Marianne Moore: Poetry

August 23, 2010

“Monkey Puzzle:” Japan and China

Filed under: Marianne Moore,Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 4:38 pm
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Lafcadio Hearn

Moore notes Lafcadio Hearn as the source of line 18 concerning proportion. Here is the original

Hearn and His Wife


For after all, what we call beauty or grace in the best and deepest sense, represents physical force, with which the peasant is much better acquainted than we are. He is accustomed to observing life, and he does it instinctively. Beauty means a certain proportion in the skeleton which gives the best results of strength and of easy motion in the animal or the man.

Lafcadio Hearn. “Tolstoi’s Theory of Art” in Talks to Writers, New York: Dodd Mead, 1920, p. 170.

Famous for living in Japan and producing exquisite books of Japanese folk tales, Hearn (1850-1904) was born in Greece of an Irish father and a Greek mother. After school in England, Hearn became a newspaperman in Cincinnati and New Orleans, lived in Martinique for a few years, and in 1890 went to Japan as a correspondent. There he stayed, married the daughter of a samurai, and became a cultural ambassador and Japanese citizen. He taught university students in his last years in Japan and his writings on literary subjects are drawn from his students’ notes of his lectures.

A link that may not be a link: “The Monkey Puzzle” refers to “Flaubert’s Carthage,” that is, Salammbo, the Flaubert novel set in Carthage and much admired by Moore. Could she have known that Hearn spent years translating Flaubert’s The Temptation of St. Anthony (published in New York in 1911)?

Chinese Foo Dogs

Foo Dog, Female

Moore tells us not to ignore these creatures lest they behave as something other than canines. In fact, the  Foo Dog (or Fu Dog) is a lion that looks something like a dog. Made from bronze, they guarded imperial palaces and temples in China, always in pairs, the male with his paw on a ball, the female with hers on a cub. The sculptures originally served as totems for the elite, due to their cost, but they have been reproduced cheaply and universally in modern times.

According to Roy Bates in 29 Chinese Mysteries (Beijing: TuDragon Books, 2008, pp. 53-76), China had no lions except for diplomatic gifts. A disciple of Buddha, Manju’srii, appeared seated on a lion that symbolized the untrained mind open to understanding through meditation. When this notion arrived in China, it turned into the guard lion, shaped much like a Chinese dog, complete with collar and pendant. The sexes were distinguished by the ball or cub under the paws.

The story of the “dog” can be continued at great length as the images vary from place to place:

Foo Dog, Male

the ball is sometimes huge, the lion looks sleepy, or the head has a different number of bumps, more bumps denoting an owner’s  higher rank.

The two images shown here stand at the entrance to the Gate of Dispelling Clouds at the Summer Palace in Beijing. They date from the 18th Century.

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