Marianne Moore: Poetry

July 24, 2010

“The Hero:” El Greco

“the startling El Greco / brimming with inner light” (ll 51-52)

We may never know whether Moore had in mind a particular painting by El Greco when she wrote these words, but she is directing us to a work that suggests the opposite of greed. With that as a cue, if we look to works by El Greco in New York by 1930, where she might most easily have seen them, we find a view of Toledo, several Princes of the Church, a vision St. John, and “The Purification of the Temple” in the Frick Collection.

The bequest of Henry Clay Frick in 1909, the  c. 1600 oil on canvas painting is small, 16 1/2 x 28 5/8 inches.  It depicts the biblical moment narrated in Matthew 21:12:

“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves.” (King James Version)

Readers may judge whether this is the “startling El Greco.”

“The Hero:” Owls

Filed under: Marianne Moore — by moore123 @ 12:43 pm
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Screech Owl

“The first twenty-one lines of “The Hero”  (1932) involve things “we” and “the hero” do not like, including owls in their frightening aspects. Moore had at hand an article on owls which she consulted, and which reads in part:

“Competition for food amongst the various groups of birds is very keen, and most of the owls have become adapted for hunting at night. A few . . . are diurnal, and the barred owls are partly so. But the majority spend the bright hours of daylight dozing in hollow trees or in dense cover, and become active only at the approach of dusk . . . .

“The eyes are proportionately large and the pupils capable of being greatly distended, so that advantage may be taken of even the faintest glimmer of light. Moreover, the eyes are so placed that they are capable of a greater degree of convergence than is to be found amongst any other birds. The general belief that owls are quite blind in daylight is, of course, quite untrue, for the birds are able to see perfectly well . . . .

“During the daytime, the truly nocturnal species try earnestly to efface themselves, and whether or not the obliterative plumage is regarded a s a direct adaptation to this purpose, it certainly is an effective means of protection. Anyone who has seen a screech owl with his body drawn erect, his feathers compressed to the smallest possible circumstance, his raised ears extended to fine points, and his eyelids closed to mere slits, will understand how a small bird, hunting a thicket for insects, might overlook his enemy of the evening.

“The voices of owls vary from the loud “hoo-hoo-hoo” of the horned owls to the weird yells and screams of the barred owls. The barn owl, in addition to its louder calls, utters in moments of alarm, a loud, wheezing hiss.”

Lee S. Crandall, “The Owls,” Bulletin of the New York Zoological Society , 33 (September-October, 1930) 175-176. From the copy in Moore’s library. The underlinings represent those MM made in her copy.

Moore renders sounds most like those of screech owls:

“water-whistle note”

(Click here:)

“scarebabe voice”

And images:

“twin yellow eyes”"twin yellow eyes"

Owl in Flight“flies out”

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