Born in Kirkwood, Missouri, Moore studied biology at Bryn Mawr College. After travelling in Europe with her mother, she taught at the U.S. Indian School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and later moved to Brooklyn, New York, where she worked as a librarian. Moore first published her poems in such little magazines as the Egoist, Poetry, and Others, later editing the Dial, a highly regarded modernist periodical.
In part because of her extensive European travels before the First World War, Moore came to the attention of poets as diverse as Wallace Stevens, Hilda Doolittle, T. S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound and corresponded for a time with W.H. Auden and Ezra Pound.
In her poetry Moore experimented with the stanza and strived to unite what she called “precision, economy of statement [and] logic” with complex rhyme patterns, syllable counts, and ornate diction. Her volumes include Poems (1921), Observations (1924), Collected Poems (1951), and Complete Poems (1967).
On “Bird-Witted”About the poem:The American poet Marianne Moore wrote poems quite similar to fables in their use of animals and animal traits to comment on human experience. Composed in (1951) and published in her Collected Poems, Moores narrative poem Bird-witted can attain the quality of fable as its being a brief allegorical narrative where the characters are animals who act like people while retaining their animal traits.
The poem is about a mother mockingbird struggling to feed its three fledglings or young birds when a cat approaches them to mark the transformation of the mother from a feeding and caring bird to dangerously defending and protective.
The First StanzaMoore chooses animals or birds to replace the existence of the world of man, there is no human but animals working like humans yet keeping their animal traits. Moore constructs in this poem and many other poems, a positive portrait of feminine figure. One of the strongest is, not surprisingly, the mother, almost all of them in animal form, who appear in Moore’s poems of the thirties and forties. Moore lived with her mother all her life until Mrs. Moore’s death in 1947, who was a mother of uncommon intellectual gifts as well as possessiveness and surely had that deep impact on her own daughter. The poem starts with locating the three young birds under the pussy-willow tree waiting for their mother. The three large mockingbirds with wide penguin eyes are standing in a row beside each other solemnly till they observe their no longer larger mother approaching with what will feed one of them before going back to bring more for them.
The Second StanzaHere, the stanza starts from where the mother bird is, as while flying it can hear the irregular squeaking of its hungry young birds similar to a broken springs of a carriage as well as spotting them below so tiny like brownish coloured freckles. (To them the mother is no longer larger, to her; they are still tiny like freckles. A common but interchangeable concern between a mother and her children when claiming their growth and demanding their independence and knowledge while her enforcing her possessiveness and protection over them). When approaching them and landing, the mother bird puts a beetle in one of the little birds beak but as it dropped out the mother puts it in again. An image enforcing their helplessness and her caring yet, strong hold over them.
The Third StanzaThis stanza shows the process, of which the young mockingbirds express how their hunger is satisfied. As they stand in the pussy-willow shade with their grey coloured coats, they spread tail and wings, showing one by one, the modest white stripe lengthwise on the tail and crosswise underneath the wing,. One must not forget that their squeaks or the accordion as described musically in the stanza, is closed again and now they set to test their skills of flying while the mother is away.
The Fourth StanzaThe narrator has to express the quality of the mother birds melody as delightful yet its unexpected but rapid change as flute-sounds leaping from the throat of the shrewd grown bird coming from the remote unenergetic sunlit air when realising the brood leaving their place and testing their abilities to fly. And how harsh the birds voice has become as the narrator describes.
Moore’s embodiment of maternal behaviour in animal figures not only affirms the instinctual nature of such behaviour in general but also reflects (and to some extent explains) the ever-present animal kingdom of pet-names by which the Moore family members expressed their attachments to one another. This spirit of maternal protection is placed in Moore’s female figures as they come into the full strength of their unyielding devotion.
The Fifth StanzaThis stanza is devoted to a spotted cat described as approaching and impending danger. The cat is observing the little birds and slowly creeping toward them while naively and out of ignorance they pay no heed to it. While one of the birds is in midst of its attempt to fly, its dangling foot that missed the cats grasp is raised and finds the twig or branch on which it planned to rest on. This incident is not to be left alone as the sixth stanza shows closure of this poem.
The Sixth StanzaThe movement of this stanza is quicker than the previous ones, depicting the angry mother bird as it darts from the sky down where the cat stands. Its fear for the safety of its own little birds had given it the strength and courage to involve in a deadly combat where the cat is almost killed by the spear like beak of the bird and its angry wings. The enemy in the final lines, the “intellectual cautious- / ly creeping cat,” brings about an interesting point of the narrative, which is the transformation of personality brought on not only by the approaching danger of the cat but also by motherhood itself as the “bayonet beak” and “cruel wings” of the bird defending her brood, produces a seriocomic scene that Moore intended. This distinction between protection and injury was clearly an important one to a poet living creatively within her mother’s house.
Structure:-Later in her life, in 1967, Moore confessed that the sound of the verse was more important to her than its visual pattern. She remarked that it ought to be continuous, and that she had always wanted her verse to sound unstrained and natural as though she was speaking. At the time, she expressed her distaste for the common place that she wrote in syllabic verse, in which the line lengths of a repeated stanza pattern are determined by the numbers of syllables, rather than stresses. She confessed her liking to see symmetry and regularity on the page.
-Thus, in Bird Witted, as each stanza consists of 10 lines, all the six stanzas are alike in length of line but this poem has no rhyming pattern though some lines rhyme together-The pattern itself is repeated with each stanza though the count of syllables differs as in: The 1st, 2nd, 4th and 6th stanzas (the fourth line contains 3 syllables), the 3d and 5th stanzas (the fourth line contains 4 syllables).
-Word breaking: as a word is split between the lines (sun/lit) in the 4th stanza and (cautious/ly) in the sixth one.
-The fable like form, as animals replace human characters.
-Assonance: in the repetition of the vowel sounds of (wide/eyes), (keyed/squeak), (their/pale), (crosswise/lengthwise)-Consonance: in the repetition of the final consonant sounds of (squeak/meek), (picks/puts)-Alliteration: as the (t) sound in (the trim trio on the tree-stem), (f) sound in (freckled forms), (p) sound in (planned to perch)
Courtney from Study Moose
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