An Octopus

Marianne Moore 1887 (Kirkwood) – 1972 (New York City)

of ice. Deceptively reserved and flat,
it lies 'in grandeur and in mass'
beneath a sea of shifting snow-dunes;
dots of cyclamen-red and maroon on its clearly defined
pseudo-podia
made of glass that will bend–a much needed invention–
comprising twenty-eight ice-fields from fifty to five hundred
feet thick,
of unimagined delicacy.
'Picking periwinkles from the cracks'
or killing prey with the concentric crushing rigor of the python,
it hovers forward 'spider fashion
on its arms' misleading like lace;
its 'ghostly pallor changing
to the green metallic tinge of an anemone-starred pool.'
The fir-trees, in 'the magnitude of their root systems,'
rise aloof from these maneuvers 'creepy to behold,'
austere specimens of our American royal families,
'each like the shadow of the one beside it.
The rock seems frail compared with the dark energy of life,'
its vermilion and onyx and manganese-blue interior expensiveness
left at the mercy of the weather;
'stained transversely by iron where the water drips down,'
recognized by its plants and its animals.
Completing a circle,
you have been deceived into thinking that you have progressed,
under the polite needles of the larches
'hung to filter, not to intercept the sunlight'–
met by tightly wattled spruce-twigs
'conformed to an edge like clipped cypress
as if no branch could penetrate the cold beyond its company';
and dumps of gold and silver ore enclosing The Goat’s Mirror–
that lady-fingerlike depression in the shape of the left human
foot,
which prejudices you in favor of itself
before you have had time to see the others;
its indigo, pea-green, blue-green, and turquoise,
from a hundred to two hundred feet deep,
'merging in irregular patches in the middle of the lake
where, like gusts of a storm
obliterating the shadows of the fir-trees, the wind makes lanes
of ripples.'
What spot could have merits of equal importance
for bears, elks, deer, wolves, goats, and ducks?
Pre-empted by their ancestors,
this is the property of the exacting porcupine,
and of the rat 'slipping along to its burrow in the swamp
or pausing on high ground to smell the heather';
of 'thoughtful beavers
making drains which seem the work of careful men with shovels,'
and of the bears inspecting unexpectedly
ant-hills and berry-bushes.
Composed of calcium gems and alabaster pillars,
topaz, tourmaline crystals and amethyst quartz,
their den in somewhere else, concealed in the confusion
of 'blue forests thrown together with marble and jasper and agate
as if the whole quarries had been dynamited.'
And farther up, in a stag-at-bay position
as a scintillating fragment of these terrible stalagmites,
stands the goat,
its eye fixed on the waterfall which never seems to fall–
an endless skein swayed by the wind,
immune to force of gravity in the perspective of the peaks.
A special antelope
acclimated to 'grottoes from which issue penetrating draughts
which make you wonder why you came,'
it stands it ground
on cliffs the color of the clouds, of petrified white vapor–
black feet, eyes, nose, and horns, engraved on dazzling ice-fields,
the ermine body on the crystal peak;
the sun kindling its shoulders to maximum heat like acetylene,
dyeing them white–
upon this antique pedestal,
'a mountain with those graceful lines which prove it a volcano,'
its top a complete cone like Fujiyama’s
till an explosion blew it off.
Distinguished by a beauty
of which 'the visitor dare never fully speak at home
for fear of being stoned as an impostor,'
Big Snow Mountain is the home of a diversity of creatures:
those who 'have lived in hotels
but who now live in camps–who prefer to';
the mountain guide evolving from the trapper,
'in two pairs of trousers, the outer one older,
wearing slowly away from the feet to the knees';
'the nine-striped chipmunk
running with unmammal-like agility along a log';
the water ouzel
with 'its passion for rapids and high-pressured falls,'
building under the arch of some tiny Niagara;
the white-tailed ptarmigan 'in winter solid white,
feeding on heather-bells and alpine buckwheat';
and the eleven eagles of the west,
'fond of the spring fragrance and the winter colors,'
used to the unegoistic action of the glaciers
and 'several hours of frost every midsummer night.'
'They make a nice appearance, don’t they,'
happy see nothing?
Perched on treacherous lava and pumice–
those unadjusted chimney-pots and cleavers
which stipulate 'names and addresses of persons to notify
in case of disaster'–
they hear the roar of ice
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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Marianne Moore

Marianne Moore was an American Modernist poet and writer noted for her irony and wit. more…

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    "An Octopus" Poetry.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2020. Web. 1 Dec. 2020. <https://www.poetry.net/poem/26346/an-octopus>.

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