in the archives, as I recall. Why this animal became so important to Moore is beyond my understanding. I know that she was called rat in the family nicknaming, and that might be part of it. She is interested in Audubon. But this creature doesn’t strike me as particularly aesthetic as the pangolin is, or as is the giraffe. It is exotic. Could it in some way recall Moses and the crossing of the Sinai?

    Comment by Kirby Olson — May 7, 2012 @ 11:56 am |Reply

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