Marianne Moore, T. S. Eliot, & the resolute doubt
Last night, to find my way to sleep, I opened my bedside poetry anthology at random and found a dozen poems by Marianne Moore. They puzzled me -- they are odd, metrically, and odd in their images, but clearly the work of an intelligence that sees something beyond the words. Then I remembered that Sunday's New York Times Book Review had her picture on the cover, and I fetched and read Brad Leithauser's review of a new edition of her work. He confirmed my impression of the oddness, and got me to re-read those he said were among his favorites, "What Are Years?", "Nevertheless" and "The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing." I too like "What Are Years?", especially "... And whence/ is courage: the unanswered question,/ the resolute doubt..."

It is perhaps the same "overwhelming question" in T. S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."
Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"
Let us go and make our visit.
"Do I dare / Disturb the universe?" J. Allen asks (or is asked; it's never clear who's speaking here). Yes, we dare, if we have resolute doubt.

My bedside anthology, by the way, is the 1955 edition of Modern American & Modern British Poetry, edited by Louis Untermeyer (NY: Harcourt, Brace and Company). It was given to me as a prize "as winner of the English Usage Contest" my senior year in high school, 1959. The teachers who gave it to me are now long dead. But the book is still alive, and still surprises me.

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