Unreal Nature

February 17, 2017

The Lion Sleeps in the Sun

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:27 am

… [The elephants’] deliberate way of kneeling, on slowsliding forelegs — like a cat’s yawning stretch or a ship’s slide into the water — is fine ballet.

This is from ‘There Is a War That Never Ends’ (1943) found in The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore edited by Patricia C. Willis (1986):

… “Logos and logic … / And every latent double in the word,” bring “the strong exhilaration / Of what we feel from what we think … / … a pure power.” A poet does not speak language but mediates it, as the lion’s power lies in his paws; he knows what it is “to have the ant of the self changed to an ox,” “you ox,” “lion,” “stout dog,” bow-legged bear.”

It is a thing to have,
A lion, an ox in his breast,
To feel it breathing there,

to know that the “impossible possible” of imagination is so much stronger than reason that the part is equal to the whole. The poet —

He is like a man
In the body of a violent beast,
Its muscles are his own …

The lion sleeps in the sun.
Its nose on its paws.
It can kill a man.

Delight “lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds,” Mr. Stevens says; or, as the metaphoric ox apis might say, “bull words,” “aphonies.” “Words add to the senses. … / Are the eye grown larger, more intense” and make fact what we want it to be.

This next is from ‘Feeling and Precision’ (1944):

… Fear of insufficiency is synonymous with insufficiency, and fear of incorrectness makes for rigidity. Indeed, any concern about how well one’s work is going to be received seems to mildew effectiveness. T.S. Eliot attributes Bishop Andrewes’ precision to “the pure motive,” and the fact that when he “takes a word and derives the world from it, … he is wholly in his subject, unaware of anything else.” Mr McBride, in the New York Sun, once said of Rembrandt and his etching, “The Three Crosses”: “It was as though Rembrandt was talking to himself, without any expectation that the print would be seen or understood by others. He saw these things and so testified.”

And third, from ‘Ballet des Elephants’ (1946):


The music was by Stravinsky, and Walter McClain, Ringling Superintendent of elephants, collaborating with Mr. Balanchine, “taught the elephants their routine.”

Routine is the carefully right word, since an elephant is graceful when doing things it could do if not taught to do them, and is enhanced by a skirt as the grace of a venerable live oak would be enhanced by a skirt. And although as actors or workers “in ring or in harness,” of the sixteen hundred troupers in the circus, “the most obliging and even-tempered creatures on the lot” are said to be the elephants, it is “when they lay aside the buskin” that they have it on.

[line break added] Their deliberate way of kneeling, on slowsliding forelegs — like a cat’s yawning stretch or a ship’s slide into the water — is fine ballet; the pageant of fifty elephants with lights dimmed for the closing feature, gave an effect of rocks with traces of snow in the fissures that, with the overwhelming sameness of the all-pink whirling nymphs and their fifty rigid garlands, became a gigantically perfect monotone. The garlands — of apple-blossoms or wild roses — were presently set aside, and if memory does not deceive me, each nymph, with an elephant as partner, made a stair of the elephant’s knee, pulling hard on the ear to gain the summit, and sat — arm lifted — on the bandeau worn by the elephant.

Then, flitting from the shadow to join the principal elephant, came a fairy in powder blue with the constantly interested impetus of the paisano-bird. Her steps were not a novelty as she semi-circled the elephant — were in fact, a summary of maneuvers already performed by the ballet. Her momentum was the surprise.

[line break added] A Javanese dancer’s hinged hands and feet moving at right angles to the bone, give a similar impression, making the usual dancer by comparison a trifle unnatural; as though a man were impersonating a woman or a boy were waving at someone from the top of a freight-car. Swirled aloft on the elephant’s trunk, Vanessa with a confidence in his skill that was unanimity, had the security of a newt in the fork of a tree — the spiral of the elephant’s trunk repeating the spirals of the dancing: a moment of magnificence.

My most recent previous post from Moore’s book is here.




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